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Review: Shin Godzilla

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I finally saw Shin Godzilla, the new Japanese Godzilla film from Toho Studios. What follows is a review with minor spoilers.

This really is a very different Godzilla film! One could argue that there are many Godzilla films which are different from one another and you would have a valid point. In the case of Shin Godzilla you would have an even greater point for this movie is unlike any that have followed before it. To begin to understand this movie one needs to comprehend that this truly is a Japanese movie made for a Japanese audience to provide both commentary and satire unique to the Japanese culture. Having said that, it doesn’t mean these elements of the film are not beyond the reach of a non-Japanese audience.

If you have heard or read the rumor that this movie has many scenes where people are in government conferences as they debate and discuss what to do when this giant morphing creature threatens Japan. These rumors are true and therein lies the heart of this story which is commentary and satire focused at the government of Japan. If you think Godzilla is the central focus of this movie then you will miss that point and may not walk away with understanding this film. Although commentary and satire toward the Japanese government is the focus that doesn’t mean this movie lacks the proper elements that we Godzilla fans and fans of Kaiju movies.

Therefore, the simple plot of this movie is, after an unexplained creature attacks boats in Tokyo Bay the top government officials focus on military strategy and civilian safety, while Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi is put in charge of a task force to research the creature. Due to high radiation readings, the creature is theorized to be energized through nuclear fission. The US sends a special envoy, Kayoko Ann Patterson, who reveals that a disgraced zoology professor, Goro Maki, had been studying mutations due to radioactive contamination and theorized the appearance of the creature but the US covered it up. As the creature, The creature, now named Godzilla, reappears, now twice its original size, and makes landfall near Kamakura en route for Tokyo. The Japanese Self Defense Forces are mobilized, but their attacks have no effect on Godzilla and they suffer major casualties. Yaguchi’s team discovers that Godzilla’s fins and blood work as a cooling system, allowing them to theorize that through the use of a coagulating agent, they could trigger a reaction and cause Godzilla to freeze. 

Generally in my reviews I offer both the Pros and Cons of a film. For every film whether I enjoyed it or not will have varying degrees of Pros and Cons. In the case of this film, which I thoroughly enjoyed, the Con are not outweighed by the Pros in the first place.

Pro: Great Monster destruction. Isn’t this what most Godzilla and Kaiju fans come to see? Gone are the model miniature sets..which is sad…but in its place is a real world setting and real world destruction with great CGI. Godzilla’s atomic breath just has to be seen and the amount of power and destruction it delivers is the best of the entire franchise in my opinion.

Godzilla’s three forms. I really enjoy the many different designs of Godzilla. While this Godzilla isn’t actually a traditional design it really works for this movie. This is the largest Godzilla ever seen!

Great depiction of scale and Size of Godzilla. Although I have always loved the man-in-the suit approach coupled with model building one never really did get a sense of size and scale in a Godzilla movie…until now. With Godzilla 2014 and Pacific Rim (Godzilla 1998 to some extent) those movie were able to really demonstrate the massive scale and size of the creatures within the movie. Shin Godzilla finally achieves that sense  massive scale and size and to me it is awesome!!

An interesting story. Once you understand what the movie is trying to say, it really becomes interesting to watch these government officials stumble and bumble their way through the bureaucracy until they reach  a point of action.

Con: An uninteresting story. I will contradict myself. Yes, I do like the story and I understand the commentary on the ineptitude of bureaucracy, however, there are times that it is too much and goes on a little too long.

Lumbering Godzilla…or shall I say… Zombie Godzilla? While I do like this design and despite the epic destruction this Godzilla brings, there are times when all he does is walk… very…very …slowly.

While Shin Godzilla will not go down as my very favorite it is up there in my top 10. Once the DVD/Blu-Ray comes out this film will have many viewings in my home. The destruction scenes alone are worth the price of admission. A very different and still enjoyable Godzilla film!

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Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack

I think my favorite Godzilla movie is the 1954 original. It has a somber and serious tone. Artistically and creatively it is the best. Right behind that movie is Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (GMK) released in 2001. In some ways it is a more enjoyable movie than the original because there are some lighthearted moments too, along with great action sequences, making it more fun to watch. In all honesty this movie is the Godzilla movie I watch the most!

Like the others in the millennium series this movie ignores all the others that went before it and acts like a direct sequel to the 1954 original movie. Like the original Godzilla this Godzilla is at his most malevolent and destructive behavior.  This movie also features one of the most coolest and slickest designed Godzilla suits.

