SHIN GODZILLA Capsule Reviews
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details and images from an upcoming movie.
Less than three months after opening in Japan, Toho’s SHIN GODZILLA (シン・ゴジラ, Shin Gojira, 2016) comes to North America, courtesy of distributor Funimation Films. The movie debuts this evening in 534 theaters across the U.S. and Canada.
Last week, Funimation invited several SciFi Japan staffers — and some good friends/SFJ contributors — to both the Los Angeles and New York VIP premieres. Read on for SHIN GODZILLA reviews by four attendees of the LA event (and be sure to check out John DeSentis’ review and coverage of the film’s NYC premiere here).
To purchase tickets to or find more information on SHIN GODZILLA, visit funimationfilms.com/shingodzilla.
The Turning Point for the Franchise
Author: Edward L. Holland
Whether you agree or disagree on the merits of SHIN GODZILLA, released in Japanese theaters July 29, 2016 and at premieres in Austin, Los Angeles, and New York, this film is the turning point for the franchise. After Legendary’s GODZILLA 2014 directed by Gareth Edwards, some, including cherished special effects director Koichi Kawakita, who kept Godzilla alive for years, agreed that the Kaiju — despite its demise in Japan — would live on in western variations. However, after the release of the ATTACK ON TITAN films directed by Shinji Higuchi (Gamera) a resurrection was jumpstarted for a new film directed by Hideaki Anno (EVANGELION), a nail biting production finished just days before its red carpet world premiere on Godzilla Street, adjacent to the Gracery Godzilla Hotel Shinjuku, Tokyo, a few days before Toho Studios’ nationwide release.
Proponents and dissatisfied critics have given varying reviews of this film, which at times honors the golden past, and assuredly moved towards a more Japanese direction than any of its predecessors, not counting the 1954 debut directed by Ishiro Honda. Whereas the 1954 film was released amidst the fallout and reconstruction of Tokyo after World War II catastrophic bombings, SHIN GODZILLA stands up a militaristic stance vice a war-torn horror theme throughout, either enticing you to enlist or unapologetically jump ship in the two-hour long “masterpiece,” as many are calling it. Meanwhile, outside of cineplexes real life threats continue to spill into Japan’s backyard, with noisy neighbors Korea and China growing louder, as Japan’s government struggles to adjust changes to their constitution, set up and co-authored by the United States, which prohibited war against any threat almost seventy years ago.
Elements involving Germany, France, and the US make for a strained storyline, but incorporation of the world battling Godzilla as a force is a plus in comparison to such absence in Legendary’s release, just one inadequacy of the 2014 narrative. SHIN GODZILLA has been derided for its long, sub-titled dialogue scenes, which works to its credit like an overly talky, anime drama with quick edits, and are vital to understanding more of the dilemma of Japanese society featured within. The film visually speaks to the difficulty of business and nation building after tragedy, particularly the inaction which caused untold damage during the Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011, continuing to challenge Japan domestically, and abroad.
The real star of the film is the human drama and the teamwork that ensues during multiple failures, and horrors beset on the nation and world by Godzilla, created by man’s inattention to destructive, radioactive deposits found and consumed on the ocean floor. Many fans want this to be the film that speaks to them, but keep in mind it was co-directed by Anno, who is more of an Ultraman fan than Godzilla, and co-director Higuchi, who thankfully got his start on RETURN OF GODZILLA, and remains vocal about his passion for Kaiju Eiga and television from the days of Eiji Tsuburaya and beyond. There are plans to make another Japanese Godzilla film, maybe in advance of the next US version, and perhaps this time Toho teamwork can pull out all stops in a bigger budgeted, more fantastic outing during the next round. Take a look back at the masterpiece short GOD WARRIOR APPEARS IN TOKYO, which debuted at the Tokusastu Special Effects Exhibition in July 2012, to see what Anno and Higuchi are capable of bringing to the forefront if given more time and resources. Working together since their college days, on home movies, they have a wealth of experience and have successfully graduated to world cinema, on an epic scale with SHIN GODZILLA.
