I was very excited to see Godzilla Minus One. Toho Studios’ first Godzilla movie since the 2016 Shin Godzilla. I could not wait to see this much more vicious and brutal take on the giant lizard and I am grateful to have been afforded an early opportunity thanks to Toho and Japan Society, who also recently invited me to a screening of original Godzillia 54. What I was met with was a very brutal human story. Director Takashi Yamazaki takes a big chance by turning the narrative focus from The King of the Monsters and shifts it to the “hero” of the story, a failed kamikaze pilot Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki).
Godzilla Minus One puts up the argument for being one of the best films in the long almost 70 year history of the film franchise. It transcends the genre with some pretty powerful gut punching themes such as PTSD and the horrors of what happened to Japan at the end of War World 2. The film starts off with Kōichi landing his plane at a small naval base to get repairs on his plane. After the lead mechanic Soaku Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki) can find nothing wrong with his plane, Kōichi reveals he couldn’t fulfill his duties and gave his life for a losing war. It’s at that moment all hell breaks loose as the King of The Monsters strikes and it is the first time we see the absolute brutality of Godzilla. This opening scene also gives us a great snapshot of how the film plays out. A great balance of Kaiju destruction and the inner turmoil Kōichi faces.
That is just a taste of what this movie has to offer. I won’t tell you much more of how this movie pans out. I will say that this movie’s strength lies in its success in making you invested in its human characters. You are willing on the characters, seeing the destruction they have to live through. The film has some nice homages to its 1954 predecessor. Just like that first one you have some sharp drops in tension and it weaves in the appearances of its titular character. When Godzillia shows up, it is memorable and at times leaves me with my eyes and mouth wide open. The movies does also play up some of its original themes of being anti war and anti government, dealing with Japan’s previous regime and playing on the Cold War fears of the US and Russia
The heart and soul of this movie is unity and overcoming adversity against all odds. Godzilla Minus One will be released December 1st across the United States.
Note: Unlike Brendan’s take this will be spoilers heavy, so you might want to watch the film first before reading this!
I too was fortunate to be invited to the early screening of this film at Japan Society. While I seldom see myself actively watching period films I guess the inclusion of the King of the Monsters made it a tad more palatable. Godzilla films thematically usually center around the ineptitude of government in the face of dire emergencies, often angling to keep the populace docile and hoping the issue goes away. This film does feature this Libertarian theme as the beleaguered populace crowdsource their own solution at tackling the film’s impending thread. I think the bigger theme of the film is “Forgiveness”
As Brendan stated, the film is centered around Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a pilot who found himself at a repair site situated at Odo Island. After servicing his plane which needed no work done, the mechanical crew and Kōichi are besieged by a nascent but still larger than life creature which would become the titular beast. The lead mechanic Tachibana urges Shikishima to use his plane’s 20 mm caliber gun to slay the creature, but in a panic Shikishima freezes leading to the slaughter of the crew with the two named men the only survivors.
Shikishima returns to his devastated hometown only to be greeted by his neighbor, who has a realization that his inaction as a kamikaze pilot led to the town’s destruction as well as the loss of her children. Time passes, Shikishima encounters and allows a young woman named Noriko (Minami Hamabe) who was raising a war orphan to cohabitate with him. As time passes the pair exude domestic bliss despite Kōichi’s residual standoffishness never fully dissipating, the child even melts the heart of Kōichi’s neighbor who seemingly has forgiven him for his past. The ex-pilot even finds work as a minesweeper almost as a means to atone for Japan’s wartime past.
Obviously Godzilla makes several appearances and Shikishima continues to experience PTSD as well as Survivor’s Guilt. The moment which these two clash is when Godzilla makes landfall and he desperately rushes to the scene in an attempt to rescue Noriko (I dare any red blooded male not to swoon at the scene when Noriko declares she will be entering the workforce and eventually will let Kōichi have his home back…how could you not fall for this woman?!?). While he reunites with her inexplicably, the rescue is a failure as Noriko pushes Kōichi to safety as she takes the brunt of the explosive blowback from Godzilla’s Atomic Breath (By the way the monster’s dorsal fins jutting out as the attack charges give it such an air of power.).
After this setback, Koichi invests himself into the civilian effort to rid the nation of Godzilla to the point where the destruction of the monster will be his final act of atonement for the supposedly cowardly life he’s led. He makes a tremendous effort to recruit the other survivor of the Odo Island incident and even ensures his affairs are in order before the operation begins. The plan doesn’t go accordingly but serendipitous occurrences afford Koichi the opportunity to take the penultimate strike. The plane he pilots collides with the creature’s maw detonating the explosives and we’re left with a tense silence until Kōichi confirms over the radio that he successfully ejected. This pays off earlier scenes, Koichi received the forgiveness he sought and most importantly he forgives himself. The film closes with a scene showing fortune never stopped smiling upon him and closes with a line of dialog that just encapsulates his plight during the course of the film.
So as stated forgiveness is a major theme in the film, some come inexplicably easy (the neighbor) and others have to be earned with time (Tachibana), perhaps the most important thing is to not drag yourself down by wallowing in the past. The casting of the film definitely helped convey this message with Ryunosuke Kamiki exuding this common man aura akin to someone like Michael J. Fox. Minami Hamabe portrays Noriko as a forward facing survivor who slowly transforms into a steadfast partner, the duo has a chemistry which you root for their success (it also helps that apparently the two acted as a couple in a different production).
While Godzilla is generally portrayed heroically in most modern media, this film harkens back to him being a force of nature and something above the whims of lesser beings. It’s cool when he smashes buildings, but it’s less cool when you witness it on the ground level and see the devastation and loss of life a singular rampage will net. It’s a testament to the versatility of the creature and shows that his films aren’t just schlocky affairs that are relegated to something like Mystery Science Theater 3000/Rifftrax.
Come for the action, stay for the human drama. While my film consumption has been very non-thought provoking and generally a water-down popcorn affair, I would hope to earn atonement by whole heartedly recommending Godzilla Minus One for those who need some roughage in their mostly red meat film diet.
GODZILLA MINUS ONE Official Trailer: