Hello again, Godzilla fans!
Welcome to the first part of my ultimate spoiler-filled overview of Shin Godzilla! For fans wondering just what is going on in this still mysterious film, and don’t care about hearing all the juicy details before seeing the film themselves, you have come to the right place!
The following synopsis (which, again, will be posted in two parts) is based on viewing the film two times in theaters, translations of the plot published in the official theater program book (from which I have personally copied several pictures to be included in this article), and the insight of several Japanese viewers who were gracious enough to share many plot points, and other invaluable pieces of information, lost in translation. During the synopsis, I will be sharing interesting tidbits on the production, awesome little details, and my own thoughts on the proceedings. I hope you all enjoy what I have to say!
(But first, the obligatory SPOILER WARNING! I WILL NOT HOLD BACK ON DETAILS IN HERE. IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED WHEN THE FILM HITS THEATERS LATER THIS YEAR, PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FARTHER! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!!!!)
(For those still interested in my thoughts, please consider reading my spoiler-free review.)
So, without further ado, let’s get started…
As per tradition, the film starts with the Toho logo. However, following this, the logo appears again, but is an older version from the 1960’s. This is followed by the familiar footfalls and roar of the 1954 Godzilla that started the original film 62 years ago. Following this, the title “Shin Gojira” appears in katakana, all white on a black background, just as with the original film. The trend of honoring Godzilla 54’ continues with the first shot, the wake behind a small boat. The boat in question has been discovered empty, floating in Tokyo Bay. On board is an envelope, an origami swan, a pair of glasses, and a pair of shoes. It is speculated that the owner of the articles, and the boat, committed suicide by jumping into the bay. Suddenly, a huge explosion rocks the boat, and a fountain of a red, blood-like liquid erupts from the water. More of the liquid pours from the ceiling of the Aqua Line tunnel beneath the bay.
This incident prompts the Japanese government into action. Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), our main character, is the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, with aspirations of being Prime Minister one day. The current prime minister (Ren Osugi) is weak, a pushover, and (as we will soon see) not the best when it comes to crisis control. The next few minutes of the film are all talk, in which the situation is discussed at length and the government decides what must be done. Although the scenes appear long, they never come across as boring, especially to Japanese audiences. These scenes have been carefully crafted by director Hideaki Anno to powerfully reflect the tragic 3/11 tsunami and earthquake incident from a few years ago, particularly in how slowly and ineffectually the government approaches the crisis control. Indeed, many Japanese viewers have reported feeling strongly unsettled at the accuracy of these scenes, with several Japanese viewers I spoke to calling the implications “terrifying”. The power of allegorically reflecting tragic current events has returned to the Godzilla series, and director Anno takes every advantage to heighten the sense of tension and dread (such as intermingling images of government officials debating and cell phone footage of survivors to elevate the realism) as the talking continues.
Yaguchi believes the incident to be the fault of a strange creature, images of which have been popping up on the internet over the last few days. His claim is refuted, and the government cites an earthquake, or possible volcanic eruption, as the cause. However, their tune changes when an enormous tail emerges from the bay, and slowly begins to move towards land. Oatama Hiromi (Mikako Ichikawa), the Nature Conservation Bureau Director, calls in specialists to try and identify the creature, but they are clueless as to what it might be. The Prime Minister calls a press conference, telling the people of the situation and promising them that the creature will not make landfall. However, during the conference, he is informed that, well… you guessed it. Again, this a reflection of the Prime Minister’s actions during 3/11, and a Japanese viewer seeing this will understand the reference.
Making landfall in Kamata, the creature reveals itself to be a bizarre aberration, a vaguely dinosaurian creature with bulging, fish-like eyes, nubs where forearms should be, a long tail, and several rows of maple leaf-like spines. The creature moves by essentially crawling across the ground horizontally, its dinosaurian legs scooting its chest and neck across the ground like a two legged lizard. The massive monster, a sort of “Proto-Godzilla”, drags boats and cars along with it, with the rising water and ensuing carnage clearly reflecting the horrifying destruction of the tsunami. Again, Japanese reviewers have reported being vividly and terrifyingly reminded of that incident after watching these scenes. It is during this sequence that composer Shiro Sagisu’s chilling piece from the first trailer (“Persecution of the Masses”) appears. It is also our first exposure to Sagisu’s music for Shin Godzilla within the film, and the power of this piece makes it a perfect candidate to introduce us to this new composer.
