Of the countless Godzilla-related films made in the past 60 years (trying to track down an actual number for them is futile), it goes without saying that to be interesting, the latest film of its ilk, Shin Godzilla would have to be in some way different from the pack.
Shin Godzilla is both different and traditional. Calling back to the original Godzilla film’s examination of Japan’s post-war social anxieties, whilst setting it in the modern world and, more importantly, the modern Japanese and global political systems.
“a textured delve into Japan’s socio-political understanding of itself”
The film follows the Japanese government dealing with this entirely insane event. This is in a real world setting, and the characters act like anyone would when some sea dinosaur runs rampant in Tokyo. The majority of these characters are politicians – cabinet ministers, civil servants, diplomats – with some marine biologists and nuclear scientists chucked in to explain the feat of nature that is Godzilla.
They do their best: Godzilla (which translates to ‘God Incarnate’) is a creation born from the effects of nuclear dumping in the Tokyo Bay. From here the film takes on another message about the present anxiety over nuclear weapons in Japan. In 1954 the first Godzilla film was made to express this fear about what was then recent memory. The 2017 film’s thesis seems to be that this fear is still present. As one character says to another: “it is still the post-war age.”
“humour is superbly balanced with the more reverential parts of the film”
It becomes clear through association (a nuclear-induced terror trampling a metropolis, and US planes bombing it) that this is about something else, and this is done so well that I actually felt goosebumps in one scene as the memory of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were conjured up. What immediately chased those goosebumps away was about ten minutes later when the characters were explaining to each other the legacy of the Second World War, which the film had already shown us. Alright, we get it. You don’t need to spell it out for us.
Still, however, this does not take away from the textured delve into Japan’s socio-political understanding of itself. Casting an almost postmodern eye on the government who must deal with the crisis, the political malfunctions that take place are edited with wit. For all its destruction, this is a film not without humour. That humour is used intelligently as a means to punctuate the film and is superbly balanced with the more reverential parts of the film.
What message can one tease out of this? Well not as much a solution, but a diagnosis. To have a more effective government would mean overthrowing democracy, one character says to another who bemoans bureaucracy. The male-dominated government (though interestingly some of the most important roles are given to women) becomes fully farcical and learns its own hubris when encountered with this ‘God Incarnate’. Telling you how all of this ends would be a spoiler, but it certainly is interesting.