Cinematic Releases: Now, I Am Become Death: Shin Godzilla (2016) - Reviewed

It's been quite awhile since Godzilla has stomped his way across Japanese cinema. The last iteration was Godzilla: Final Wars which came out way back in 2004. It was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Versus) and while it wasn't terrible, it was extremely cheesy and campy. Japan's favorite giant monster was overdue for a reboot, and directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi stepped up to the plate to answer the call.

Most people will know Anno's name from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, a surreal giant robot series he directed in the mid-nineties. Higuchi directed last year's live action adaptation of Attack on Titan and he has done some work in anime as well. These are definitely the dudes you want working on a kaiju film and you can see their touches and trademarks all over Shin Godzilla. Anno penned the screenplay and Higuchi was in charge of the visual effects--this is a dream team. As an aside: Anno initially rejected Toho's offer to direct the film due to his depression (which he has suffered through his entire life) but Higuchi talked him into it. 

The plot is fairly basic--the Japanese coast guard discovers an abandoned boat and when they go to investigate it they are attacked by an unknown monster. Said monster turns out to be Godzilla and the rest of the film follows the Japanese people's struggle to deal with the giant, stompy lizard. It's nothing we haven't seen before in a Godzilla flick, but this is supposed to be a reboot, so I see why they went with the classic concept. Now, this is Anno we are talking about here, and he loves him some technobabble and control room scenes. We spend a lot of time in this film sitting in on meetings and watching people interact with each other. It seems like Anno was making a commentary on the inefficiency of bureaucracy and "red tape" though he does depict all the officials as being upstanding people. Japanese hierarchy is based on mutual respect (and age) so it's interesting to see everyone hash out how they are going to deal with Godzilla. Some people might find this tedious and boring though. There are definitely a few issues with the pacing in the first half. 

Godzilla's redesign is the best I have seen in the franchise in a long time. Mahiro Maeda was responsible for the new design and he made him look damn terrifying. The biggest difference is the glowing red cracks all over Godzilla's scales and his extra long tail that he uses to cause havoc. He also has a few cool new attacks that he uses from time to time. They used a combination of puppets, animatronics and motion capture/CGI and it looks awesome. It's the perfect mix of realistic and campy and gives the film a 1980s retro feel. Godzilla is in just the right amount of the movie and the human characters have some depth and humor to them.

Veteran composer Shiro Sagisu (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Casshern) provided the bombastic and epic music score. While Sagisu did a lot of original pieces for the score, he also uses some of Akira Ifukube's iconic music from the original Godzilla films and they fit seamlessly together. I swear I heard a few music cues from Sagisu's Evangelion score tucked in there as well. The sound effects are great too and they kept the retro-sounding Godzilla roar intact. The one negative is some of the Japanese characters speak English from time to time and it sounds pretty terrible. To be honest, it's always sounds cringe-inducing no matter what the film.

It's common knowledge that Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear weapons and the tragic events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This new reboot has a similar allegory but it uses the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami as inspiration. These films have always been about the indomitable Japanese spirit and resolve in the face of disaster. They are patriotic but not in a heavy-handed way and though it can be a little hokey, I love them for it. Overall, this is a great update to the franchise and I cannot wait to see where they go next with it.

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-Michelle Kisner