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In the wake of Roland Emmerich’s universally derided 1998 Jurassic Park knock-off and Gareth Edwards’ better-received but still divisive 2014 effort, the king of kaiju returns to his Japanese roots for Godzilla Resurgence (Shin Godzilla in most of Asia), the latest iteration of the world’s favorite rampaging atomic monster. Since his 1954 debut, Godzilla has been remade, re-imagined and reborn both in Hollywood and at home in 29 films and dozens of comics, game and television series to wildly diverse effect. And more are planned on both sides of the Pacific. For now though, the mother of all allegorical monsters takes on new meaning in a talky, vaguely nationalistic reboot that slips on like a comfortable sweater, even if it’s a sweater with some holes in it.
Godzilla Resurgence is already doing bang-up business at home in Japan, but its success elsewhere will depend on how its rah-rah message is received, particularly in Asia. In Europe and North America (it’s slated for a late-2016 release in the U.S.) creature-feature nerds and Godzilla’s substantial fan base should ensure respectable returns.
The new incarnation starts with an immediate shout-out to its history by using Toho’s mid-century logo and the classic Godzilla roar (and yes, it totally sounds different “in Japanese”). As always, it’s present-day Japan, and when an unexplained seismic event occurs off the coast of Shinagawa it has ripple effects all the way to Tokyo, starting with a commuter tunnel collapse. Bureaucrats and cabinet ministers scramble together in a meeting to try and figure out what it is, but only mid-level cabinet secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun: Graduation) has the foresight to suggest the source is an unknown creature.
As the film moves at a lightning pace, it’s only a matter of minutes before social media is confirming Yaguchi’s hunch. New plans are thrown together to combat the evolving beast (Darwin would be horrified) heading towards Tokyo Station, with political prime ministerial aide Hideki Akasaka (Yutaka Takenouchi), a biologist (Tetsuo: The Iron Man himself, Shinya Tsukamoto), an environmental scientist (Mikako Ichikawa) and defense department heads (Kimiko Yo, Parasyte) among the crisis handlers making up some of the film’s proverbial Fukushima 50. In every frame it possibly can, Resurgence takes pains to glorify the honest, hard-working legislators trying to save the people of Tokyo, and the sacrifice of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (which gave the film its full support).
Godzilla Resurgence has a lot on its plate. It’s an origin story of course. But it’s also a delicate spoof of disaster films like it, and has some genuinely funny moments with a dithering Prime Minister (Ren Ohsugi, Twilight Samurai) trying to respond within the confines of the law and the JSDF mandate. It’s also a bit of Japanese reassertion of itself, where the chief antagonist is not, in fact, Godzilla but ambitious U.S. presidential envoy Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara, Attack on Titan). There’s an energy conspiracy behind her “helpful” presence, though the Japanese-American eventually comes to see how sleazy her government is being and sides with her put-upon counterparts.
The shadow of the 3.11 Fukushima catastrophe in 2011 looms large, and this time around the metaphor encapsulates the combination of natural and man-made disasters waiting to happen. Cue the inspirational speeches about picking the country up from ruin and rebuilding.
Ultimately, however, no one goes to Godzilla Resurgence to think deep thoughts about man’s relationship to nature; it’s all about stomping Tokyo. For the most part, veteran artist, animator and genre director Hideaki Anno (still probably best known for the apocalyptic mecha series Neon Genesis Evangelion) and longtime collaborator and visual effects wizard Shinji Higuchi (who has a wealth of Godzilla experience) do the big guy justice. Now realized through a combination of CGI, practical effects (a guy, or three, manipulating various parts of a rubber suit) and motion capture courtesy of stage actor Mansai Nomura, Anno and Higuchi have created a Godzilla for this era, complete with glowing radioactive core and dual lasers (!).
Though the slap at the conventions they are skewering at times is lost by too many blue suits talking in boardrooms and not enough rampaging, there are some provocative moments, chiefly Yaguchi and Akasaka’s third-act chat about the reality of Japanese-U.S. relations. Sadly, all the telling (or reading) rather than showing reduces the story’s overall impact, which is a shame; the final wipeout of Chiyoda-ku is impressive. That said, there’s an intangible quality to this Godzilla that Edwards (Emmerich doesn’t count) never quite captured, and which is always welcome. Shiro Sagisu’s retro score complements the tech specs: imperfect but perfectly so.
Production company: Toho Pictures, Toho Company, Cine Bazar
U.S. distributor: FUNimation Entertainment
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Kimiko Yo, Ren Osugi, Akira Emoto, Mikako Ichikawa, Shinya Tsukamoto, Satoru Matsuo
Director: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Screenwriter: Hideaki Anno
Producers: Minami Ichikawa, Taichi Ueda, Yoshihiro Sato, Masaya Shibusawa, Kazutoshi Wadakura
Executive producer: Akihiro Yamauchi
Director of photography: Kosuke Yamada
Production designer: Yuji Hayashida, Eri Sakushima
Costume designer: Masato Arai, Keisuke Chiyoda, Asuka Emori
Editor: Atsuki Sato, Hideaki Anno
Music: Shiro Sagisu
Casting: Tsuyoshi Sugino
No rating, 120 minutes
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