OHMC 2016 – Shin Godzilla and a Return to Contemplation

OctoberChallenge2014-Haxan

This morning, I saw this within a post on a friend’s Facebook page: “Insegnami la gloriosa lezione che qual che volta io passo sbagliare.” Translated from Italian, it says “Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I can make mistakes.” I have made a mistake in not keeping up on posting about the October Horror Movie Challenge, but today I fix that by talking a little about contemplative horror, particularly in terms of Shin Godzilla (Godzilla: Resurgence).

[Mild spoilers to follow; proceed with caution. Image credits: Funimation]

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Shin Godzilla (2016)
Directors: Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara

While investigating an abandoned yacht in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese Coast Guard discovers some kind of undersea phenomenon that attacks their boat and causes part of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line to collapse. As the government springs into action to organize a response and evacuation plan while debating what caused this destruction, one of the Cabinet Secretaries (Hasegawa) shares his belief that this was not an undersea volcano or a fissure in the earth breaking open, but rather an enormous creature. He is proven correct when the monster emerges from the sea as an armless lizard, pushing its way through the streets of the city with its powerful legs. And so begins a film that spends much of its focus on bureaucracy, politics, and scientific research. If you are looking for a big kaiju battle, look elsewhere. Shin Godzilla takes us back to the roots of the long-running series, back to Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film, a largely quiet, contemplative film.

As popular and widespread as the Godzilla films are, it can be hard to remember that at their core, these are Japanese films and as such will have a very different meaning for different audiences. I fear that many fans of the big G may have forgotten this; already I have seen complaints that Shin Godzilla (literally translated: “New Godzilla”) doesn’t offer much in the way of action, that much of the film is littered with meetings among various levels of government, scientists, and military leaders. This is true. Looking back at Godzilla (1954), not much has changed. Both films spend the bulk of their time in finding ways to counter the creature, as well as pondering on the history of violence against Japan and how this could have contributed to the creature’s sudden appearance. As we should know from the very first film, Godzilla is a metaphor for the irreversible damage caused by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Moving into the present with Shin Godzilla, in which the people of Japan are still reeling from the nuclear crisis at Fukushima and the Tohoku tsunami, we understand that nuclear retaliation will immediately throw the Japanese population into a similar tailspin as the metaphorical destruction of the first film, and that even though they’ve had to “scrap-and-build” in the past to restore their ways of life, they would much rather find an alternate solution to defeating Godzilla. Much like Serizawa’s “oxygen destroyer,” a group of what the film describes as “nerds and outcasts” develop a completely non-atomic method of coagulating Godzilla’s blood. While not a success in eliminating the creature, it does render him frozen, statue-like and monumental, in the center of the city.

Here stands a testament, then, for the power of science and research, of coming together as a nation and working toward a unified if uncertain future as fellow humans, of correcting mistakes from the past. I found Shin Godzilla in this way to be a wonderful homage to the origins of our favorite giant monster, and all the horror that entails. A new beginning, the potential for more creatures, a possible threat of nuclear destruction: all laying across the horizon of Tokyo Bay.

Additional thoughts on Shin Godzilla:

  • Godzilla evolves, and rapidly so! From a creature with underdeveloped arms and large eyes, to a fire-breathing lizard, to a behemoth that can emit atomic lasers from dermal plates. I assume there’s a Pokemon joke to be made here.
  • The underwater tunnel collapsing and filling not with water, but with blood makes for some good visceral imagery.
  • Gradually bringing in Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla theme and Godzilla’s original roar as the monster evolves was a brilliant move.
  • Many of the early scenes, in which we are overloaded with information on the various Cabinet and Ministry members, bring a dark comedy to the film’s early attacks. We watch as they go back and forth, talking endlessly, as destruction threatens Tokyo Bay.

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The 2016 Challenge so far…

10 FTVs
6 repeats
16 total films

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