After seeing the release in Tokyo, Osaka, Yokosuka (next to the J.M.S.D.F. base), and the Los Angeles premiere each time it offers a different insight into Japanese culture: remorse, etiquette, and spirit that sternly attacks unfathomable, catastrophes with personal and delicate regard for every single life in the balance. It reminds me of experiences working with civilians and military personnel from the Tohoku, Fukushima and Kumamoto areas. Reflecting on the physical, mental strengths, and resiliency of these regions of the country and those affected by disasters worldwide was of major importance to one theme of SHIN GODZILLA. Unannounced, Godzilla lays waste to areas of Kanagawa prefecture, with insulting emphasis on Tokyo, stressing that citizens and leaders learn to adapt, overcome and rebuild shattered economies from the ground up for future generations. For those seeing the film for the first time try to look at it with open eyes, and an open heart. It is just a movie, but more than just an ordinary Godzilla film, it is a commentary on human drama on an unprecedented scale. The plot and direction is not purely grounded in science fiction, but focused on the struggles of living in a calculated world, where at any moment, precious lives can be turned upside down, forever.
Just as lives forever changed in 2011, so have movie productions and the Showa and Heisei eras of Godzilla films are complete and never coming back to the degree some may wish. This is a computer-graphic Godzilla treatment with no miniatures or suitmation, and from discussions with film crew members, those days are remembered but not yet being pursued for the next installment. SHIN GODZILLA includes honorific nods here and there to the past, and even the soundtrack by Shirō Sagisu (EVANGELION, BLEACH, ATTACK ON TITAN), bows to include classic scores by maestro, Akira Ifukube.
What helped sell movie tickets briskly in Japan was Anno’s fervent fan base and filmgoer desire to see something uniquely Japanese, with practical, marketable on-screen commodities like human emotions, and not monster tag team melees pummeling Godzilla. The film integrates Japan’s collectivist psyche on many levels, but you have to decide for yourself whether it makes the mark. The film has its shortcomings: it is painfully long to some, the special effects needed more fluid movement, consistency and detail, many disliked actress Satomi Ishihara’s wooden portrayal of American envoy Kayoko Patterson, and a sizable contingent wanted to see the non-CGI kaiju, manipulated by multiple technicians, which was ultimately scrapped.
Whether SHIN GODZILLA resonates with you or not, crew and executives are ecstatic that fans traveled from across the globe to see it opening day, and hope many are excited about its US release by Funimation Films on October 11-18, 2016. Heavy ticket sales and favorable reviews propel the latest Kaiju Boom ahead with renewed vibrancy, in a motion picture full of dark, mysterious undertones that continues to turn heads positively for the most part towards Toho’s number one star. With monstrous budgets, and disciplined work the reigning King of Monsters will fully blow open additional doors of Japanese entertainment in this new era of Godzilla on both shores!
Edward L. Holland is the editor and founder of Monster Attack Team magazine, honoring Japanese Monster and Superhero culture. He has written for SciFi Japan, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Otaku USA, Rue Morgue, Stars and Stripes Japan, G-Fan magazine and appeared at various conventions and events in the US and Japan. monsterattackteam.com
SHIN GODZILLA Thoughts
Author: Chris Mowry
I loved it. I went in with very low expectations given how disappointed I was with GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, and that being the closest thing in memory to Toho’s attempt to compete with Hollywood. I’ve gone on ad nauseam before to people about how I’ll take a Toho-produced Godzilla film over a Hollywood-produced one every time, but FW just didn’t strike that chord with me. So needless to say, I was excited to see SHIN GODZILLA, but wanted to go into it with a very open mind. And to have people online posting videos and spoilers really sucked, and made me feel like I would know everything going in. This was not the case, however, and I couldn’t be happier.
So again, I loved it. The story and acting were fantastic. Talking with our reps from Toho, they voiced concern that the bureaucracy covered in the film might be lost on a western audience (and this might remain to be seen, I suppose), but I wasn’t thinking Fukushima or even the more recent Kumamoto event, I was thinking Katrina, the BP oil spill, and how our own government seems to follow a similar pattern of playing bureaucratic games. All of this made for some very great moments of comic relief, which was good to hear an audience laugh WITH the movie and not AT one of these movies. But I found that the overall tone, while dark to me, was made a bit more enjoyable with these humorous parts sprinkled in here and there.
Regarding Godzilla, I wasn’t sold on the design when I first saw it, but he looks fantastic. And when we first see him it was such a crazy different thing than what we’re used to, but I found him to be eerily “cute” if you will. When we see Godzilla, though… he’s massive and scary, which was something I didn’t feel in the 2014 movie. Impressive, yes, but I didn’t feel that dread and terror that Shin makes you feel. I’m not completely sold on some of the abilities Shin G displays in the movie, but when we first see that breath, I’ll say that to me it was one of the finest examples there has been of it. And the military footage was spectacular! Easily the best military-versus-Godzilla action scenes from any film. The use of JDAM and MOP weapons was handled very well in particular. Of course, it was nice to see my old base of Misawa get the call to action, too!
