Toho Studios Delivers First Godzilla Film In 12 Years
"Destroy All Monsters" (1968)
"Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" (2001)
UPDATE: 10 a.m., Oct. 12, 2016
In order to review "Shin Godzilla" ("Godzilla Resurgence"), I had to watch an online screener on my computer. That is no way to enjoy a Godzilla movie, but I wanted to alert people of the monster-sized fact that a Japanese Godzilla film was arriving on U.S. shores. But last night, I had a chance to see the film the way it was meant to be appreciated on the gorgeous screen at Angelika Film Center Carmel Mountain. Seeing the film in a theater made me want to amend a few things in my review.
Most notably, Godzilla's scale in this new film is something to behold and it was not nearly as impressive on my 17-inch computer, mainly because of the sound. In the theater, the sound of Godzilla stomping across Japan physically rumbles in the theater and intensifies the feeling of a massive creature walking in front of you. In one scene, you feel like Godzilla's long, winding tail is passing right over your head and the sound design is so good that you almost feel a whoosh of air over your head. There is also a beauty in some of the nighttime shots of Godzilla that are just breathtakingly beautiful.
Plus, on the big screen, Godzilla's new design can be appreciated in much more detail. He is a creature that is evolving, so at times blood spills out from gill-like openings and other times, he looks like he has raw, exposed muscle. I'm not a huge fan of his new beady little eye, but it is cool when a protective lid closes over it as he delivers his atomic blasts. And there is a shot at the end of Godzilla's tail that had my group of geeky friends pondering all sorts of possibilities for what future films may hold in terms of the kaiju (giant monsters) that we will see.
My original complaint that we need more of Godzilla active on-screen still holds, but all the cabinet meetings and bureaucratic red tape struck me as being more satiric than it had on my first viewing. So the conclusion is the same: Go see Big G on the big screen! The film also reaffirms that the Japanese understand Godzilla far better than the Americans. They understand that he is an indestructible force that you have to learn to live with. He is terrifying and magnificent to behold, and humankind has to take some responsibility for his existence. Godzilla was born out of Japan's unique experience with the horrors of the atomic bomb and because of that, the best Godzilla films will always be from his place of birth where he is best understood and appreciated.
It’s been more than a decade since Toho Studios has produced a Godzilla movie but all that changes with “Godzilla Resurgence” (“Shin Godzilla”), a film that opened in Japan earlier this year and finally arrives in the U.S. this week at select theaters Oct. 11 through 18.
As a fan of Godzilla, I have been waiting for a new film from Toho Studios for 12 years. Godzilla was born at Toho in 1954 through the genius of filmmaker Ishiro Honda, effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and suit actor Haruo Nakajima. I fell in love with Big G as a child and one of the chief attractions was that he was brought to life by a man in a rubber suit. I know that is sometimes made fun of here in the U.S. but it is what gave Godzilla his unique personality and made him so compelling and endearing to me.
Toho has allowed two American films to be made, one was the horrendous debacle of 1998 (which most people choose to deny even happened) and the other was the 2014 Gareth Edwards’ film that was flawed but had a decent monster.
But now Godzilla finally returns to his birthplace to wreak havoc on Japan once again in a film from Toho Studios. At the helm is Hideaki Anno, fresh off the recent “Evangelion” anime movies. Anno keeps the film moving at a brisk pace but he leaves us wanting more Godzilla on screen.
“Godzilla Resurgence” opens with a strange fountain of water erupting in the bay. Officials are alarmed but initially dismiss it as some sort of volcanic activity. But then a creature emerges from the deep and begins a rampage through Japan. Cabinet meetings are called, officials agonize over a course of action, and meanwhile the creature begins to transform into what everyone soon acknowledges is Godzilla.
This new “Godzilla Resurgence” is an odd mix of things. On the one hand it seems designed very specifically for a Japanese audience in terms of some of the social, political and cultural references. Yet on the other hand it seems the most cognizant of Godzilla’s place in the global marketplace and includes many scenes in English. There is even a Japanese-American woman representing the U.S. government and it is through U.S. documents that Godzilla is given his name in this film.
In some ways, this Godzilla is more serious than past outings as it references the Fukushima accident, Japan’s ability to militarize and questions how far a government will go to rid itself of danger. A scene of Japanese government officials talking about nuking Tokyo in order to get rid of Godzilla has a chilling echo since Japan is the only country to have had two nuclear bombs dropped on it. And Godzilla himself emerged from that nuclear fallout.
But “Resurgence” is also jokier and even a bit meta as it considers what is attacking Japan and as endless cabinet meetings ponder Godzilla's place in the new world order.
The U.S. representative explains: “There is a movement centered in China/Russia to take Godzilla out of the control of the Japanese government and put it under international organizations.”
She even talks about the role the United Nations might play.
The press notes explain it this way: “As the government scrambles to save the citizens, a rag-tag team of volunteers cuts through a web of red tape to uncover the monster’s weakness and its mysterious ties to a foreign superpower.”
In both a serious and a tongue-in-cheek manner, the film considers Japan’s relationship with the U.S.
But most people will not be going to see “Resurgence” for any of its serious or not so serious commentary. They will be going for the monster.
For this new film, Godzilla is brought to life with a combination of a suit, puppetry, animatronics and computer effects, and the results are mostly top notch. The new design had some fans buzzing about what was going on but this new Godzilla transforms through the course of the film beginning as a rather slug-like creature with no forearms and a more whale-like body.
So depending on what point in his evolution you see him, you might be concerned about his appearance. But he grows into a massive, scarred creature with a whole new set of weaponry besides atomic laser breath. But as with the Gareth Edwards’ film, this one too fails to give us enough of Godzilla on screen and active.
Some of the effects work, but some scenes involving things blowing up, look a little shoddy. Many of the old school Godzilla films could get away with some cheesy effects because the carefully crafted miniature work and man in a rubber suit had a charm that invited us to partake in the fantasy world they were creating. But with the greater reliance on computer-generated effects, audiences are more likely to be pulled out of the action by poorly rendered explosions.
Although there is a suit actor credited — Mansai Nomura — we get a hybrid Godzilla that is not quite as much fun as what we have had in the past. But he's still an impressive sight to behold and it is a treat to have him on the big screen.
But I don't want my nostalgia for what I loved in the past blind me to the fact that the Godzilla franchise may need to look to the future and figure out a way to make this hybrid of suit acting, motion capture, puppetry, animatronics and CGI work.
Since this is the first Toho "Godzilla" in 12 years, it feels a bit like a reboot and it makes me hopeful for what is to come as the studio and its creative team rediscover what Big G is capable of.
“Godzilla Resurgence” (made by Toho but released through Funimation) may not be Godzilla at his very best but for fans of the giant monster, it’s a welcome relief to have him back in Toho Studio’s hands where we see the potential for exciting new developments. And as with the recent American Godzilla, this film feels very much a set up for additional franchise entries.
Hopefully, Godzilla’s next Toho outing will have him facing off against more kaiju (literally translated as strange creature but has come to mean giant monster). In the meantime, let's just enjoy Big G on the big screen again.
Check out what Gojira/Godzilla has to say about Japan and be listening later this month for a Cinema Junkie podcast on Godzilla and his legacy.