SHIN GODZILLA New York Premiere Coverage and Review
Author: John DeSentis
Official Site: shin-godzilla.jp (Japan), funimationfilms.com/shingodzilla (US)
Special Thanks to Scott Barretto/Funimation Films, Keith Aiken, Christopher Oglio, Nick Adam Poling and Jim Ballard
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD IN REVIEW
On Wednesday, October 5th, 2016, Funimation Films held the second of two North American Premieres for SHIN GODZILLA (シン・ゴジラ, Shin Gojira, 2016), the first of which being in Los Angeles two days prior. The NYC event was held at the AMC Empire 25 Theatres in Times Square. Press and fans alike on the East Coast were invited to get their first look on the big screen at Toho’s twenty-ninth production in the Godzilla series.
While by no means a large red-carpet style premiere, Funimation Films nonetheless staged a wonderful event for attendees that included swag such as a T-shirt (given to the first seventy five people in the door), a poster, a commemorative ticket, and even a voucher for a complimentary soda and popcorn. The movie was shown in theater number thirteen on the fourth floor of the large cineplex. When attendees got up there, they were treated to a large mural complete with company and movie logos to take photographs in front of. Godzilla himself was even there to take pics… albeit in the form of an inflatable costume from the 2014 Hollywood film.
It is common knowledge that SHIN GODZILLA has absolutely demolished the Japanese box office. It has officially become the highest grossing film in the franchise and went well beyond Toho’s expectations with a box office return of over $74,000,000 dollars. The last film in the Toho series, GODZILLA FINAL WARS, returned just $12,000,000 and far below it’s budget… which effectively led to the longest span of time between Japanese productions.
Twelve years and a hugely successful theatrical run later, how will SHIN GODZILLA go over with American audiences in limited release beginning October 11 and running until the 18th? After a short introduction by Funimation staff, the audience sat back to get their answer.
SHIN GODZILLA is without a doubt unlike any Godzilla film ever made. The film presents a complete overhaul and reinvention of the character and how this reinvention is accepted depends on your willingness to be open minded to such changes or preferring the more traditional approach. Previous Godzilla films have added their own spin to the classic mythos, but always had one thing in common… that Godzilla was the product of nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s. Here the origin is completely modern, and though it is more unclear than anything, we are to gather that Godzilla is a creature born out of careless dumping of radioactive materials.
It is also implied that Godzilla takes on traits of sea life and is self-evolving. Evidence of this is in the look of the first form that appears and has traits of a frill shark and eyes like a Moray Eel. Unintentionally, the first look at the creature garnered laughs from the audience and rightfully so as it is a very peculiar and bizarre design.
The film opens with the discovery of a drifting yacht belonging to a missing professor named Goro Maki (the third character in the Godzilla series to be named so). During the investigation, the boat comes under siege from a huge steam plume while at the same time, something attacks the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line. This begins what seems to be an endless array of meetings and talks that thread throughout the entire film. Indeed, when Godzilla is not on screen, the film seems to be nothing but expositional dialog.
The thing to keep in mind about the movie is that it is truly a satire. There are genuinely funny moments (Such as three biologists brought in to “consult” on the creature only to have them sit there in useless bewilderment. As one character said, “What a waste of time that was”.) Meeting after meeting is called (There is even an hilarious inter-title which says “Following Abbreviated”) with attempts to explain the phenomena. It is Deputy Chief Secretary of the Cabinet Rando Yaguchi who suggests that a large sea creature is to blame. In a gag that runs throughout the film, as soon as it is dismissed as a joke or misinformation, the television is turned on or a report comes in and we see that a creature is indeed pushing it’s way into the Tama River. Likewise, when the public is assured that the creature cannot leave the river, it naturally makes landfall, radioactive blood pouring from it’s gills.
The film wastes no time using visuals to invoke memories of the 2011 tsunami. As Godzilla sloughs it’s way through the river, we see boats and cars flooding into the streets as people scramble from a wall of water. Even the way that the creature frantically swings it’s head around causes chaos that is more in line with a natural disaster than what we traditionally think of as Kaiju destruction. The creature very shortly evolves into it’s second form, standing more upright and bellowing out the original Godzilla 1954 roar. A very odd choice considering that the creature does not appear nearly as threatening as the roar would imply. If anything, the 1960s style roar would have been better suited here with the original roar later. The SDF is mobilized to use AH-15 Attack Helicopters against the creature, but before an attack is carried out they are ordered to abort. Godzilla’s fins begin to overheat and it quickly retreats to the cold ocean.