Godzilla’s eyes in this suit have no pupils and are totally white giving Godzilla an evil menacing look. The dorsal fins on his spine begin lower and appear to be heavier and actually cumbersome to Godzilla as he walks. I have read some com plaints about the suit that it makes Godzilla look fat. Well, he does have a bit of a gut on him and I as I look at other suits from the past, having a Godzilla that is bottom heavy is not without precedence. A minor complaint is that in some scenes it shows Godzilla in different colors. In the majority of the scenes he is his typical charcoal grey. However, in some scenes he is brown and in a few close-ups, like when Baragon is chewing on his arm, he is actually green!

The movie also takes what I think is a very creative path in developing Godzilla’s origins. Since this is a direct sequel to the original Toho could ignore the other continuities and they were free to explain his origins anew. In this movie Godzilla’s origins are shrouded in Japanese mysticism. Godzilla is now the embodiment of the angry souls of those vanquished during World War II. The route they took in using a mystical approach may seem silly and implausible to an American audience steeped in the Western Civilization’s tradition of relying on the scientific method in explaining phenomenon, However, I find it refreshingly creative and it exemplifies the different mindset of the Japanese culture. Although Godzilla  is no longer a force of nature the anger and the rage driving the creature makes him just as unpredictable and destructive.

Going further into Japanese mysticism is the appearance of the old man who is similar to a Wizard like mentor in western cultures that prophesies and warns people of the future. Another aspect of mysticism the old man delivers is the ancient concept of the guardian monsters. These ancient creatures are foretold in legend. Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, who must be awoken to protect Japan should Godzilla return to destroy the country. This idea is also new and creative. GMK was the 25th Godzilla movie and how many different plots and story lines can you create around the theme of a monster attacking a city or battling other monsters? Toho continually tired to create new scenarios on a theme that can easily become clichéd and formulaic. GMK, with its mystical approach and concept of  the guardian monsters, offers something new, exciting and different from previous films.

For this movie all three of the guardian monsters (who have been in Godzilla movies before) were made slightly smaller and weaker in power so Godzilla would appear that much stronger. They each battle Godzilla in a solo exchange. First up is Baragon. I do like this creature yet I am not crazy about monsters on all four legs there is something about that which just doesn’t work for me. His roar and flapping ears are a bit silly. The special effects during these battle scenes are spectacular as the monsters are made to blend in with real world settings, as well as the usage of miniatures, in a seamless and realistic fashion.  In my opinion this movie has some of the best special effects of any Godzilla movie.  His atomic breath has never been better depicted as it is in this film. He creates a very symbolic and destructive mushroom cloud on his first appearance. His plasma breath is powerfully depicted destroying buildings, monsters and military equipment.

Although Godzilla makes short work of the scrappy Baragon and easily takes care of Mothra it is his battles with King Ghidorah. I have read that many fans complain to what was done to King Ghidorah in this movie. He had always been the villain and in this movie he is smaller than usual and he is one of the good guys. I can understand an empathize with those that are upset. Yet, I also can see that using him as one of the good guys makes perfect sense. In this movie there is no ambiguity about Godzilla being a bad guy. In fact he is depicted as pure malevolence and evil incarnate. So who else could face this unmovable object but the one monster that has been his most formidable foe through the entire franchise? No other monster really had the presence and the history with Godzilla such as his number one rival, King Ghidorah.

The other aspect I enjoy is the human story between Admiral Taizo Tachibana of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and his daughter Yuri, who works for a low-budget science fiction movie company. Yuri is not happy in her work and wants to do more serious work. She is also not happy how women are treated in her line of work. In GMK we get to see how both a civilian and a person inside the military face the attack from Godzilla. We also see the father-daughter relationship grow and change throughout the movie. These are two characters that I did care about and was able to see the attack from Godzilla through their eyes. Great monster action needs to be tempered with a good human story and in GMK we get both of those criteria met. Also, Yuri is pretty easy on the eyes and that sure helped!

I enjoyed the serious tone of the movie and I liked the design of Godzilla and the fact that he was at his most destructive and monstrous best since both the 1954 original and the 1984 reboot. As I mentioned it is a new and unique story with good modern special effects. This is one of the best Godzilla movies Toho has to offer.

