a review by the Crow (ft. The Azure-Winged Magpie).
TRULY, A GOD INCARNATE
Over the past few days, the Magpie and I have been trying to put together a mega-post about Shin Gojira. That mega-post clocks in at around 5,000 words as of this writing, and isn’t even anywhere close to being completed.
With that in the background, what I’ve decided to do is to split this post up. This first part will just be a general (spoiler-free) review, and the following parts will take a look at other parts of the movie we’d like to discuss.
To recap our old intro:
I wanted to watch Shin Gojira ever since it came out. Living in the UK, and only taking the shortest of trips overseas for the past few years, I’ve not had the fortune to see it in theatres. In the UK, the movie only had one screening in Glasgow before the distributor – for some reason that’s not clear to me – dropped it, and it seems unlikely to be released anytime soon.
In the time between it’s release in Japan – just under a year ago – and the Magpie recently coming through with a DVD of it (and helping me understand what was being saidbefore having a copy brought over for me as well, which’ll soon be in my own personal possession!), I spoilt the movie for myself.
Now, I’ve mentioned before how I don’t really mind spoilers all that much, and how it once came back to bite me, hard. And while I didn’t really mind being spoilt before watching this particular movie, I wish I hadn’t. I think it’d have been much nicer to dive into this one without foreknowledge. But even with that said, my being spoilt didn’t take away from the awe that this movie inspired all that much.
And a word to the wise: if you think you might be even a little affected, please don’t look up this movie on YouTube if you want to experience it in all its glory. I made a mistake; I implore you not to do so as well. There are lots of spoilers out there.
To be quite honest, I’d ask people to not even view the trailers, if I could. Too many people I know seem to find the trailers a bit… off-putting – and are too quick to dismiss the movie, in my opinion. Maybe that’s just differences in cultural expectations, maybe that’s just being ‘too used to Hollywood’, but the same defence I had for the recent live-action Ghost in the Shell applies here, after a fashion.
The same way in which Ghost in the Shell was ‘dumbed-down’? I find – despite the Azure-Winged Magpie’s somewhat… stringent defence of it – that it’s similar to 2014’s Godzilla, just in the opposite direction.
The original Gojira, while undoubtedly a classic, wouldn’t go over with contemporary audiences if released today. But at the time it was released, I can clearly see why it translated so well to American shores.
Despite the overarching influence of Hollywood and its usual formulas, the cinema of other nations have branched out into disparate styles, and contemporary Japanese cinema (or the cinema of most countries, for that matter) has little to do with the expectations of people who exclusively watch Hollywood-style movies.
I won’t lie. After watching the movie a few times, I hunted down an illegal copy that was available to stream online (to my shame – and what a nightmare that venture turned out to be. Those things are more trouble than they’re worth.) that had actual English subtitles – from the US theatrical release, I assume.
It was more for my peace of mind since I wanted to know if I’d understood the dialogue properly, and I’m happy to say that the Magpie, with all her resources – and despite her initial lack of confidence about her prowess over Japanese – came through just fine. A few things here and there were better explained, I suppose, but on the whole, I’d got the plot. It comes down to my ear simply not being attuned to the pace at which natural Japanese-speakers talk, is all.
And after a few viewings over homemade ramen paired with my hackey version of Chicken Chasseur (and some eggs and assorted pickled veggies), we came up with a final verdict on this film.
At some point, the Magpie’s going to jump in to this review, and I’ll make it clear when she does. We have a lot to say, but I should remind you that this instalment of our Shin Gojira review is going to be mild on spoilers.
GORO MAKI WHO?! GOJIRA WHAT?!
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
Unlike the 2014 Hollywood adaptation (which was a damn sight better than whatever the hell it was Roland Emmerich and his team delivered), in Shin Gojira, there’s a large beast on screen within minutes.
A ‘pleasure boat’ is discovered abandoned off the Tokyo bay. Everything inside it is neat and clean, and the coast guard (or equivalent thereof) assume that it’s the scene of a suicide. And just then, the plot surges forward.
Following a presumed accident on the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line, in which a torrent of liquid not unlike blood floods the tunnel, a gigantic Loch-ness figure is spotted off the bay. And images of said figure spread quickly via the internet (as these things do).
We cut to the government scampering around to get their act together. Initially, there is some cynicism to the ‘monster’ hypothesis that is suggested; but soon, when a monstrous figure starts waddling up the canals of Kamata, everything changes.
To make this review easier on those who haven’t yet seen the movie (although we will spoil a few things), I’m going to choose my next words carefully.
When we first saw ‘it’ (and the Azure-Winged Magpie and I first laid eyes on it at the same time), our mutual reaction was one of surprise. We had no idea what this thing was, and why it looked the way it did. We assumed it was something about to get stomped on, eventually.
Now, my mum and I share a strange sense of humour, and I only wish I could translate what jokes we’d share about these scenes to you. I laughed, the Magpie swore her head off; and then… the movie laughed back.
A lot of people mention the eyes as being “too silly” for their liking. But think about it: this creature (Kamata-kun) is an aquatic being. Why would it’s eyes look any different? The image above is quite the flattering still of him because you can’t see those eyes, but they do make sense.
When it starts leaking, when it ripples with energy and stands up on its two feet, arcing its head up to the sky and roaring (in due time), the movie makes it apparent that it’s truly rebooted the “King of the Monsters”.
This version of Gojira is not what we were prepared for. This version of the classic monster is a far more dangerous beast – one that is truly unstoppable, as quickly becomes apparent.
And then, he moves further inland. And our human characters stand in awe, just as the audience does, and wonder how to save themselves from this god incarnate.
