In 1954, just nine years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese filmmaker Ishirō Honda and special effects designer Eiji Tsuburaya imagined a giant dinosaur-like creature from the depths of the ocean, mutated by nuclear radiation. The “kaiju” named Godzilla. The monster was a metaphor for Japanese atomic trauma, and the film, produced and distributed by Toho, became a hit, spawning the longest-running film franchise of all time.
Nearly 70 years later, “Godzilla Minus One,” the 33rd Toho Godzilla film (37th in the series) written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, brings Godzilla back to his Japanese roots (this is the first Toho Godzilla since 2016’s “film” film). Shin Godzilla”) and its World War II origins. Set in the post-war period of 1945, the film takes into account the metaphorical monstrous nuclear fallout of war as well as its devastating human emotional effects. When this monster, glowing neon blue from the nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll, surfaces, it unearths the repressed shame and trauma of the Japanese veterans, especially Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a failed kamikaze pilot.
Shikishima had already encountered Godzilla when the monster entered Tokyo. During the failed kamikaze flight, he stopped for help at Odo Island, where the legendary creature came ashore to wreak havoc. Having already escaped his mission, Shikishima is frozen in the face of this monster, unable to shoot it down and unable to help his new friends, the aircraft mechanics, who are destroyed in the attack.
Two years later, Godzilla rears his head like a madman from the ocean depths of Japan. Shikishima has now formed an unlikely family unit with Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and Akiko (Saki Nagatani), the little boy orphaned in the bombing of Tokyo. He works with a crew to clear mines from the ocean floor, and they have to deal with Godzilla tearing apart heavy cruisers and blasting them with atomic heat rays, and then heads for shore to destroy a ship in Tokyo. He’s trying to get up again.
The undersized crew on this wooden boat will remind viewers of “Jaws,” as will the Japanese government’s reluctance to warn citizens of the looming threat, as will the mayor of Amity Island in Steven Spielberg’s shark movie. There are other references to “Jaws,” such as dead deep-sea fish surfacing to herald Godzilla’s arrival, and Yamazaki said he was inspired by that film.
Yamazaki’s script, II. While it takes into account the lasting effects of World War II on Japan, and Godzilla’s nuclear mutation is part of the plot, the themes of “Godzilla Minus One” focus more on the Japanese government, including their failure to protect their own state. It saved citizens from this threat and from the oppressive imperial regime that forced young men into suicide missions during the war.
As Shikishima grapples with the shame of failing as a kamikaze pilot and failing to return the monster to Odo, there is a group of private Marine veterans who end up fighting Godzilla, not the government. He can’t escape this embarrassment until he fulfills his mission, and it takes the devastating arrival of Godzilla to bring this into focus for him.
Yamazaki’s take on Godzilla is classic; uses giant kaiju as a metaphor for social commentary; Its aesthetic approach is also classic, combining 1940s retro style with cutting-edge visual effects for one of the most striking Godzilla monsters we’ve seen. over the years. The way its craggy fins break the ocean surface is almost photorealistic, and when Godzilla’s atomic-powered spine explodes with power, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
While some of the emotional nuances are a little light, the way Yamazaki grapples with some of the broader nuances of wartime trauma feels fresh and innovative, if not radical, and proves that even after seventy years of wreckage, this iconic kaiju still has plenty of gas left. In the tank.
“Godzilla Minus One” — 3 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: PG-13 (for creature violence and action)
Running time: 2:05
How to watch: In theaters December 1