The mythos of Gojira and history of Japan post-WWII are inexorably intertwined. Gojira (or the Americanization “Godzilla”) grew out of the bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese defeat that ended World War II. When the peace accords were signed, Japan lost its right to have a standing army and was prohibited from allowing any foreign power to have any bases or military-related rights without US approval.
Godzilla is essentially atomic powered, and, as has been explained time and again in the over 30 different Godzilla movies, feeds on nuclear sources, including weapons and reactors. Whether Godzilla is a hero savior of the Japanese people or a menace to be feared and killed has changed throughout the 60+ year franchise history, but in this most recent incarnation, Shin Gojira (Godzilla Resurgence), it’s most assuredly a menace to the world.
Godzilla Resurgence turns out to be a surprisingly fascinating monster movie and while it offers state of the art special effects and a fearsome monster, it’s just as much a film about Japanese culture, bureaucracy and the government’s inability to make timely decisions. Indeed, much cinematic time in the film is spent in increasingly large committee meetings. It’s very Japanese, and both wryly amusing and alarming as it reveals the tensions of a nation ready to reboot itself and gain control over its national destiny.
In Godzilla Resurgence, the monster is conceived of illegally dumped nuclear waste, and evolves from a relatively goofy looking bug-eyed lizard into a fearsome monolith with atomic rays coming out of its mouth, spiny back and even tail as it drags through the various Wards that make up greater Tokyo. And Tokyo is the most populous city on the planet, so when a massive creature is wreaking a swath of destruction, well, it’s a big problem!
The first sign of trouble is when there’s an unexplained seismic event in Tokyo Harbor that causes damage and flooding to the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line tunnel. Film hero and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is convinced that a creature is responsible, but other officials laugh and caution him not to embarrass himself during meetings with his offbeat theories. When a TV station airs footage of the beast in the harbor, however, he’s put in charge of a task force to research the Giant Unidentified Life Form, and the US sends Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara) to help.
The Japanese Self Defense Forces are mobilized to attack Gojira once it appears on land, but their helicopters, tanks and even missiles are all completely ineffective. The US Air Force helps out with drones, bombers and fighter jets, but they too are ineffective. The battle not only destroys a significant area of Tokyo, however, but it also exhausts the monster who goes dormant. A creature that operates on nuclear reaction needs cooling and that’s where Yaguchi’s team figures out how to defeat the beast. Their challenge: to implement their attack faster than the United States timer runs out, because it’s the US that has threatened to drop a nuclear bomb and permanently destroy the beast (and Tokyo with it).
Unlike the fairly straightforward 2014 American-made Godzilla directed by Gareth Edwards, this new Japanese production operates at a number of levels and explores tensions and challenges that face the entire nation of Japan. A painfully overblown bureaucracy and rampant fear of taking responsibility combine with the virtual emasculation of the nation by the United States creates a nation that can’t even address its own challenges without external help. Yaguchi and his fellow young bureaucrats hate it and resent American intervention. One clear message of the movie is that there’s a resurgent nationalism in Japan that’s ready to throw off the shackles of its subservient role as a nation.
The end result is a film that’s entertaining, thrilling in moments, and a fascinating glimpse into the modern Japanese psyche. A film that explores the failure of the Japanese government to quickly react to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown and offers a peek at a new, bolder and more assertive Japan that is more than capable of managing its own destiny. And, yeah, there’s also a big scary monster, particularly in the latter portion of the film.
Shin Gojira (Godzilla Resurgence) is definitely very worth watching.