Godzilla Minus One
Toho // Directed by Takashi Yamazaki // Starring Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Sakura Ando, Kuranosuke Sasaki
The big daddy is back (again). For the 38th time, Godzilla is back on the big screen, this time in Godzilla Minus One, the latest effort from Takashi Yamazaki. Set in the aftermath of World War II as Japan is still reeling, the movie follows Kōichi Shikishima (Kamiki), a kamikaze pilot living with the regret of feigning vehicle repairs to swerve his duty to his country, as he attempts to rebuild his life in the shadow of disgrace and a bloodthirsty dinosaur-lizard. When fate brings him in contact with Minami Hamabe’s Noriko, a young woman who has adopted an orphaned baby, Shikishima struggles with his new domesticated life as the demons of war and an earlier clash with Godzilla plague his thoughts. It’s also the story of Japan healing itself as a country, and it is stirring how here, it is the people who are fighting back against an invading force, and not the government or military who live in fear of upsetting the tempestuous US-Soviet relations. Pre-release, Yamazaki stated he wanted Godzilla Minus One to be something that was “experienced” in cinemas, rather than simply “watched”, and, having been enthralled for the best part of two hours, I can safely say he accomplished that goal. Godzilla Minus One is a spectacular action-packed drama that focuses more on its characters and its metaphorical take on Japan post-war than simply showing Godzilla destroying cities - though there is still plenty where that came from. Recent Legendary Godzilla flicks have been criticized for their limp human characters, which detract from the overall experience, but that is not the case here. Kamiki and Hamabe imbue their characters with genuine emotion and depth, and their development and arcs provide an excellent narrative and emotional backbone to the movie overall. Shikishima is fighting his own internal war whilst Noriko wants to be more than she is, and whilst both want to be together, Shikishima cannot go on until his war is ended leading to some richly poignant moments that elevate everything else within the movie, especially the bone-crushing antics of Godzilla himself. Strong supporting performances from Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, and Sakura Ando round off the story with real strength. Of the titular beast, this is a nasty Godzilla, one that woke up early from his nap and chose violence and chaos, and one that is hellbent on destroying anything and everything in his way. The portrayal allows for some fantastic sequences, including a Jaws-esque chase in the ocean, and the destruction of Ginza complete with a great (and reminiscent) train scene. This is a chilling, scary version of the character, akin to 2016’s Shin Godzilla, and Yamazaki does a wonderful job of presenting the monster with a presence and posing the actual question, “How will they stop him?” (this is pressed even further with the addition of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla theme used excellently throughout). Whilst Western studios are content to team Godzilla up with other classic titans for visual effects-driven blockbusters, Toho has again chosen to keep their story smaller and more personal, and it is all the better for it. Godzilla Minus One is incredibly well-structured, emotional, and full of strong action making it one of the year’s biggest surprises and best movies.