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Review: Godzilla Minus One. Finally, the Godzilla we wanted

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Takashi Yamazaki.
  • Producers: Gô Abe, Kazuaki Kishida, Keiichiro Moriya and Kenji Yamada.
  • Screenplay by: Takashi Yamazaki.
  • Cinematographer: Kôzô Shibasaki.
  • Music by: Naoki Satô.

Synopsis: Godzilla comes out of the depths of the ocean, presenting a threat to Japan and, ultimately, to humanity.

Shotgun Commentary: the best Godzilla film since Godzilla (1998).

Godzilla roaring. Source: Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki, 2023).

Review

Godzilla Minus One tells the story of Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a kamikaze pilot who cheated his way out of death and was too scared to act during a Godzilla strike that took place during WWII. He is trying to come to terms with his past and to rebuild his life when Godzilla restarts its charges. This forces Shikishima to conquer his fears and take a stand to save his loved ones.

Historical scolding

The structure and highlights of the film are fascinating in terms of interpretation. Contrary to many previous versions of Godzilla, during this feature, the themes put into question are undoubtedly clear. The reckless, irresponsible and cruel behaviour of the Empire of Japan is criticised through its war veterans and civilian survivors. Both groups comment on decisions made by the Government during and after WWII, choices motivated by their own benefit and not that of their nationals.

Additionally, the film comments on the aftermath of the war in Japan, their lack of army and other policies established by the US; and poses how that would affect the country were a big threat to appear. Lastly, the existence of Godzilla in this case goes back to its original meaning. It is no longer an evil, vengeful creature, but what it has always been, the result of thoughtless, horrible, human decisions.

What’s left of a ship after Godzilla attacked it. Source:
Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki, 2023).

Godzilla is a product of the radiation of the atomic bombs, a painful reminder of the suffering and deaths of thousands of people. Not only the casualties due to the initial blast of the bombs, but of radiation during the following years. It is but the representation of how nature is also affected by the acts of humans. Being neither bad nor good because, as an animal, it does not have morality.

However, it is proof of how humanity acts without proper thought of the possible consequences of its actions. This prompt might be why Godzilla is usually depicted as a villain. If it were evil, humanity would be absolved. Alas, Godzilla Minus One refuses to choose that narrative line, which is commendable and works remarkably well.

Victim turned hero

As for Shikishima, he is one of many young boys sent specifically to die in battle. While his actions are the result of natural survival instincts, he is regarded as a coward by everyone who has been brainwashed into thinking that training youngsters exclusively to die is an honourable thing to do. Shikishima fights with the ghosts of the past and his own shame, a war that he refers to several times, thus elucidating that his enemy is not really Godzilla, but himself.

Shikishima staring at the rubbles of Ginza. Source:
Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki, 2023).

Kamiki plays this character with a lot of passion. An energy that can be seen on screen and gets transmitted to the audience magnificently. The role of Shikishima is demanding, allowing Kamiki to showcase his talent by creating a complex character that the audience can root for easily.

Competent…more or less

The protagonist’s love interest, Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe), is a strong, independent woman. She survives among the ruins of what was left of Japan after the war as a thief. Shikishima meets her and they begin living together. While interesting, her character arch is slightly flawed.

She is very self-sufficient throughout the whole film, even surviving a one-on-one attack from Godzilla. Regardless, she becomes paralysed with shock when she sees Godzilla. Even though she survived his direct assault two minutes earlier. It isn’t until Shikishima rescues her that she gets out of its way. The need for him to rescue her when she hasn’t needed anyone ever before seems forced and patriarchal. It seems like getting rid of the damsel in distress trope is hard, even for great movies like this one.

Godzilla munching a train. Source: Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki, 2023).

Back to the roots

From a visual point of view, Godzilla is a high-tech version of the puppets used at the beginning of kaiju cinema, during the Godzilla flicks from the 50s. This aesthetical callback is perfect from Godzilla Minus One, since it follows the general mindset of going back to the beginning and recuperating the good aspects of the original Godzilla products. It feels nostalgic and yet brand-new. The special effects used for Godzilla’s assaults are a little cartoonish, if also quite beautiful to watch. The puppet vibe of the beast, along with its bright colourful blasts, are hypnotic and delightful. Bringing those characteristics to the twenty-first century visual effects is a very clever choice with gorgeous results.

In regard to the audio, it is quite fittingly used. Both silence, noises and soundtrack work together to bring an immersive experience that enhances the visual aspects without overpowering them. Nevertheless, there is an element of the audio composition that stands out hilariously: the music used to accompany Godzilla in its strikes. It is basically a slowed down version of the beginning of Pharoahe Monch’s Simon Says.

Godzilla attacking. Source: Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki, 2023).

If you are a 90s kid or a Charlie’s Angels (2000) fan, every time the big, scary monster is about to attack a bunch of helpless citizens, your brain is expecting to see a gigantic Sam Rockwell dressed in a white suit striding in to crash some buildings. Weirdly enough, this could be considered a win instead of a flaw, since it tones down the intensity of the situation a bit. Also, Sam Rockwell is never really a bad thing to add to a feature, even if it’s just in your mind.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • If a female character is strong enough to receive a bullet wound and keep going, she’s not going to go into shock over a scratch with a wall regardless of how competent you want your male character to look. Just saying…
  • The problem with being a coward is not the action, but living with it.
  • The best way to get someone’s attention is to piss them off, but maybe not to the point of getting half of the face disfigured.
Tachibana (Munakata Aoki) staring at Godzilla. Source:
Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki, 2023).

What’s your take? Have you watched Godzilla Minus One? Which is your favourite Godzilla? Why? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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