The next morning, set to ironically hilarious slow jazz music, Tokyo is business as usual and social media is abuzz over the events of the previous day. The Prime Minister and his cabinet survey the damage (wearing blue suits that look exactly like the ones that actual Government Officials wore after the tsunami) and, of course, more meetings follow and more exposition as Yaguchi assembles a team of people (Described as lone wolves, nerds, troublemakers, outcasts, academic heretics and general pains-in-the-bureaucracy) to try and solve the mystery of Godzilla.
Sometime later, Godzilla re-emerges in Sagami Bay in his final form. Set to Akira Ifukube’s themes from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), the monster tramples through Kawasaki City on it’s way into Tokyo. The visuals in these scenes are quite stunning at times as is the SDF attack on him which is aimed at preventing him from crossing the Tama River into the heart of the city.
What does bog these scenes down is the fact that Godzilla is an expressionless, emotionless creature and seems entirely unfazed, not even reacting to the continuous gun fire to it’s head and legs. One of greatest aspects of suitmation in the Godzilla series has been the actors playing the beast and their abilities to give life to these creatures even through pounds of latex. This Godzilla resembles a model kit being rolled along… not roaring… not blinking, nothing. It isn’t until US Stealth Bombers drop heavy duty artillery on him (causing him to bleed profusely) that Godzilla rears his head up to roar and his body begins to glow. At this moment, Godzilla unleashes his heat ray in a spectacular scene which causes a firestorm the likes of which was seen in the film INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996). The Prime Minister and much of his cabinet are killed attempting to flee and Godzilla discharges beams from his dorsal fins to destroy the stealth bombers. After using up all his resources, Godzilla halts at Tokyo Station and goes into a statue-like, state of hibernation for a couple of weeks.
During this period, Yaguchi’s team solves the mystery of the missing Professor Maki. He had discovered Godzilla’s existence prior and was able to successfully map out his cellular structure, yet decided it was much better to leave the riddle solved like a piece of origami (literally) than just explicitly state what the creature was. We also learn a bit about the canisters of nuclear waste that led to the creation of the monster… though the plot points are still very murky and a little difficult to grasp.
And speaking of murky plot points, the character of Kayoko Ann Patterson, played by the stunningly beautiful Satomi Ishihara, suffers a bit in that there is a lot mentioned of the supposed political power of her American family, yet none of this is ever explored. There is mention of her desire to be the US President (Another place of unintentional laughter from the audience) in her 40s, but it is very hard to accept her character being a special envoy to the President of the United States. Her English is actually not bad in the film and she had to learn on the spot essentially, but it renders the belief that she is half American and has spent considerable time in her life there a bit tough. There is also a bizarre switching back and forth between English and Japanese in scenes where there are strictly the latter.
While searching through the rubble of Tokyo, a severed dorsal fin is found and appears to be regenerating. Further inspection reveals that every piece of Godzilla is capable of regenerating into a new organism and reproducing asexually (Sound familiar?). There is postulation that Godzilla could overrun the world and even grow wings (!) capable of intercontinental flight. During this period of research, it is discovered that Godzilla’s blood acts as a cooling agent similar to that of a nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, The United Nations assumes jurisdiction over the monster and concludes that a nuclear bomb is the only way to exterminate it.
In a race against time, Yaguchi’s team determines that they can use this new knowledge about the beast to freeze Godzilla as an alternative to dropping a nuke on the creature. Using his hibernation to buy time, they successfully manufacture enough blood coagulant and “Operation Yashiori” is put quickly put into action. The operation was named after the wine that the mythical character of Susano used to put Orochi, the Eight Headed Dragon, to sleep.