With that, I’ve been very much looking forward to seeing it again during the release. I’ve even convinced a few people that have never seen a Godzilla movie before to go with me. I’ll let you know what they think!
Chris Mowry is a writer for IDW Publishing whose credits include Godzilla: Rulers of Earth and Godzilla: Rage Across Time. He also acts as the company’s “Godzilla Consultant” for the various comic books, trade paperbacks and specials featuring the King of the Monsters.
Recalls Some of Ishiro Honda’s Best Work
Author: Gary Teetzel
SHIN GODZILLA, the 29th Toho production featuring their saurian star and the first in 12 years, restores a sense of seriousness and contemporary relevance to the long-running franchise. Taking inspiration from Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and the subsequent catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the film focuses on the response of the government and a group of scientists to the sudden, first-time appearance of everyone’s favorite radioactive monster as he threatens to destroy Tokyo. (The film ignores all previous entries in the series.) Screenwriter and co-director Hideaki Anno (NEON GENESIS EVANGELION) uses this framework to show a Japan uniting to face a crisis, and in so doing contemplating its place on the world stage and its relationship to more powerful allies like the United States. After too many films containing little but the empty calories of kaiju slugfests, it’s refreshing to see a Godzilla film that has ambitions beyond being an extended toy commercial. Anno’s use of the kaiju genre to comment on modern Japan recalls some of Ishiro Honda’s best work.
The human side of the story is brought to life by a large ensemble cast. Few, alas, get an opportunity to stand out. Most are introduced during the film’s frenetic first half hour, where quick cutting and a barrage of on-screen text giving names and government titles make it hard to keep track of who’s who, especially for American audiences who must struggle to read both the character I.D.’s and the subtitled dialogue. These early scenes appear to be meant as part satire, showing the government as a confused, inefficient bureaucracy, but some viewers may just feel exhausted by the endless parade of names, titles and faces. A key character that emerges is a U.S. special envoy played by Satomi Ishihara. Unfortunately, Ms. Ishihara’s English dialogue is delivered with stilted line readings in a heavy accent; American audiences are likely to find this awkward at best, unintentionally funny at worst. Faring better is Hiroki Hasegawa as the leader of the team searching for a way to defeat the monster.
Of course, fans go to a Godzilla movie for the monster action, not the talky humans, and happily SHIN GODZILLA doesn’t scrimp on the spectacle. Eschewing the traditional man-in-a-rubber-suit-smashing-miniatures for largely effective motion capture and CGI, the film delivers several exciting sequences of Godzilla attacking Tokyo and fending off military assaults. Anno and co-director Shinji Higuchi introduce changes to the monster’s traditional look and abilities, with mixed results. The design of an early form of the creature is seriously harmed by a pair a large, goofy eyes that make it look like a grotesque plush toy, or a Thanksgiving parade balloon gone berserk. The appearance of the mature Godzilla, looking like a mass of scar tissue over radioactive sores, is far more successful, but here, too, the eyes undercut the overall effectiveness. In this case, they resemble doll eyes, glassy and lifeless. Traditionalist fans have raised objections to any major changes to Godzilla, but changes are needed to keep the franchise fresh. It’s only a problem when the changes — such as the eyes, or a few moments where the CGI looks too much like animation — call attention to the fakery of the effects, rather than enlivening the action.
Ultimately, SHIN GODZILLA’s biggest weakness may be its failure to introduce enough changes. The plot ultimately boils down to that old sci-fi movie staple, a team of scientists who must race against time to discover a monster’s Achilles Heel and invent a gizmo that can exploit that vulnerability and save the day. For many fans this may create a warm feeling of nostalgia, but it left this reviewer feeling that the film didn’t reach its full potential. With careful thought having gone into the film’s themes, it’s disappointing that the resolution of the story feels like a retread of old clichés dating back to films like THE GIANT CLAW. (Even the music, which makes generous use of old Akira Ifukube cues and recycled themes from EVANGELION, sounds like the filmmakers settled for the tried-and-true.) On the balance, though, SHIN GODZILLA is the most interesting entry in the series in many years, and proves there’s still life in the old monster yet.
