I am going to keep this short.
Go see Shin Godzilla.
It’s only going be up on the big screen in America from October 11 to 18 (the Observer got to go to a pre-New York Comic-Con screening in Midtown Wednesday). You have very little time, and it’s like nothing else you are going to see this year.
Look, I didn’t take any film classes in college, so I can’t tell you what it is exactly, but within the first few shots of this 29th Toho Co film about the greatest of the daikaiju, you can already see that it has a distinctly different sensibility about it than Hollywood joints in a comparable vein. It has something out of the 70s about it, and I mean that in the very best sense. There’s something retro in its rapid cuts that don’t seem to take great care to create seamless transition elements between each scene, scenes that don’t look as though every pixel had been optimized by computer.
It’s also in the way it gets right down to business. Where Shin Godzilla really shines is its script. If this had been a Hollywood film, it would have taken 90 minutes for us to learn the whole backstory of the one or two central characters, how they only ever got into the position to face down a civilization ending monster because of some insane anxieties about their fathers and that, in fact, they each had the same father, only neither of them realized until a huge disaster threw them together. Oh my!
I am so over that tedious crap (looking at you Pacific Rim).
Shin Godzilla doesn’t tell you a damn thing about the backgrounds of its many characters, most of whom are mid-level functionaries in Japan’s national government. It uses tiny little quirks to hint at facets of who they are, but this isn’t a movie about any one of them. It is about a nation in crisis, about the hubris of man, about how a bureaucracy can be at once silly and selfless and who the world’s true supervillain really is (spoiler: it’s Americans).
The film only really has two characters: the Japanese people and the King of Monsters. God bless them.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m belittling the movie by saying that Shin Godzilla just gives movie fans what they really wanted: monsters smashing cities. It does give that (believe), but it raises larger questions about bigger themes. Godzilla films at their best, for all their campiness, have always raised contemporary questions. The character arose from the threat of atomic annihilation, with the monster manifesting nature’s righteous and adaptability.
For a wildly different monster flick that makes you think, check out 2010’s Trollhunter.
Last year, we covered Google’s tribute to one of the magicians that made these movies great, before computer effects were even an option. Toho wasn’t afraid to update the character a bit, either. If your grandfather loved Godzilla, he’ll recognize this monster, but it does take science’s refined view of the world and nicely incorporates it into this new beast. Godzilla is back and he’s more godlike than he’s ever been.
Tremble in his presence, puny humans, if you must, but for goodness’ sake: take each others’ hands as you do.