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Film Review: Godzilla Minus One

English Title: Godzilla Minus One

Japanese Title: ゴジラ-1.0

Director(s): Yamazaki Takashi

Screenwriter(s): Yamazaki Takashi

Studio: TOHO, Robot Communications Inc.

Released: 2023

Runtime: 2h 5m

Starring: Kamiki Ryunosuke, Hamabe Minami, Yoshioka Hidetaka, Sasaki Kuranosuke, Yamada Yuki, Ando Sakura, Aoki Munetaka


Being the 37th Godzilla film, it is difficult to do anything remotely original, but Godzilla Minus One proves it doesn’t have to be.


The film opens with kamikaze pilot Shikishima Koichi (Kamiki Ryunosuke) landing on Odo Island towards the end of WWII, supposedly for repairs but chief mechanic Tachibana (Aoki Munetaka) notices that there is nothing wrong with his plane. That night, an oversized T-Rex/Raptor-like monster appears on the island which the locals call Godzilla. The mechanics fire at it with no effect but Shikishima hesitates to fire his plane’s larger caliber guns. All except Shikishima and Tachibana are subsequently killed.


Shikishima returns home to Tokyo. His house is mostly rubble and his parents are dead. A young woman named Noriko (Hamabe Minami) with a baby girl named Akiko takes shelter in his home and ends up staying. Noriko’s parents are dead too and Akiko is an orphan, the two having no blood relation. American nuclear tests mutate Godzilla into its trademark form and the plot follows how Shikishima deals with his life and the threat of Godzilla.


Given the premise and setting, there is obvious influence from the original 1954 film and there are certainly a few scenes and shots that pay homage to it. There is also some influence from Jaws (1975) as Shikishima works on a wooden minesweeper to get rid of magnetic mines deployed during the war. It is whilst working on the boat that Godzilla approaches and he and his colleagues are called to deal with the situation.


Thematically, there is the usual allegory of nuclear weapons and the devastation its use can cause but this point is not dwelled on beyond the mandatory Godzilla-trashes-Tokyo scene. And, if one considers current affairs, one wonders whether it is also predictive programming; that is, nuked cities with its consequent high casualty rates, possibly in an Asian country.


There is also brief but not-so-subtle commentary about government bureaucracy and incompetence as well as unhelpful international relations in the post-war environment, but the film is not heavily political.


Ultimately, one could simplistically describe the film as plot-driven rather than character-driven, but it is character-focused. In a way, the main characters, like Godzilla, are “survivors”, and living as distinct from merely surviving as well as the lasting impact of war are presumably the themes. (Granted, Godzilla is not a survivor who struggles as the term usually implies, but he is a survivor nonetheless as he is practically unkillable.)


Shikishima, Noriko and Akiko have lost their families. Over time, things appear normal enough on the surface as they look like a married couple with a young child. They even have the grumpy neighbor who helps look after Akiko. But it’s not normal, the situation is a result of war (that had nothing to do with Godzilla). Shikishima’s well-paying job enables him to support the “family” but it’s well-paying because he is removing mines, a literal holdover from the war.


Shikishima also suffers from something like survivor’s guilt and PTSD—there is at least a part of him that wants to live but he doesn’t know how. Again, he works to remove mines but there are so many left, a symbol of his post-war life. The film heavily focuses on Shikishima’s quiet struggle and the impact Shikishima and Noriko have on each other. In this sense, the film’s tone is somewhat dark even though it is not visually dark.


The narrative strikes a decent balance in terms of plot, action and characters. Although it is character-focused, there is sufficient action. It is not cheap non-stop action from start to finish, nor does it deliberately hold back on Godzilla’s appearance like the 2014 American film in which director Gareth Edwards was mostly able to create effective tension by doing so. In my opinion, Edwards could shown a little more Godzilla but that is another discussion.


This film takes its time to build, but just when one may be tempted to think the narrative is focusing on the lead characters too much, there is a set piece. Overall, whilst there are a few events that happen a bit conveniently, the pacing is well-managed and there is enough action and enough of Godzilla.


The performances are convincing enough. One could argue the characters are simply written but they are relatable and the cast does well with what they have. There may be one or two moments when the two leads overdo it but there is nothing particularly jarring. This is partly because there is sufficient opportunity for the audience to connect to them.


The production is generally solid. The cinematography and film editing are well executed. There is the use of (relatively) longer shots or shots that are held just a little longer to stay with the character or the action. It avoids the quick cuts that are overused and often poorly executed nowadays.


The CGI, budget notwithstanding, is good too. One can tell it is CG but it blends in well with the rest of the shot so there is nothing outright jarring.


Visually, there are liberties that can be avoided. For example, like Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) but not as bad, Godzilla is seemingly able to stand up whilst in water even though the waters are not shallow enough for him to do so. Sometimes, he is leaping out which is fair enough, water polo players do it all the time, but I am referring to moments when he looks like he is standing and not treading or leaping. I know it’s meant to be the “imposing monster” shot but it’s not necessary.


Both the sound design and sound editing are impressive as the results are crisp and clear and mostly without coming across as unnatural even though the mix is very loud at times.


Overall, it is a good film in every respect. It is consistent with the franchise, the pacing is well-managed, there is enough action but also a real focus on believable characters with decent performances, and the production is solid. It doesn’t try to be original and weird like Shin Godzilla (2016) which, by the way, is an intriguing film. But it doesn’t need to be because it is very well executed.

 

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