In one of the more interesting and clever ideas in the series, the trains and buildings around the station are rigged with explosives to stage and impressive multi-tiered attack against the creature. The goal is to get Godzilla to, once again, utilize his entire supply of radioactive energy so that they can incapacitate him and give him the coagulant. Joining in the attack are American unmanned drones and cruise missile attacks. Godzilla takes the bait and begins unleashing all of his energy rays, including one from his tail, to counter the attack. As his energy flames out, the explosives in the buildings around him detonate and fall onto him. The tankers movie in and begin administer the juice in his mouth. The first attempt fails and the monster rises up again, only to once more be attacked and knocked down for a second dose. Godzilla rises one last time and, before one more discharge of the heat ray, is (Accompanied by the 1984 roar) overcome and frozen by the coagulant.
Due to Godzilla’s radiation, Tokyo will remain uninhabitable for three years. Yaguchi is informed that the acting Prime Minister and his entire cabinet will resign and that any rebuilding must truly be from the ground up. “Scrap and build” was how Japan recovered before and they must do so again. Yaguchi meets with Kayoko one last time before she departs for America and informs her of his desire to stay and see it through, saying that due to the high casualties, a politician must own up to their accountability. He also informs her that for now, humans must co-exist with Godzilla and that things are far from settled. As he looks out at the frozen monster, we see that strange, humanoid creatures with dorsal fins and tails had begun emerging from the tip of it’s tail.
SHIN GODZILLA is most definitely a flawed movie, but it is also a very layered film with enjoyable moments. The problem seems to mostly lie in the execution of those layers. The fact of the matter is that this really is not a Godzilla film. He is merely background to how the bureaucratic government responds to it and indeed, ineptness true lack of leadership in this movie are put in the hot-seat. Yaguchi is the true anchor of the movie and his character is under constant pressure not to “rock the boat” so to speak. And yet when his conjecture of a giant monster is dismissed, he is proven right through tragedy. The implication at the film’s end is that he may well end up being Japan’s future Prime Minister.
The problem is simply taking everything in on a first viewing. Not only is the considerable dialog delivered at a rapid pace, every single location, person, tank, and helicopter has a subtitle on the screen for it as well. Literally, there is a subtitle for an access elevator and a high end restaurant. Whether or not this is part of the satirical nature of the film is up for debate, but if there was Olympic Subtitle-Reading, this would be the film to watch.
As far as missed opportunities, much is made of the blood that seeps from the gills of the first form of Godzilla, but it never really goes anywhere. How much more weight and drama could have been added to the story if the contamination of the sea and the streets had been explored? This, instead of spending so much screen time on endless exposition, would have been a great and daring place to go with the story, especially if we saw the effect that it had on citizens. We spend so much time with suits and salarymen holed up in rooms trying to solve riddles, that there is really nobody on the street level to relate to. The safety and relocation of Tokyo’s citizens is constantly referenced, but it would have been wonderful to actually have a character that we would be a part of that with. The radioactive canisters under the sea, and the severed dorsal fin also get quickly forgotten.
There is a strange mix of both straight cinematography and “shaky cam” style in this film with no real rhyme or reason. Scenes of the main characters are permeated with extreme closeups and claustrophobic framing. This may be a conscious choice, however, as Godzilla is filmed with an emphasis on his scale. Not being limited to a sound stage anymore, we get to see large-scope vistas of Godzilla as he tramples the countryside and cities. Many of the Millennium films in the 2000 era tried to broach this territory (GODZILLA VS MEGAGUIRUS for example) as best they could, but the limits of the technology were still present. The late special effects director Koichi Kawakita began incorporating Godzilla into real environments in this manner in the 1990s and these shots are probably the best we’ve seen since then in that vein.
