Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shin Godzilla


I've got a number of theories as to why screenings were so sparse that it took until my third try, on a day of extra screenings added after the original eight-day run, to actually get a ticket to this. The cynical/sarcastic one is that, because they normally distribute anime that has become increasingly insular in recent years, FUNimation Films had no idea what to do with something that actually had broad appeal among the general public, although it's just as possible that they did recognize the appeal, but the release pattern that got Shin Godzilla in theaters across the country (booking it as a Fathom-style or four-walled "special presentation" rather than a regular release) meant that it was severely underbooked in places like Boston and other larger cities. I also vaguely wonder if Warner Brothers/Legendary having the American rights to make and distribute their own Godzilla movies might have put an upper limit on what FUNimation could do before running into the much bigger company's territory. It was a frustrating situation for me - I tried to go to Fenway Wednesday the 11th and Sunday the 16th, only to get shut out, and would have tried Fenway on Tuesday the 18th, except I was sent to Texas for company meetings. Seeing that extra shows got added for the 22nd (and, apparently, through the 27th in some territories) got me excited, but I made damn sure to buy my own ticket at the Kendall as soon as they showed up rather than waiting to see if Fenway would get shows and didn't tweet about it until I had my own.

Totally worth it, though, and surprisingly so, considering that I have not exactly been a fan of the "Rebuild of Evangelion" movies that writer/director Hideaki Anno has been doing for most of the past decade, although I did like what I saw of the guy in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. He makes a surprisingly great movie, though maybe it's not for everyone. It's genuinely exciting to have a Godzilla movie with enough going on that it's worth arguing over, though - it's fascinating to me probably only recognizing about half of what's going on there; it must seem especially rich to the local Japanese audience.

And while the big final action sequence isn't perfect, I kind of love where it ends up - the final shots of Godzilla are great visuals but they set up a situation that not only provides the next filmmakers to take the series on both a great place to start their story but a "five minutes to midnight" atmosphere that will almost certainly be something they can use to reflect the times. And, despite all that, the film does not feel incomplete or excessively open-ended - it's a perfect, fitting finale.

I don't know how many folks reading this will still have a chance to see it in theaters, but if you can, do catch it on the big screen. It's a genuinely great giant monster movie, showing just what the genre can do in thoughtful hands.

Shin Gojira (Shin Godzilla, aka Godzilla Resurgence)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (special presentation, DCP)

It was a little bit surprising when venerable Japanese film studio Toho announced plans to make a new Godzilla movie soon after the 2014 American version; while not perfect, it was fairly well-received and expected to spawn its own sequels. What's even more surprising is that the one they wound up making feels daring and modern in unexpected ways - a thoughtful and satirical thriller that is still able to embrace that it's the latest in a series of movies built on guys in rubber suits stomping a scale model of Tokyo.

It starts out suggesting a shift in format to a found-footage or documentary-style flick, as a Coast Guard ship finds a seemingly abandoned pleasure boat in Tokyo Bay. That's soon followed by plumes of boiling water, and while high-ranking members of Japan's government ponder what sort of reassuring explanation to give the public, Deputy Secretary of Disaster Management Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) picks up on chatter that it might be some sort of gigantic life form. Absurd, they say, at least until footage of a massive tail appears during the press conference. While the more senior politicians debate procedure, Yaguchi is put in charge of the research team with Hiromi Ogashira (Mikako Ichikawa) from the Nature Conservation Bureau as his science expert. The trail leads to an expatriate scientist, with American diplomatic envoy Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara) offering to fill the Japanese staff in, although neither she personally nor the government she represents does anything for free.

One of the common complaints about the recent American Godzilla was that it worked too hard to hide the giant monsters, although that is something people say about nearly every kaiju movie worth a damn with the possible exception of Pacific Rim. Those expecting Shin Godzilla (aka "Godzilla Resurgence") to be a rebuke to that are in for a surprise and potential disappointment - it is almost wall-to-wall meetings and debates among elected officials and bureaucrats, often cutting back to the Prime Minister's Residence even while massive property damage and loss of life is happening in another part of Tokyo, generally the opposite of what one wants during a monster rampage.

Full review on EFC.

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