By Sean Ray | A&E Editor
After twelve long years, the original King of the Monsters returns in “Shin Godzilla.” In what can only be described as a love letter to fans, directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi have crafted one of the best entries in the 31 film series to date, though perhaps to the detriment of newcomers.
When the Tokyo-Bay Aqua Line tunnel mysteriously floods, the Japanese government convenes to deal with the crisis. However, they soon find themselves dealing with something much more than they could have possibly imagined, as an aquatic creature of unknown origin begins making its way toward land, set on a path of destruction that could spell doom for all humanity.
“Shin Godzilla” seemingly starts as a standard affair for the kaiju genre, focusing on politicians and scientists trying to combat the monster. However, much like Godzilla himself, the film mutates beyond its base form.
There is a surprising amount of humor and social satire in the movie, particularly in the first act. The first sighting of Godzilla, for example, comes not from a government satellite or from a team of explorers, but from a video posted on Twitter.
A lot is done to mock the inefficiencies of the Japanese government. During Godzilla’s first rampage, a military response is unable to be mustered until the last minute as the politicians debate whether Japan is allowed to deploy their Self-Defense Force against the creature, as the treaty that formed the SDF only allows it to be deployed against other nations or equivalent, leading to much bickering and little action.
Breaking out of this gridlock is main character Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), a young deputy secretary who cares more about serving the people over status. Fed up with how slow and ineffective the main political elites are acting, he assembles a team of government outsiders who are more capable of dealing with the crisis.
Surprisingly, this realistic take on how a nation would react to a giant creature threatening it solves the one problem most “Godzilla” movies have, namely that the humans are usually the most boring part.
The audience is made to cheer for Yaguchi and his rag-tag team, the group coming across as very compelling characters. This is further helped by the rapid-fire editing and quick pace of the political scenes, blasting the viewer with waves of exposition to keep them from feeling bored when the Big G isn’t on screen.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a “Godzilla” movie without the giant lizard himself, and his scenes are truly spectacular. The combination of practical effects and CGI enhancements turn out to be a winning formula. Godzilla has never looked as good as he does here.
Accompanying this is an amazing film score by Shirō Sagisu, who has collaborated with Hideaki Anno in the past. His music is reminiscent of a somber opera piece, with very intense emotions flowing beneath every note. The reuse of songs from the past films during key moments is also immensely satisfying to long-time watchers of “Godzilla.” In a series generally known for having fantastic music, this is perhaps the strongest soundtrack Godzilla has ever had.
However, in appealing to the fans, “Shin Godzilla” may ostracize itself from new viewers. For example, many of the sound effects for buildings collapsing and military weapon firing come from the earlier movies. While this may seem cool to people like myself, who has seen all 31 films, it will leave most people wondering why things sound so outdated.
Furthermore, this is the most bizarre and different portrayal of Godzilla ever, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. When he first emerges from the water, Godzilla actually doesn’t even look like his usual dinosaur form, appearing like a mix of a moray eel and a tadpole.
While he later evolves into a more familiar shape, this initial form can be very off-putting, somehow coming across as both funny and disturbing at once. This is one of many extreme differences from standard Godzilla affair that come during the film’s length.
Still, these variations end up as strengths for long-time fans looking for something new, making the monster feel very alien and, indeed, scary for the first time in quite a while.
“Shin Godzilla” is the closest the series has ever gotten to surpassing the original. It is a powerful piece of cinema, not just a mere disaster flick, but an engaging powerhouse that demands to be seen. Hurry though; it’s only in select theaters ‘till Oct. 27.