I rate this movie: A+

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster) 1974

After the very child friendly Godzilla vs Megalon, Toho returned to a more serious tone for the next movie. This movie introduced a new character to the Godzilla franchise…Mechagodzilla! Mechagodzilla, a giant metallic robot version of Godzilla. He would become one of Godzilla’s better loved characters and would appear in many more movies to the delight of many fans. Jun Fukuda returned once again to direct this movie. Now onto the plot.

This film is another one that appeals to the mysticism within the rich Japanese culture. Mythical dragons and monsters are a part of that mythos and I personally really enjoy when Godzilla movies feature that aspect of their culture. The movie begins in Okinawa where Masahiko and his brother Keisuke find a strange metal in a cave that doesn’t seem like it is from earth. They also find a statue of a lion-like creature. At the same time a prophetess has a vision that monsters will be overrunning and destroying the world very soon.

Masahiko and Keisuke travel via an airplane to have the metal analyzed when they see a dark cloud hanging in the sky shaped like a mountain, which was also part of the vision by the prophetess, about the coming destruction and the appearance of King Ceasar. While at a university the brothers discover that the metal is a substance called space titanium. Okay, I couldn’t type that name with a straight face. Suddenly an earthquakes shatters the quiet countryside and Godzilla appears. Angurius, his old pal from Monster Island, shows up to greet him. Instead of a friendly hug or a high five amongst friends, Godzilla begins attacking Angurius. Hmmm, something is not right! While the two giants fight one another Angurius tears a small piece of flesh off of Godzilla revealing shinny metal underneath. Suddenly, another Godzilla shows up and begins fighting the first Godzilla that appeared. With a blast of his atomic halitosis Godzilla melts the skin off of the imposter Godzilla (That must have been some gnarly garlic breath) to reveal Mechagodzilla!

The Prophetess then says the earth has only one hope, King Caesar, but his statue is missing. It has been stolen from an alien race of humanoid monkey like creatures (think Planet of the Apes * cough ripoff cough*) called the Simeons. No they are not from the Planet of the Apes, they are from the third planet from the black hole. Sure, whatever. With the help of Interpol agents the statue is returned and the Prophetess sings her song and awakens King Caesar who bursts forth from the mountainside. Godzilla and Merchagodzilla fight and Godzilla is wounded badly and retreats to the sea. Even though this movie is rated “G” the scenes of Godzilla being wounded are quite shocking. Godzilla is supposed to be an almost indestructible beast and Mechgodzilla inflicts some severe trauma on him and we get to see blood comes shooting and spurting out his neck.

After the may-lay Mechagodzilla returns to Monster Island for repairs. Once fixed by the Simeons Mechagodzilla returns to destroy the planet. Soon he is joined by Godzilla who has been healed of his wounds by bolts of lightning (wait, wasn’t Godzilla hurt by electricity?). Anyway, Godzilla and King Ceasar attack Mechagodzilla and Godzilla ends up ripping his head off as the rest of the robot explodes. I didn’t delve too much on the human aspect of the story because mostly it involves uncovering who the aliens are. But with the Simeons defeated by the humans and Mechagodzilla destroyed, the world is saved!!

Now for my review. I am a bit mixed on this movie. I think it was better than the previous two efforts but still not up to the quality of the classic movies of the early to mid 60s. I have only returned to my love of Godzilla movies in the last few years. As a kid I never cared for this movie. When it came out I just thought the idea of a giant robotic Godzilla was just plain silly. It took me a while to warm up to the concept. After watching other movies in the franchise with Mechagodzilla in it I have really come to appreciate the character. The reveal of Mechagodzilla in this movie is one of its bright spots.

I called the Simeons, a very uncreative name, as a ripoff of Planet of the Apes, and while that may be true, the were certainly very popular at this point in the 70s, I really don’t mind them at all. I think the make up and how they were revealed in the movie is actually well done. I also liked the mystical aspect of the movie with the prophetess. What I didn’t care for was King Ceasar. He is a giant half god-like monster with a lion like head a body with scales, a long tail with fluffy fur on the end and giant fluffy ears. I think this is one of the most terrible designs for a Toho monster. Never cared for him and don’t think I will change my mind. I like the idea of this monster, just don’t care for how he was designed.

Godzilla can be done in many different ways. The character is amendable to a story that is funny and sweet with silliness and camp. The character can also take on an ominous and darkly serious tone. These later Showa series movies are in the silly and campy method of telling a story. As I have gotten older and mellowed out a bit I have come to just sit back and let go and enjoy the fun of it all. So this movie has it all. Giant monster robots, mythical creatures, space aliens and giant monster battles. Who needs more?

 I rate this movie: B