Pressured by his cabinet, the Prime Minister declares a state of emergency, and the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) is called into offensive action for the first time in history. However, before they can arrive, the creature begins to undergo a bizarre evolution. Slowly but surely, the creature begins to hoist its bulky body upwards, its legs, ankles, and feet growing stronger. Small armlets grow from the nubs on its shoulders, and the creature, now standing more vertical, begins to rampage through Shinagawa.
Aside from the transformation, this scene is notable for another, amazing reason. The transformation and rampage is set to Akira Ifukube’s chilling, original theme for Godzilla’s arrival on the mainland from Tokyo Bay from the 1954 film (“Godzilla Comes Ashore”). And we’re not talking a re-orchestrated version by Sagisu… this is the original, 62 year old track recorded for the first film’s soundtrack. Its use is startling and unexpected, but hauntingly appropriate for the scene. To further connect the moment to the original film, Godzilla now roars with the 1954 Godzilla’s roar, again neither edited nor changed. This won’t be the only time classic Godzilla music or sound effects will be used in the film.
The SDF arrives on the scene to attack the creature, but are forced to call off the strike when it is discovered that civilians are still in the area. The creature then escapes back into the bay, and disappears from radar. While the government continues to deliberate on how to deal with the situation, Yaguchi, who has been vindicated for his opinion that the giant creature existed in the first place, receives permission to start a specialized group to study the monster. The “Enormous Creature Special Disaster Headquarters”, or “Team Yaguchi”, is established, and their first discovery is a trail of radiation left in the monster’s path. It is determined that the monster is emitting radioactivity, although not at seriously high levels.
This is where Kyoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), a somewhat cocky Japanese American and Special Envoy to the President of the United States, arrives on the scene. And this is also where even more references and connections (although not canonical) to previous Godzilla films are introduced. Kyoko is looking for a scientist named Goro Maki (Akira Kubo’s name in Son of Godzilla, and also the name of the lead character in The Return of Godzilla), who had been working on energy research in the US. It is ultimately determined that it was Maki who committed suicide in Tokyo Bay, leaving the empty boat, as well as both the mysterious envelope and the origami crane. Strange maps and documents were recovered from the envelope, and after they are shown to Kyoko, she shares them with Yaguchi. It is here that Yaguchi sees an unusual word in English… “GODZILLA”. Kyoko informs him that this is a codename applied by the US to the creature that attacked Japan, and that its true name is “Gojira”. It was Maki who named the creature, taking the name from… wait for it… the name of a giant god revered on the island he grew up on… Odo Island.
You may now pick up your jaws from the floor.
Maki, as it turns out, has been studying the bizarre lifeform known as Godzilla for many decades. Over 60 years earlier (circa 1954), the monster was discovered feeding off nuclear waste in the sea, and was studied in secret. The exact origins of Godzilla, and for what purpose the US was studying him, is left a mystery. What is ultimately discovered by Team Yaguchi is the fact that Godzilla contains a great amount of radiation in his body, and that the creature emits heat and radioactivity as it moves. However, before more can be learned, the giant makes landfall again, this time at Kamakura. The beast has now taken on a form more akin to the classic Godzilla, and appears as the “Shingoji” design we are all familiar with from the trailers, posters, and toys. Believe it or not, this is the fourth form of the monster, with the previously seen Proto-Godzilla’s two forms being the second and third forms overall. Preceding that, according to the program book, there is a smaller, tadpole-like form that lives in the sea, but this form is not seen in the film. The fourth form of Godzilla is the biggest and most powerful form of the monster, and is even referred to as “Shin Gojira” several times onscreen. As we all know, the word “Shin” is a triple entendre, meaning “true”, “king”, and “God” in Japanese. However, in the film, the name Shin Gojira is also seen in Chinese characters, and when written this way, the word “shin” can also mean “evolved” or “evolution”. It is yet another apt description of this new version of the King of the Monsters, and adds yet another layer to the mythos of the monster’s name.
