Mladen and Del review ‘Godzilla Minus One’
Starring Minami Hamabe as Noriko Oishi; Ryunosuke Kamiki as whiny Koichi Shikishima; Sakura Ando as Sumiko Ota; Kuranosuke Sasaki as Quint, ah, Yoji Akitsu; Munetaka Aoki as Sosaku Tachibana; Hidetaka Yoshioka as Hooper, ah, Kenji Noda; and a toddler who cried as needed, among others. Directed by Takashi Yamazaki. Rated PG-13. Two hours, 4 minutes in length. Theatrical release.
“Godzilla Minus One” ain’t no “Shin Godzilla” but it’ll do. My concern is that Toho Studio’s new filmmaking philosophy is to render Godzilla movies more people-centric, rather than monster-focused, to draw more theatergoers and yen. How do I know? Because “Godzilla Minus One,” which is a crappy title for the movie, by the way, has trounced all of its other Godzilla releases at the Japanese and global box offices.
I concede that I almost fell into Toho’s people matter trap, which Del, no doubt, willingly threw himself into. Hamabe’s Noriko and Ando’s Sumiko are terrific in the film and, well, stunning, as in pretty as heck. Their presence almost offset our hero’s whimpering demeanor. All I could think about when Kamiki’s PTSD-ed former Zero fighter pilot Shikishima was on the screen was how much he reminded me of self-loathing, angst-ridden, crybaby Shinji in the “Evangelion” franchise.
“G -1.0” is a reboot of the reboot (“Shin Godzilla,” 2016) of 1954’s “Gojira.” Where “Shin Godzilla” was an innovative and imaginative rework of the heralded kaiju, “G -1.0” is a true-blue re-tell of “Gojira” down to scenes like the attack on a commuter train and a structure used by radio reporters describing Godzilla’s rampage toppling. Oh, the film’s ending is wanky, albeit intriguing.
Am I a disappointed Godzilla fanboy? No. “G -1.0” is a very good movie. When the monster appears, the action is fabulous, though derivative. Shades of “Jaws” and even the MonsterVerse’s “Godzilla vs Kong” flow through “G -1.0.” But, oh, boy, the battle between the newest Godzilla and former Imperial Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Takao is something to behold. The ship’s fate is a combination of HMS Hood, USS Arizona, and IJN aircraft carrier Akagi exploding. That scene, when I play it again and again on my home theater using a 4K disc, will be so loud that my neighbor’s will call the PD to file noise complaints. Just you wait.
Most importantly, “G -1.0” pays tribute to Akira Ifukube’s iconic Gojira score, as well as director Ishiro Honda’s vision of the monster. Hell, Tokyo’s Shinagawa ward is featured but, regrettably, there’s nary a Serizawa in the film. Still, there’s no question that you’re watching the real Godzilla, Toho’s Godzilla, rather than the non-real Godzilla, which is now that rambunctious, no-charisma, no-lineage creature of the MonsterVerse.
Yeah, go see “Godzilla Minus One” at the theater. Make sure it’s a Dolby or IMAX venue because this movie demands a sound system like no other. You Godzilla amateurs will love the people story in the film and you fanboys will get just enough G to look forward to Toho’s next release. My hope for, I don’t know, “Godzilla Plus One,” is that Toho mimics a sci-fi kaiju movie that takes its cue from Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” also somewhat of a dumb name for a film. “Nope” achieved a right smart balance between captivating humans and a fresh, big-ass monster. But it can’t be interpreted as a movie about people with the kaiju playing a supporting role.
“Godzilla Minus One” isn’t your grandfather’s Godzilla.
Critics and moviegoers are raving about Toho Studio’s latest iteration of the iconic lizard. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 4.8 out of 5 rating, Simon Abrams of RogerEbert.com calls it a “well-calibrated popcorn movie,” and The Guardian says it’s one of the very best of the Godzilla series, giving it 5 out of 6 stars.
High praise indeed. So why was I so bored?
Which isn’t to say “Godzilla Minus One” is a crappy movie. It’s quite good, and Mladen, proving once again that even a blind squirrel can sometimes find a nut, rightly encourages moviegoers to see it in a theater, preferably an IMAX, to make better use of its sprawling 2.39: 1 aspect ratio. Oh, and don’t forget the Dolby surround sound.
And kudos to Toho Studios for trying to address the human quotient in its Godzilla equation, which in the past was relegated to comical stereotypes that served no purpose than to lecture the audience about whatever denunciation-worthy subject was trending at the time of filming. Don’t listen to Mladen’s crabbing about people-centric vs. monster-focused – he was long ago absorbed by an alien pod and no longer possesses human emotions.
Sure, the movie’s about a giant monster that flattens part of Tokyo. But it’s about a lot of other things, too – for instance, national identity, and the role of bushido, the honor code, in postwar Japan. The movie’s protagonist, Koichi Shikishima (played by Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a World War II kamikaze pilot who chickened out, which makes him a disgrace to himself and a traitor to his people. He lands his plane on Odo Island, where he’s exposed as a coward by members of the garrison stationed there. Later, he fails to act in a crisis and several men are killed, and his status as coward is cemented. He spends the rest of the movie trying to atone for that sin.
“Godzilla Minus One” is surprisingly candid in addressing issues of postwar sentiment in Japan vs. prewar militancy and honor, which steered me away from my traditional interpretation of Godzilla as a metaphor for the hubris of science, specifically the development of the atomic bomb. It occurred to me (maybe wrongly) that the monster could be a symbol of the United States itself, a behemoth that descends on a moral, honorable Japan and wreaks destruction without regard to who or what was deserving of such treatment.
But the movie has its problems. The first act is excruciatingly slowed by character development – not even interesting character development. I found myself propping my head on my hand, awaiting the arrival of monster mayhem. And it may be a backhanded compliment to suggest “Godzilla Minus One” is the least ridiculous of the Godzilla films but still has its moments. For instance, when the movie tries to explain the absence of America in the fight against Godzilla, it suggests the United States is fearful of a Soviet response. Apparently the scriptwriters never heard of Korea or Vietnam.
The Godzilla in this movie is an angry, muscular Godzilla, shrugging off the slow evolution that has taken place since 1954 when the monster first appeared as a symbol of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to more recent times as Godzilla became a kind of benevolent protector from kaiju thuggery. FX are top-notch and the destruction is worthy of a Roland Emmerich film. I loved Godzilla’s radioactive breath, which set off spectacular, nuclear-like explosions. Very cool!
Also, I was impressed with Naoki Sato’s score, a perfectly calibrated synthesis of wonder and horror as the monster wreaks havoc on Tokyo’s Ginza. Yet it made room for elements of Akira Ifukube’s original “Gojira” theme, offered as a deserved homage.
Overall I’d give “Godzilla Minus One” a grade of A-. It’s an attempt to modernize the monster mythos while honoring its roots. Apart from a slow first act and a few sillies thrown in – what would a Godzilla movie be without a few sillies – it’s a good monster movie.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.