Conversely, one of the things that hampers this movie is it’s musical score, which is more hurtful than anything else. It isn’t that Shiro Sagisu is a bad composer. Quite the opposite. He has had a long and prolific career and on their own, the two heavy pieces of this movie (“Persecution of the Masses” and “Who Will Know”) are good compositions. It is their place in the film that doesn’t work. The former is played during the first appearance of the creature and the latter when the firestorm engulfs Tokyo. The juxtaposition creates a more pretentious atmosphere than anything else. The rest of the score is a bizarre hodgepodge of tracks. Adding to the problem are the use of the Ifukube tracks. When we hear the classic music, it hits the nostalgia button for sure. But then decades-old mono recordings give way to new material in a style that couldn’t be more different and on big theater speakers, it is extremely jarring. If Toho wants to keep using Mr. Ifukube’s music, they should hire a composer who, number one, understands the style, and two, can organically weave it into new material. Otherwise it just sounds like the same old stuff being brought out from the vaults and lacks a true freshness. The Millennium Series was at it’s best when composers like Kow Otani and Michiru Oshima were able to do their own identity for Godzilla. And indeed, while the shadow of the master will always remain, the series has had enough composers write their own material so as to continue on in that manner. Sagisu should have been allowed to succeed or fail on his own… but perhaps the filmmakers didn’t have faith in his score and decided to pad it out with the Ifukube tracks for that reason. It could have also been that director Anno truly wanted those stock tracks. Further, it could have also been that the budget for the music was simply not adequate enough hence some of the cheaper-sounding new tracks. Lending evidence to this was the use of musicians and choir from London instead of studio musicians from Tokyo.
The portrayal of America in this film has also been the subject of considerable controversy but honestly, if you want badly enough to find some kind of non-existent subtext in this film, in Goro Maki’s last words, “Do as you like.” The film really finds Japan questioning it’s own place and interdependence on not only the US, but the rest of the world. And indeed, as mentioned before, Godzilla comes under United Nations jurisdiction wherein the choice to drop a nuclear bomb on the monster in Tokyo seems to be the only solution. Kayoko makes the choice not to evacuate Japan but rather stay to not see her country live through an event as her grandmother did (In a heavy handed scene of exposition… that train is never late in this movie.)
There is also talk that this film is a right-wing glorification for the re-armament of Japan. If that is the case, then why does science win the day at the end? Neither the SDF nor American forces are able to stop the creature. It takes ingenuity and an unconventional plan (which is ironically very conventional of the series) to stop the monster. And Japan itself is even questioned on it’s decision making. At one point, Yaguchi warns his Defense Minister, “Wishful thinking and armchair theories by the old Imperial Army in the last war led to three million Japanese lives lost.” Not exactly a nationalistic message, but more one of not repeating past mistakes.
So the big question becomes, “Why was SHIN GODZILLA such a hit in Japan?” To be blunt, perhaps it is because this film touched upon the socio-political nerve that it was meant to hit. This film and the original Godzilla arrived just years after respective disastrous events in Japan. Each of those disasters was as different as the two films are, but both involved nuclear implications, which has always been an underlying theme. But as stated before, this film is more about the people and how they respond to Godzilla, not the monster itself. Sometimes it is very hard to figure out why films are hits and misses, but there is no doubt that the tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown continue to have long-term effects.
So will this film translate well with American audiences? That is a more difficult question to answer and only time will tell. Godzilla fans may take to it purely because it has the creature in the movie. General audiences might get bored with it’s talky nature. Your enjoyment of SHIN GODZILLA will likely depend upon your tolerance for extreme exposition and knowledge of Japan’s current political climate. It is definitely not a movie that you can take everything in on one sitting. Toho took a risk with this movie and it is paying off for them. They should be commended for trying something different, even if it has it’s flaws. The character has been around for over 60 years and traversing new territory with it is inevitable in order to keep things fresh.
As far as a sequel goes? This movie is probably best suited as is… a unique one-shot. It is very hard to imagine this particular Godzilla fighting another monster. The studio would be wise to see what another filmmaker has in mind next time around and perhaps go back to a more traditional route. But seeing the forest for the trees, the success of this movie (Much like GODZILLA 2014) can only mean good things for the character and franchise.
After the movie concluded, Funimation Films hosted a nice after-party next to the theater at The Hilton. They complimented guests with two free adult beverages of their choice and everyone had a good time discussing thoughts on the film. It is pretty unprecedented that a Japanese Godzilla film will be getting even a limited North American theatrical release so soon after it’s general release and fans will have the opportunity to see the movie for themselves as it is. No bad dubbing or messing around with the movie. Funimation deserves our respect and support and they treat their fans very well. So go see SHIN GODZILLA and enjoy this rare opportunity.
Very Special Thanks to Nick Adam Poling for his editing of the New York City Premiere footage. Please visit his YouTube page and subscribe to “THE MONSTER REPORT”.
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