D: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi. S: Hideaki Anno. P: Taichi Ueda, Yoshihiro Sato, Masaya Shibusawa, Kazutoshi Wadakura.Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Kengo Kora, Ren Osugi, Akira Emoto, Kimiko Yo. Dist: Toho.
“Up from the depths/Thirty stories high/Breathing fire/His head in the sky…” Toho’s 2016 Shin Godzilla is yet another reboot of an old, old idea in new(ish) togs. Plot-wise, there’s absolutely nothing fresh added here at all: it’s a no-frills (albeit spectacularly destructive) remake of the 1954 original, with the waters of Tokyo Bay first boiling, then erupting to disgorge a freshly-mutated Big G, who quickly goes on to lay waste to the city (while the military chucks everything it has at him, to precisely zero effect). The only real difference, in fact, lies in the special effects department – for this Godzilla is the first (I think) of the Toho series not to be played by a man-in-a-suit, but rendered instead by the miracle of CGI. Gone, alas, are those painstakingly constructed miniature sets, across which many a perspiring stuntman has waddled, clad head-to-toe in rubberised kaiju chic – to be replaced, instead, by no-less-painstaking (though utterly charmless) virtual dioramas flitting through the brain of some anonymous Japanese computer bank. The slick digital sheen makes Shin Godzilla remarkably similar in style to the 2014 Gareth Edwards reboot: desaturated, almost monochrome visual palette, “realistic” camerawork, and a lotta fiddly-twiddly mouse-clicky effects. It shares with the 2014 film a rather drab and uninvolving set of principal characters, too, though Shin Godzilla’s feisty heroine (Satomi Ishihara) is such a smoking little hottie that one quickly forgives her borderline-annoying habit of sprinkling her dialogue with “hip” Anglo phrases. (She’s the Special Envoy to the US, or something, so the character quirk isn’t THAT strange.)
Shin Godzilla’s nowhere near as tedious as the 2014 edition – no gung-ho, USA-Number-One military posturing here, thank Christ. As usual for the Japanese entries there’s a curious balancing act between hand-wringing, bleeding-heart-liberal anti-War politics, and the need to unleash UNLIMITED EXPLOSIVE DEVASTATION against the marauding menace. And very convincing unlimited explosive devastation it is too. Helicopter gunships, tanks, drone aircraft and planes spew thousands of rounds of ammunition, rockets, bombs and armour-piercing rounds while Big G stands motionless, taking it all in stoic Zen fashion, before heating up his internal reactor and letting rip with an astonishingly lethal laser-breath-ray of white-hot intensity – fierce enough to slice the tops off all the surrounding skyscrapers and reach seemingly for miles around, turning Tokyo into a 2016 Dresden in the process. Things get even hotter later on when Godzilla starts firing hundreds of laser beams out of his dorsal fins, AND out of the tip of his inordinately huge prehensile tail. I suppose I should mention here that the 2016 Godzilla is an evolutionary work-in-progress, having begun life as some sort of humble deep-sea blob that decided to snack on some old nuclear waste (illegally dumped on the sea-bed). When he first lumbers up out of Tokyo Bay he looks, frankly, ABSOLUTELY LUDICROUS: alternately stumbling and slithering on his belly along the streets of Tokyo, his idiotically grinning mouth and fish-wide eyes giving him the look of a Special Needs Guppy that’s pissed to the gills. Soon, though, Spazzy G has learned how to stand upright, and has sprouted a pair of teeny-weeny T-Rex arms…before finally developing an iron-hard outer shell and a facial expression not unlike Charles Bronson left out in the sun for too long. This Godzilla is, to all intents and purposes, totally indestructible, making his single-minded rampage all the more alarming. Though boffins finally reach a temporary solution – something to do with “blood coagulant” – it’s clear, by the close, that Big G will not be out of action for long.
While certainly no classic, it’s entertaining enough, with a few amusingly idiosyncratic touches: the film’s obsessive need to name ALL the military hardware with on-screen captions, just before they’re launched, makes me suspect co-directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi must have been keen train-spotters in their youth. (And come to think of it, there IS a lot of train-based action in the film.) Gaijin viewers will doubtless derive some additional amusement from the rollercoaster of Japanese emotion the film describes; one laugh-out-loud moment has a small group of browbeaten politicos quietly bemoaning another military failure, prompting one of their number to leap to his feet screaming at them all not to panic. Like, chill, dude. Shiro Sagisu’s music score is fun, building through several stages (presumably to mimic the evolution of the Big G himself): beginning with an insistent, repetitive drum-beat not unlike the opening bam-bam-bam-bambambambam of Captain Scarlet, it proceeds to add ever-more eccentric elements of instrumentation (passing through jazz, prog-rock and techno-funk phases on the way). There’s also a bit of Akira Ifukube’s stock music to please the hardcore fan-base. The post-Cloverfield camerawork offers ant’s-eye-views from ground level at the looming colossus, helping to sell the illusion of size and dimensionality. But what the film conspicuously lacks is that distinctive 70s Toho look, with rich, deeply saturated colours meant to dazzle the senses – going the “realistic” route (with shaky closeups seemingly shot on an iPhone) is a disappointing, if wholly predictable development we could have well done without. And there’s really no human interest to speak of at all, just a bunch of interchangeable faces all registering concern or alarm, or both. Eh, whaddyagonna do. The delectable Satomi Ishihara lights up the screen at regular intervals, so things are never allowed to get too drab. Assuming Satomi’s on board for the inevitable sequel, roll on Godzilla Re-resurgence…