The king of the monsters, the ancient alpha predator, Godzilla has had a long and successful life since his (sometimes her) first appearance in Ishirō Honda’s eponymous 1954 film, with a total of thirty one films produced to date, twenty nine of them through the original Japanese production house Toho Studios including their latest relaunch of the franchise, Shin Gojira, also known as Godzilla Resurgence.
Yet what remains to be said about a giant prehistoric beast with radioactive breath, borne of the post-atomic age which saw Japanese cities burnt as a demonstration of western superiority? While in the west superheroes were the gift of radiation, in the east it created monsters who destroyed all that lay in their path, indiscriminately flattening houses, skyscrapers and transit links, and it is from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent damage to the Fukushima nuclear facility that Godzilla Resurgence springs.
Co-directed by Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Hideaki Anno and special effects expert Shinji Higuchi from a script by Anno, it begins with a disturbance in Tokyo Bay, an eruption of boiling water, while the transit tunnel which passes below the bay, the Aqua-Line, collapses and is flooded. An enormous creature has been detected, but what can the “giant unidentified life-form” be?
The suggestions of Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Attack on Titan‘s Hiroki Hasegawa) meet with the disdain of his staid colleagues who are no more receptive to the suggestion that Environment Ministry Deputy Chief of the Wildlife Division Hiromi Ogashira (Samurai High School‘s Mikako Ichikawa) is brought in to consult when the speculation of existing experts that the creature cannot make landfall proves false, embarrassing the Prime Minister (Hana-Bi‘s Ren Ohsugi) who has made that assurance to the residents of the city.
The decision is made that the creature must be killed before any more damage can be done to the city – “Look at the costs incurred already!” – but the weapons of the Japanese Self Defence Forces are no match for the rapidly evolving monster whose mutation is theorised to be driven by nuclear waste. The scale of the battle escalates swiftly as bigger weapons are rolled out and heavier hardware is thrown to little effect before an agreement is reached with the forces of the United States that they will lend military support, but Godzilla has not yet revealed the full range of its destructive powers.
The protocols and art of a foreign culture are inherently alien to anyone unfamiliar with them, yet even taking that into account Godzilla Resurgence is littered with bizarre narrative diversions, scenes filled with middle aged men in business suits who move from a meeting room to a different meeting room to a crisis operations centre where furniture is rearranged before even that room is abandoned and they move to another location.
With updates on the developing situation seemingly obtained by the government by watching the television news, the dialogue is overly analytic and administrative with everyone terrified of committing to a plan of action (“I can’t make a decision without an inspection!”) for fear of how it will reflect on them should the action turn out to be bad; while this might make an interesting drama or satire, it is not the usual focus of a giant monster rampage movie.
Although there are shots directly lifted from Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, where that story was told through the eyes of a small group of characters who almost seemed to draw the creature to them, a creature which also displayed a distinct personality, there is little attempt to expand any of the characters in Godzilla Resurgence or grant them life beyond the screen, the only indication of emotion being how frantically and loudly their dialogue is delivered, and Godzilla is strictly a lumbering, dumb beast.
The constant relaying of messages up and down through multiple layers between the front line and the Prime Minister serving only to slow the film and recalling the absurdity of Sigourney Weaver’s role in Galaxy Quest, the only constant seems to be the incompetence of all government authorities, the police unable to handle the evacuation, the failure of the US/Japanese collaboration, as much time devoted to bickering over the logistics of the delivery of the alternative defence as to the actual scenes where it is deployed.
Featuring a prominent Special Envoy for the President of the United States played by Sadako 3D‘s Satomi Ishihara whose dialogue is principally in English, Godzilla Resurgence has obviously been created with an eye on the international market yet remains utterly parochial with a style and presentation which hails it as harking from a time of less sophisticated cinema, as dated as the hot and cold wars which spawned it.
Tonally, the film is askew, trashing landmarks one moment then moving to soft jazz as the dawn breaks for the morning commute as the monster mysteriously vanishes, and the early stages of the creature resemble nothing so much as the puppets utilised by the Doctor Who production team for 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs, although the scenes as the enraged Godzilla torches Tokyo look like a videogame from at least this century.
With levels of destruction which remind of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds or the attack on the Colonies of Battlestar Galactica: The Plan prompting the authorities to consider an atomic strike against the apparently impervious and possibly immortal creature, it is clear that the Japanese cultural inclination towards honourable suicide rather than capitulation is still deeply ingrained.