THE DESECRATION OF TOKYO
(AND THE KING OF THE MONSTERS)
It’s hard to describe the awe that the titular monster inspires. I’ve found some cut footage on YouTube which makes him even scarier, and I’m myself impressed at how perfect this edition of Gojira is as a creature.
All the theories and speculation we have surrounding him will be spelt out in a later post (and there’s a lot), but just for now, all I have to say is that Shin Gojira is the ultimate form of the monster we all know and (most of us) love.
The Xenomorph from Alien is one of the most perfect fictional organisms ever dreamt of, and while it’s certainly a worthy contender for the most dangerous creature in all of fiction, I think Shin Gojira far surpasses it.
While it is a terrible beast, the movie leaves space open for sympathy towards the titular monster. Even its sheer terrifying appearance can be taken as a sign of hurt and suffering. And one of the questions I have about Gojira in this context is: what if he was just allowed to walk?
That point’s going to come up in one of our follow-up posts, but for now, all I’ll say is that Shin Gojira isn’t himself a monster out for blood. There are nuances to him that, from a human perspective, seem threatening, but might not be from his point-of-view. It’s similar to what happened in Cloverfield (which I didn’t really think was all that good, and which I just happened to bring up in a conversation today to clear my head a little about the possible similarities between what’s going on with the stories surrounding Cloverfield and Shin Gojira), but with a healthy cord tying us to the origins of the franchise, and the concept of Gojira as a whole.
One of the other things I loved about this movie was that – like the material surrounding Cloverfield – this movie has secrets. There’s something left to be deciphered. From what I understand, there might not be a sequel (at least not helmed by Anno), but Shin Gojira‘s left a lot of material up to speculation. And while the film stands fine as it is – towering, quite literally, over all other monster movies, I’d love to see a sequel which explores the potential this movie holds.
And all of the movie’s awesomeness comes off the back of a simplistic base. Yes, there are some scientific-jargon terms thrown around; yes, there are multiple characters buzzing in and out of the frame… but the giant figure of Gojira unites them all, standing tall in the background (and Kamakura-san is the biggest Gojira to have ever walked on theatre/TV/laptop screens); but at the end of the day, the basics of what inspire him ring true in the minds of anyone who knows about recent events relating to nuclear accidents in Japan, and the origins of the original Gojira.
And can I please mention the music? A lot of people who’ve complained about the music seeming off might be missing the fact that the music is mostly from the original movie. Yes, it might sound a bit off-kilter to those expecting a contemporary soundtrack to a contemporary production, but to anyone who’s experienced the original, it’s a haunting score. I’d recommend people not take it as a score for a movie made for modern audiences (as a matter of fact, Shin Gojira takes place in the near-future), but rather as a call-back to Gojira’s roots.
Shin Gojira is as much of a perversion as Gojira was, and the music fits that theme. It’s a strange mix of the classic score, with vocals in (what sound for sure like) English, and elements of aberrant Anime productions (related to the lead director). It just fits so well with the themes of the movie.
Some Western critics have criticised the way characters are handled in this movie. Personally, I have no problems with how it was done. With a movie that is so clearly “post-human”, with our only real anchors being Rando Yaguchi (Hasegawa Hiroki) and Kayoko Ann Patterson (Ishihara Satomi), I see no problems having individual characterisation and personal story-arcs being pushed to the background.
Gojira had some decent character moments, but in the face of a beast the likes of Gojira, what are humans, anyway?
What I loved about the humans in this movie is that no one seems to half-arse their job. Everyone is competent, and does what they have to do to the best of their ability.
I especially liked the Prime Minister. Apart from Yaguchi, Patterson, and Yaguchi’s friend (whose name I’ll edit-in after confirming it because I don’t want to make a horrid mistake), he seemed to be one of the most perfect anchors for us in the early parts of the movie.
In the face of a force of this nature, all personal arcs are pushed aside. And all the characters agree, sacrificing all personal gain until Gojira is slowed time and time again. And that’s why I disagree with the criticism the West (although I’m one of them… go figure) has for the movie. With this Gojira, on the scale on which things are being played out, there simply isn’t time for character development. And in my eyes, that adds to the scale of the story.
COAGULATION AND TAILS
The last few scenes of the movie are especially horrifying, and I hope that they get explored someday. While the movie is fine as it is, I’d really like this version of Gojira to be more explored.
I respect Ms Ishihara for her efforts in the movie, but I do think that her English (US) accent was a little flubbed now and again. Mr Hasegawa’s stoic performance, on the other hand, (amongst a handful of others) was a nice way of keeping things from going too chaotic.
I thought everything in this feature was a realistic take on what would happen if a monster of that scale ever showed up on the shores of a densely-populated city.
Soon, we’ll delve into the secrets of the movie in a sepraate post. But for now, I’m going to hand the reins over to the Azure-Winged Magpie.
Take it away!You nutcase!
The Azure-Winged Magpie:
I’m a nutcase?! Oh… wait. Yes I am!
Right… let’s see. I think everyone knows that I love Gojira. BUT…!
I actually love this one more!
I think Shin Gojira is the most perfect Gojira film ever made. It’s not the same as the original. No. But it’s not a bad way to bring His Nuclear Scaliness into the modern era. Like said before: it’s a proper reboot. It’s NOT the same thing from before. It’s NOT the same story. It’s NOT the same fear. But it’s something that mixes up all of that into one big punch.
Just like the main character’s a mixup of everything that’s been happening. Fukushima? The bombs? Genetic modification?
I loved everything about this. We’ll get around to sorting out the mysteries about this soon. Until then… be good you lot!
THE CROW: 9/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 10/10