Godzilla Minus One is not part of the ongoing Monster Universe that was crossed over with the Kong movies. This is a new movie from Toho Studios and could be considered a reboot for the series to a certain extent. As far as I’m aware, that hasn’t been confirmed yet. We can think of this one as a remake of the very first movie to celebrate Godzilla’s 70th Anniversary.
This is the first time that a Toho-made Godzilla movie has come over to the UK, thanks to localisation. In the writer and director’s chair, we have Takashi Yamazaki. I haven’t seen much of his work, but I have seen a few clips from his live-action Parasite movie, and it didn’t fill me with much confidence, I know fans are very mixed with how that film turned out.
Godzilla Minus One has already broken a ton of box office records, it has done phenomenally in the US, to such an extent that on its opening weekend in the UK, it was announced that along with the upcoming Miyazaki movie (The Boy and the Heron), it would be extended to 2,300 cinemas.
But was it deserved? In my opinion, yes. As I mentioned, it was kind of a remake of the original movie. You’re not going into this one to watch monster fights, as Godzilla doesn’t have an opponent this time, it’s just about him.
The film takes place over two years, beginning in the end days of World War 2 in 1945 up to 1947. We follow Koichi Shikishima (played by Ryunosuke Kamiki), a prospective kamikaze pilot who gets involved in an incident on an island that involves Godzilla, which results in many of his fellow soldier’s deaths. Surviving this, he returns home to find his parents were killed in one of the many raids over Tokyo. After he helps out a young woman named Noriko (Minami Hamabe), who is carrying a small child. He lets them in, hoping to do some good, only to find out a couple of years later that due to nuclear testing in the area, Godzilla has become bigger and is heading for mainland Japan.
Godzilla Minus One doesn’t have the monster fights, this is not ‘fun’ Godzilla, if anything, this has done something that I thought the series would never do, and has gone back to Godzilla being a horror movie. Some incredibly tense sequences in this movie make you think about what could happen next. If anything, Godzilla Minus One succeeds because it gives us human characters that we like. Even in the more recent movies, the characters can feel like afterthoughts.
Where this film works out well is that they make this film about the characters. Everyone is a very well-rounded character and it helps that all of the performances are excellent. Ryunosuke Kamiki may be a recognizable voice to you if you’ve ever watched the Japanese versions of Your Name, The Secret World of Arietty or Spirited Away. I thought he gave a fantastic performance in Your Name, but in this movie, I firmly have to say if he’s not up for Best Actor at the Oscars, then the Academy has really gone wrong. He gives one of the best performances in a Godzilla movie so far, and he really delivers on all of the emotions that he needs to and really sells the main theme of the movie: trauma.
Godzilla Minus One is set during Japan’s belated recovery from the Second World War, and while obviously, any post-WW2 stories about Japan will acknowledge what a traumatic time it was for the country, they gave a lot and didn’t get anything in return for it. Some voices are suggesting that there are some types of historical revision, which isn’t inaccurate, considering who the Japanese government sided within that war. But what I found interesting was that compared to other post-war Japanese films that I have seen, while there are definitely some criticisms of the war itself, there seems to be a bit more of a criticism of the Japanese ruling class at the time. There are some lines about how the soldiers were viewed as expendable, and the citizens too.
The characters are so good in this movie that you can forgive the fact that for large portions of this film, Godzilla isn’t on screen. You just enjoy hanging out with these characters, and it makes you root for all of the characters to come out alive. Remember when films with body counts had that?
I also have to say that the cinematography is excellent. There are obviously a lot of special effects that go into this, but it all pays off. One of the most amazing ways that tension is used is with the atomic breath that Godzilla has. There are the usual sound effects, but the way it’s shot really adds to the tension, and this is probably the most destructive the atomic breath has ever been. The imagery that is used to convey how powerful it is is downright breathtaking, and from an audio-visual quality, it’s unbelievable. I watched this in a cinema with Dolby Surround sound, and it really paid off.
I will state that you don’t need that to enjoy the movie, as it’s great in itself. I was also surprised at how they tied it in with the post-war American testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific Ocean- that’s a part of the creation of Godzilla that isn’t discussed very often. If you’d like a better explanation of that, I would recommend, Overly Sarcastic’s Trope Talk on Kaiju.
I could spend all day talking about this movie, but I don’t want to spoil it.
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