It should also be noted that during the scenes of the final form of Godzilla walking through Kawasaki, more Ifukube music makes an appearance. When the monster emerges from the water, the famous Godzilla theme thunders across the soundtrack, specifically the version composed for 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla. This ultimately transitions into Ifukube’s Godzilla theme from 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla. The scenes themselves are classic Godzilla, with the monster slowly advancing through the town, crushing buildings and causing panicked hordes to flee in terror. Hearing Ifukube’s music in this sequence couldn’t feel more appropriate, or welcome to longtime fans.
Tomogawa becomes the line of defense against the monster, and the JSDF finally begins its attack. Jets fire Gatling guns into Godzilla’s face, and tanks fire artillery shells at the monster’s legs and torso, but to no avail. Unlike many kaiju films, in which missile strikes often hit next to the monster as often as they actually strike them, the JSDF in this movie never miss, and every shell and bullet fired is a direct hit on the monster. But, as expected, no human weapon can stop, or even attract the attention of, Godzilla. Bullets ricochet off his skin, and artillery shells bounce off and explode in the air in front of his body. It’s the most hauntingly ineffective attack scene in the history of the franchise. Also of note is the use of classic, Tsuburaya-era sound effects of explosions and missiles firing. Rather than use newer sound effects, Anno and Higuchi have taken familiar sounds from the Showa era of Tokusatsu (heard in countless Toho special effects films and even in TV shows like Ultraman) and applied them to this 21st century film, creating a deliberately nostalgic feeling in the special effects that are as comforting to longtime fans as they are effective in the movie.
Speaking of the special effects, this is as good a time as any to clear up some confusion that has come about from Toho’s promotion of the film as featuring nothing but an “all CG Godzilla”. Rest assured, Toku fans, THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Early scenes of the Proto-Godzilla’s attack do feature an entirely CG creature, but the CG work is nothing short of astonishing. For those familiar with the now infamous “Ultraman n/a” CGI trailer featuring an all-digital Ultraman taking on an all-digital kaiju in Tokyo, the CG work in Shin Godzilla is comparable to that. Toho has advanced leaps and bounds with their CG abilities in the last decade, and you would be hard pressed to believe that this is the same company that animated the passible but definitely clearly CGI effects in films like Godzilla: Final Wars. Furthermore, the CG in this film is VERY MUCH in the Tokusatsu spirit, making it feel as authentic as possible. However, as good as the CG work is in Shin Godzilla, the practical work is truly breathtaking. In short, Shinji Higuchi has achieved what I would consider to be the new gold standard for not just the Godzilla series, but Tokusatsu in general, and a standard to which all further Godzilla films should aspire. Most of the scenes involving the final form of Godzilla are handled the old fashioned way (with the large scale puppet seen in leaked images earlier this year), with only a few shots (mostly involving the monster maneuvering and contorting in ways that would be difficult to pull off convincingly with a giant puppet) created with digital technology. Much of the CG work with the final form involve atmospheric embellishments, such as smoke and debris. The incorporation of both the CG and practical Godzillas into the real-world environments of the film are flawless, and this, combined with Anno’s tight and awe-inspiring directing, make Godzilla feel more realistically (and terrifyingly) incorporated into our world than in any film before.
