Thursday, 19 April 2018

Shin Godzilla - stomping through politics

Hideaki Anno & Shinji Jiguchi, 
2016, Japan

A reboot of Godzilla by Toho Studios – directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Jiguchi – that focuses on the political turmoil caused by a super-monster stomping through Tokyo. That means lots of talk about military action, evacuations and international relations. From time to time, Godzilla impressively unleashes sheer destruction. He’s been upgraded to motion capture and CGI but they haven’t even used the latter to make the eyes blink and his arms never move so it’s feel is very much man-in-a-suit. More importantly, the long-shots of Gojira ploughing through the suburbs and the city are bright, spectacular, clear and the best yet seen, surely.* The film steers a very tricksy line between the appearance of seemingly clunky old-fashioned effects and state-of-the-art techniques, pleasingly and sometimes surprisingly.

But the film is mostly cutting between various political, scientific and military departments trying to deal with the crisis. Much is made of Japan’s international relations dealing with the giant monster crisis: boardrooms become the central location of the drama as a satire of government bewilderment and bureaucracy ensues. If Gojira was born from the Atomic bomb, here the monster more represents nuclear and natural disasters: he’s there to embody all the terrible tragedies that befall Japan it seems (most obviously here it’s Fukushima Daiichi and Tōhoko, but remember he also fought the smog monster Hedorah). There’s a sly acknowledgement to the origins of Godzilla by having America name the beast and Japan then adopting it. America is represented by an ineffective aerial assault – just one of many – and a Japanese-American liaison (Satomi Ishihara) who bears the most difficult English accent of the cast; she has a penchant for acting sassy and flipping her hair like she’s learnt her moves from perfume commercials and seems to have stepped in from one of the earlier tackier films in the franchise (there’s also a somewhat baffling subplot about her becoming president eventually?). But it ends up being France that proves Japan’s political ally.

There are so many characters and groups being introduced all the time that it’s probably forgivable if you don’t quite keep track (the IMDB page gives the flavour of this). But mostly we follow Cabinet Secretary Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) as he angsts over Gojira and his political ambitions. Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Jiguchi try to keep all this boardroom and control centre action exciting by gliding the camera through offices and having sheets of paper deployed in quick cuts like karate blows, or more strikingly through a portable device’s screen’s POV of the people looking at it, but there’s no doubt that this gets in the way of giant monster action and that the film could have been shorn of much of this. Most of the dialogue is made of instructions and exposition so it’s certainly better than many Godzilla films, but the line that stuck out for me was also the most enjoyably ridiculous: “Deploy all train bombs!” Of course, if you want to up the cheesiness, just play the dubbed version.**

The monster genre is typified and marred by the sense that the drama is almost always weaker than the rampage, but here it’s more that the politics starts to get in the way of the Kaiju. The seriousness is commendable and it’s all very slick and less silly than most Gojira flicks, but as admirable as it is to return Godzilla to Toho studios, there’s the sense that it’s longer and less fun than it should be.

· Gareth Edwards much maligned 2014 ‘Godzilla’ had some spectacular showpieces but failed to film its monsters in a way that left the audience satisfied. Even if it’s a man in a suit, an audience likes its kaiju anti-hero bright and clearly seen.
·        It’s “Send in all the train bombs” in the subtitles and “Freeze the bugger!” becomes “Freeze the bastard!” in the dub. It’s the little things… But this has been a review of the subtitled version because dubbing makes everything less serious.

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