With the looming release of Kong: Skull Island, FrightFest’s screening of Shin Godzilla (the first Japanese Godzilla film since Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004) was the perfect time for its long overdue UK debut. Shin Godzilla (translated “New Godzilla”) is a wistful, bustling and scintillating visual onslaught, with the type of pioneering fantasy action absent from most mainstream monster movies.
Former Ghibli animator Hideaki Anno’s film (co-directed by Shinji Higuchi) welcomingly harks back to the Godzilla films of the 50s and 60s, integrating the podgy bottomed man in rubber suit for the creature’s CG guise with breath-taking scenes of annihilation. Yet sadly, its scrawny plot, lack of protagonist, unlikeable characters and stock, news-gram delivery makes Shin Godzilla a cold, un-engrossing hat-tip that is tragically often difficult to enjoy.
An explosion off of Tokyo Bay results in city-wide mayhem. The government’s crisis management departments meet to discuss the best cause of action in response to what is assumed to be an undersea thermal discharge. Phone captured footage soon arrives online to reveal a colossal creature rising from the ocean, cue further panic and an influx of surplus emergency meetings during which characters exchange information but don’t actually do anything. As Godzilla (Gojira: meaning “God incarnate”) shuffles to shore, the US military turn up and suggest hitting it with a thermal nuclear blast because “no creature can stand the million degree heat of a nuke”, as the Japanese Government deliberate further and Godzilla levels the city.
Shin Godzilla’s clomping metaphor about the destructive power of regulation/ government red tape is an interesting concept to employ in a blockbuster but it’s so inelegantly applied. As a result the stocky political hoo-hah, which makes up the majority of the screen-time, is debilitating to the plot and monster mashing. Godzilla first emerges as a waddling, goggle-eyed, ostrich, bobbing about delirious in the ocean as though angry at being interrupted mid coitus. It then slumps on land and shuffles through the city like a radioactive slug that’s been shot with a tranquilliser dart before turning into the fire breathing Dino-bastard we all know and love then respectably crushing Tokyo.
Fast paced, shaky POV shots, abrupt editing and public filmed footage imposes a frenetic energy during the action scenes which combine for a bustling package of fantasy, eradication and dry political conflabs. Anno’s film sadly favours elongated negotiations over plot progression, character development and, for the better part, action. The “man is more frightening than Gojira” mantra is imposed in a different fashion to the US military’s more immediate/aggressive “let’s take action” MO and reiterated in various semblances throughout (the PM still moans about his noodles being soggy).
This results in Shin Godzilla feeling more like comprehensive news coverage instead of a monster movie with a linear storyline. Subsequently, it is often monotonous and lacks heart beneath its beautiful carnage. While characters coldly relay like newscasters and recurrently pontificate for our “viewing pleasure”, this runs the risk of disconnecting viewers, leaving them lost, indifferent and longing for Kong.