As night begins to fall in Tokyo, Godzilla begins to move into the metropolitan center of the city. By this time, Japan as asked for the assistance of the US, and an American attack via stealth B2’s is imminent. Yaguchi has left his HQ behind, and the Prime Minister, along with most of his cabinet, are preparing to escape by helicopter. As Godzilla wades slowly through the city, the power in the surrounding buildings begins to go out, as the beast draws energy from the power grid into his massive, glowing body. In the center of Tokyo, the B2’s drop MOP2 bombs onto Godzilla’s back, causing an eruption of red fluids from his back. However, no sooner has the geyser of blood ceased than an ominous, purple glow begins to emanate from the creature’s back and dorsal spines. Still bent with his face toward the ground, Godzilla’s mouth begins to slowly open, its lower mandible stretching like a snake jaw. Seconds later, the eerie purple glow in the beast’s throat gives way to a massive belch of energy; a blueish, fog like substance erupts from Godzilla’s distended maw, flooding the city almost instantly. Moments later, the fog (almost an exhaust for the next phase of the attack) transitions into a horrifying stream of fire. Bursting forth from Godzilla’s mouth like a rocket engine, the fire spreads through the entirety of downtown Tokyo at a rate that is sure to take away the breath of every viewer. (Think the aliens’ initial attack in the original Independence Day, but sped up by a factor of 10. The saturation of the city in flames is shockingly instantaneous.) But the attack isn’t over yet. From here the fiery breath (which, by the way, features the classic Showa era sound effect) transitions into Godzilla’s final, most destructive weapon: the purple beam. Now, when I say “most destructive weapon”, I’m not just referring to this incarnation of Godzilla… this could be the single most destructive weapon ever unleashed by ANY Godzilla, the most destructive Atomic Ray of all time. Acting more like the slicing rays of Gyaos (from the Gamera series) than the more explosive/concussive force usually displayed by Godzilla’s various rays, the purple ray emanates from a small point within Godzilla’s open mouth, and shoots through the air as a thin beam, far thinner than the classic atomic breath, which usually has a diameter roughly the size of Godzilla’s mouth. While the beam is a visual departure from the ray we’ve come to expect from the Monster King, it is the destructive force this new, purple ray unleashes that will have fans crawling around on theater floors, desperately feeling under the seats for their lower jaws. The beam, aptly colored to represent death in Japanese culture, literally extends for miles in whatever direction Godzilla chooses to shoot it, unleashing a raw energy powerful enough to cleanly slice a building in two with a single pass. One shot of the beam, and a few turns of Godzilla’s head leaves the entirety of downtown Tokyo a flaming wasteland of rubble and apocalyptic destruction. Many famous landmarks, including the famous Wako Building (atop which sits the clock tower Godzilla destroys in the original 1954 film), are sliced to flaming ribbons in mere seconds. It is during sequence that composer Sagisu’s hauntingly beautiful piece “Who Will Know?” heard in the second trailer, makes its appearance.
Despite the horrifying destruction already wrecked, the attack still isn’t over yet. As Godzilla unleashes his purple beam, the concentrated energy in his back builds to massive proportions, and the beast unleashes a new ability never before seen in a Godzilla film… from the monster’s glowing back erupts dozens more purple beams, shooting out of Godzilla’s spine like searchlights. Although they appear random, the purple beams are disturbingly purposeful in their aiming. This Godzilla features a built-in radar system in its body, enabling it to track moving objects around it that its eyes cannot see. The purple beams erupting out of Godzilla’s back illustrate this point with sickening clarity when we see them slice through the American B2’s high in the sky. As stealth craft, B2’s literally cannot be seen by electronics or most manmade radar. Godzilla, however, knew right where they were, and how to destroy them. It is yet another moment that sucks the breath right out of the lungs of the viewer, and is further impactful when another ray strikes and destroys the chopper carrying the Prime Minister and the cabinet. Following this scene, Godzilla’s purple ray subsides. But the attack still isn’t over, as the purple ray transitions back into the column of fire, which continues to bath the city in a holocaust of flame. The scenes heavily call back to images from the original Godzilla, and further recall the real-life firebombings of Tokyo that inspired those chilling cinematic moments from 62 years ago. This is a definitive moment in the entire Godzilla series, a scene of destruction that visually and tonally surpasses that of every film before it. No Godzilla film since the original has depicted destruction so vividly and horrifyingly. It will surely be a moment that will haunt the dreams and imaginations of every Godzilla fan that bears witness to it.
Surrounded by fire like some primordial devil, Godzilla’s purple glow subsides, his mouth closes, and he slowly but surely comes to rest, freezing in place like an enormous statue. With his atomic energy expended, the King of the Monsters must recharge (much like Gamera in Gamera 2: Attack of Legion), and falls into a temporary state of dormancy, slowly building up strength for its next attack…
Be sure to check back soon for Part 2 of this overview, and, of course, stay tuned for more news on Shin Godzilla and its impending US release as it breaks!
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This article was written By Danzilla93 and published on 2016-08-20 08:00:55
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