GODZILLA MINUS ONE
9.5 out of 10
Godzilla has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old. I recall seeing “Godzilla vs Megalon” at that time on TV and I was IN! Of course I was 7 and giant monsters (and robots) thrashing cities and beating one another up was little boy nirvana.
I’ve been a fan ever since.
After “…Megalon” I watched as much as I could, in choppy order. To this day I’m not entirely sure of what the chronology of the films are and I don’t particularly care. I know there is the era I started watching, the big G defending the earth from other kaiju like Ghidorah or Gigan, the revival stuff, the new era of Godzilla vs other kaiju and now the reimagining of the initial concept; Godzilla as a vengeful, destructive, unstoppable force of nature. The specter of mankind’s ability to destroy himself personified in a giant walking, ill-tempered nuclear bomb.
“Godzilla minus one” is starkly aware of Godzilla’s symbolism in that respect and delivers scenes of gripping and terrifying devastation to emphasize the point. Even when the atomic lizard isn’t in a scene he permeates everything like lingering radiation.
One narrative problem inherent in most Kaiju movies is one of scale: how do you have a human story with massive, city destroying monsters?
Not so much a concern when you’re 7. The group of humans standing on a hill watching the fight and waving goodbye to Godzilla after he has vanquished the foe was enough for that age. When you get older and complexity sinks in, not so much. That’s when the metaphor of the very first movie hits you, the horror of the atomic bomb and its unstoppable destructive power, the price we pay to have opened this particular door. It’s all there in that first movie. Horror doing what horror does best when it’s at it’s best – giving form to our fears and anxieties of the times.
“Godzilla minus one” doesn’t shy away from that metaphor. In fact, it adds extra metaphor; taking PTSD, survivor’s guilt, human resilience and non-atomic horrors of war onto the Kaiju’s massive size.
This is where the movie leaps from “damn cool” to “one of the best movies of its genre to have ever been made!”. You see, “G – 1” solves the problem of scale in a brilliant and grounding way. The main character, Koichi Shikishima, is a kamikaze pilot who chickend out on his suicide mission. He compounds his shame and guilt by failing to shoot a smaller, non mutated Godzilla shortly after. Resulting in the destruction of a maintenance outpost and only two survivors.
Koichi returns to a post war Tokyo, which is in ruins, and takes in a woman and an orphaned baby. Even with a makeshift family in his care Koichi can’t let go of his self hate and guilt from his perceived failures. And Godzilla haunts his dreams. There are a few points where Koichi even thinks he’s experiencing the last moments of a dying man, doubting his sanity, the world and life that is slowly rebuilding around him.
Eventually the king of monsters comes back bigger, badder and with his heat ray to stomp the ever loving crap outta Japan. Koichi has to face his past and figure out the future, for his family, for Japan and, in keeping with the excellent human element of the movie, himself. The scale of emotions and metaphor runs both big and small. Koichi is both a fully realized character and a stand-in for a Japan that was laid low from World War 2. Godzilla is the ghost of Koichi’s shame and survivor’s guilt AND the threat of war, death and atomic apocalypse.
You don’t need to get all this deep stuff to enjoy “Godzilla Minus One”, the 7 year old in me was ecstatic over the scenes of carnage and the thrilling, harrowing encounters with the big guy. But the adult I am now was also happy that a Godzilla movie finally found depth and resonance in the human story connected to it.
That’s why this movie, like Godzilla himself, crushes!!
PS: see this movie on the biggest screen possible! I saw it in Imax and the scale is well served.