Shin Godzilla: A Unique Take on a Storied Franchise

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Thomas Richards
| December 5, 2023
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I’ve been in a bit of a Giant Lizard mood recently. With Monarch: Legacy of Monsters airing now (as well as Watching Now: The Monarch Files right here on Couch Soup) and the new film Godzilla Minus One (which you can read our review of here), I’ve got an itch only a Giant Lizard can scratch. The Godzilla franchise is decades old at this point, with the first film being released all the way back in 1954. The radioactive lizard has gone through many iterations over the years, but they’ve mostly been similar enough. That was until Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame got his hands on the beloved kaiju and made something truly unique. Shin Godzilla was released in 2016 and was the last Japan-made Godzilla film until Minus One. The film has been on my radar for a while now, and with Godzilla week in full swing here at Couch Soup, now’s as good a time as any. Is this different take on Godzilla as good as the classic version, or is it too weird for its own good? Let’s find out.

A Menace to Bureaucracy

Godzilla is standing in the water just in front of the grass. Power lines and buildings are on the right. Some mountains are in the background.
He just standing there. (Toho)

Shin Godzilla takes place in 2015 in Japan. One day, a massive underwater explosion causes panic, and the cause is initially a mystery. The Japanese government scrambles to work through all of the proper procedures to keep everything under control. But just as they’re about to do so, a giant deformed lizard crawls out of the water. This odd-looking creature stumbles its way through the streets, spilling blood as it walks. It gets even worse when the creature evolves into the creature we all came to see, Godzilla. Now, the Japanese government needs to find a way to stop this walking natural disaster before it’s too late. Their biggest challenge may not be the overgrown lizard but the long-winded bureaucratic process.

This plot isn’t anything extraordinary, but it gets the job done and incorporates some neat ideas. The commentary on the slow process of the Japanese government was interesting, and I enjoyed how, as the film went on, the decision-making process got faster (could be because a lot of the politicians died). The ending also felt a little lackluster (probs because of the sequel tease that will most likely never get resolved. Damn you, Legendary), but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment much. I also enjoyed how Godzilla doesn’t have any motive in this film like in the Monsterverse. He’s just there to wreck shit and leave, which leads to some fantastic moments. The atomic breath and evolution scenes were excellent and helped showcase just how powerful this version of Godzilla is.

Godzilla Evolution

Phase 2 Godzilla is walking down a street. People are running away and screaming. Abandoned cars line the streets.
He just a lil guy who wants a snack. (Toho)

Speaking of Godzilla doing cool shit, he also looks dope as hell here. Godzilla’s final form is disturbing, beautiful, and menacing to boot. This new version of the giant lizard has a lot more red and purple covering his body than other versions, but the colours suit him nicely. His atomic breath is also awesome in the film because you can see the progression from gas to fire and finally atomic. I also really enjoyed seeing the various forms of Godzilla because they were so different. The first form looks more like an amphibian with big eyes and gills, which just looks disgustingly amazing. It was a bit gross when Godzilla would puke blood everywhere, but I’m sure it has some atomic healing properties or something. The final tease of a human/Godzilla hybrid also looked creepy, and I hope it’s explored at some point.

You can’t have a film that is just Godzilla wrecking shit; you have to have a human element. The human characters are a bit bland for the most part, with some good lines here and there, but they were entertaining enough. The performances were all still great, though, with even the English dub fitting each character perfectly (disclaimer: I did watch it in English because of J. Michael Tatum). Two characters I found compelling were the main guy, Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), and the American envoy Kayoko (Satomi Ishihara). Yaguchi’s determination to defeat Godzilla and his struggles to achieve that goal are fascinating to watch and help to ground the plot. Kayoko was also a fun addition, deciding to either serve the US or help the country her grandmother grew up in.

Distinctive Look

Godzilla is shooting his atomic breath. The beam is a purple colour. The spines on his back are glowing purple. Smoke is covering the bottom left corner.
Giving a whole new meaning to bad breath. (Toho)

Before I watched this film, I did some research and learned that Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame co-directed it. Having seen Evangelion, I made sure to pay extra attention to see if I could spot any of the influences, and Shin Godzilla was filled with them. Everything from how certain scenes are shot to the music being used felt distinctly Anno. An example would be how the Prime Minister sits at the head of the conference table, reminding me of Gendo Ikari. Another fun example is when Godzilla fires off his atomic breath for the first time. That looked like it was ripped straight out of Evangelion, reminding me of several fights in the series and rebuild films. I enjoyed trying to find all of these directorial references, and I think it makes this film stand out amongst the plethora of Godzilla films.

And then there’s the music, which once again reminded me of Evangelion. The sweeping orchestra combined with more reserved tracks and absolute silence helped to give this film its own style. I actually appreciated the silent moments a lot because they let the gravity of the situation sink in instead of just speeding past it (like a lot of films do nowadays). The music at the end was also incredibly stressful and had me holding my breath to see if their plan to defeat Godzilla succeeded. The music further invested me in this story, and that deserves recognition.

Kayoko has her arms in an open position. Her bodyguards is standing behind her. Various people are standing or sitting around the room. Computer screens surround the room.
We are all screwed. (Toho)

Shin Godzilla was a blast. While the story and characters fall flat in a few areas, the spectacle of Godzilla makes me forget all of that. Hideaki Anno brings his unique style and helps to differentiate this film from other versions of the Giant Lizard and lets it shine on its own. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Shin Godzilla, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone, regardless of whether they’re a fan of the series.

Have you seen Shin Godzilla? What did you think? What’s your favourite version of the Giant Lizard? Let us know in the comments where we can talk about all things Godzilla (and maybe some Evangelion)

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