Gary Teetzel lives in Los Angeles, where he has worked in motion picture publicity, film & video servicing and film remastering/restoration. He has reviewed DVDs for the Turner Classic Movies website and been a guest writer at DVD Savant, World Cinema Paradise and SciFi Japan.
Reflects More Immediate, Current Concerns
Author: Richard Pusateri
I liked this difficult, challenging two-hour movie and I recommend you see it on the big screen. The first section is rough going but once the action gets rolling about half-way through, it’s really all worth it. Every time I see a new Godzilla movie, it just seems to get harder to analyze. There are challenges for me to approach conveying my subjective impressions through the written word. I am a Godzilla fundamentalist, so the original 1954 Japanese movie is my “urtext” or Dead Sea Scroll and GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS, the 1956 Americanized version, is my King James Version. Every time I see a new Godzilla movie, my esteem grows for the artistry and craftsmanship of Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya and Akira Ifukube found in the 1954 creative achievement.
Now, sixty-plus years after the original GODZILLA, a reboot has changed much of the familiar radioactive dinosaur’s character. Japanese movies have also changed. SHIN GODZILLA has a lot of innovation and its overall production quality has clearly progressed from the uneven (and generally reviled) GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. I liked the new approach to the nature, the anatomy and physiology of this version of Godzilla.
Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi have made a movie so saturated in Japanese content from an internal perspective (in “form and function”) that I think to properly digest SHIN GODZILLA, a viewer would need to be a longtime resident of Japan who has carefully studied the culture. I saw allusions to domestic Japanese politics and international relations that I could not assess. A contemporary Godzilla movie cannot avoid reference to the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. While nuclear weapons still threaten all of us, this new movie reflects more immediate, current concerns.
Many early reviews from English-speakers complain that the considerable time given to odd bureaucratic meetings and manic hyperactive literal subtitles. I soon began to ignore about half the subtitles especially the English subtitles for English language dialogue. Contrary to some critics, I was easily able to understand the English spoken by the Japanese actors.
Most of the problems I have with SHIN GODZILLA reside in the first hour. The second half leaves those issues mostly behind and I left the auditorium satisfied. Maybe I was confused and missed some obvious plot points, but I liked the unpredictability. I also found the movie visually dazzling. The artistry of some destruction scenes are gorgeous. Kudos are in order for Mr. Higuchi and the art direction team.
I definitely feel the need to see SHIN GODZILLA again; join me, won’t you?
Richard Pusateri is a founding member of SciFi Japan and has written for the Hearst community newspapers, Music Connection, Cult Movies, G-Fan, Japanese Giants and Henshin! Online. He also provided the audio commentary for Classic Media’s GODZILLA’S REVENGE/ALL MONSTERS ATTACK DVD.
Richard changed the world on May 18, 1998, when he coined the acronym GINO for “Godzilla In Name Only” to describe the monster in the TriStar GODZILLA movie.
For more information on SHIN GODZILLA/GODZILLA RESURGENCE, please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- GODZILLA RESURGENCE: Exclusive High-Res Photos from Toho
- GODZILLA RESURGENCE: More Exclusive High-Res Photos from Toho
- Exclusive! Funimation Licenses GODZILLA RESURGENCE
- SHIN GODZILLA Press Release from Funimation Films
- Toho’s SHIN GODZILLA International Sales Materials
- SHIN GODZILLA: Exclusive High-Res Photos from Golden Village Pictures
- Funimation Films Promo Materials
- SHIN GODZILLA International Exclusive: Information and High-Res Photos from CatchPlay (Taiwan)
- SHIN GODZILLA North American Theatrical Release News from Funimation Films
- SHIN GODZILLA International Exclusive: Info, Trailer and High-Res Photos from TGV Pictures (Malaysia)
- SHIN GODZILLA Advance Tickets for North America On Sale Now
- SHIN GODZILLA International Exclusive: Thai Info, Trailers and High-Res Pics from Sahamongkolfilm
- SHIN GODZILLA Roars Onto the Big Screen in 60 Carmike Cinemas in October
- SHIN GODZILLA Stomps on Australian and New Zealand Cinemas in October
- SHIN GODZILLA US Theater List from Funimation Films
- SHIN GODZILLA New York Premiere Coverage and Review
- SHIN GODZILLA Day Arrives!
- SHIN GODZILLA Roars Into Theaters Tonight for Limited Engagement