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GODZILLA MINUS ONE! Some Spoiler Free Impressions!
The new Godzilla film opened 11/3 in Japan
FIRST OF ALL, it was a lot of fun to see the film at the Toho Cinemas theater in Tokyo on what was technically “Godzilla’s Birthday” (the original Godzilla film debuted on November 3rd, 1954). This is when they have the annual “Godzilla Fest” stage show, and the hype this year was off the charts due to the same-day release of Godzilla Minus One. Lots of kaiju otaku dudes in camouflage and little kids running around with Godzilla toys. Entire families wore paper “Chibi Godzilla” hats the event was giving out for free like Burger King crowns. The weather was amazing. It was a glorious day to celebrate all things Godzilla with like minded souls…
As for the movie itself… If I’m feeling mean, this was a C+. If I’m in a better mood, like I am now, I’ll give it a B. Either way, I wasn’t massively disappointed or angry and will gladly take it over whatever passes for American Godzilla movies or TV shows any day of the week.
As much as people are saying this is a throwback to the original 1954 Godzilla, there is almost none of the scientific and ethical debate that helped to power the original film. This is a Godzilla film from an everyman’s perspective, with a lot of emotion and personal stakes emphasized over all else.
There are no massive Crises of Decision like the ones that made Shin Godzilla (2016) a tough watch for people who don’t like movies about hand-wringing bureaucrats. Here, everyone is super motivated to go after Godzilla because they have photos of dead loved ones to look at to help motivate them… and they look at them a lot.
There is A LOT of human drama, a great majority of it ALL CAPS with a great deal of CRYING and SCREAMING.
I am not against human drama in a Godzilla film, but this is not what I would classify as good human drama. I can already see some fans preferring this melodramatic style over the much drier and less character-driven Shin Godzilla (a film I prefer because it is so idiosyncratic). But for me, the proceedings here get a bit cliché and manipulative early on and stay there.
Director, Writer, and VFX Supervisor Takashi Yamazaki doesn’t dive into the stew of post-war Occupation politics at all, which feels like a missed opportunity. “The war was over, and it was bad, and gradually things got better” is about the extent of it. But at least we are mercifully spared the nightmare of bad gaijin actors pretending to be MacArthur and co., so this is something of a mixed blessing.
As for Godzilla himself, he’s a mixed bag too. Sometimes he’s scary and mean and animalistic, recalling the angry bear-like attacks of recent American Godzilla works. Other times, he moves robotically and stiltedly as he did in Shin Godzilla. I guess he’s whatever the story needs him to be at any given time, which is not really all that great for character consistency. Still, Yamazaki gives Godzilla an enormous amount of on-screen gravitas.
While the original 1954 Godzilla was a reaction to then-present-day events, Godzilla Minus One explicitly frames the monster as the Return of the Repressed writ large: a combination of nuclear age anxiety and the ghosts of the war. I've got to give these guys points for trying to make a big mainstream monster movie with so much 20th century angst on the table.
Still, the best sequence in the film plays like an oversized callback to Spielberg’s Jaws (or maybe Meg 2?), as Godzilla chases after a small boat, and there’s no subtext, just survival for our human-sized protagonists at stake.
This, and precisely one other scene, had a kid in the same aisle as me on the edge of his seat, leaning into the screen in pure white-knuckle movie magic. I don’t know what he made of all the talking, crying, and yelling stuff that happened between the roughly four big Godzilla scenes we actually get, but he seemed really, really entertained for a solid 15-20 minutes.
So was I.
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