The tailors from the Tokyo-based Tōhō studio know that round anniversaries are not celebrated around the world. On the 70th anniversary of the King of the Monsters’ screen debut, they are organizing a real concert of wishes for us. “Godzilla Minus One” is not only another reboot of the longest series in the history of cinema, but also a return to its historical roots, or more precisely – a tribute to Ishirô Honda’s classic that opened this franchise. The show also resembles a middle finger casually extended to the wealthy Hollywood workers. The modest $15 million invested in the 37th big reptile film on screen adds up to something more valuable. The pop culture show, shrouded in nostalgia, turns out to be primarily a story about Japanese consciences bruised by the war and collective hope for a better tomorrow.
The last days of World War II. The pilot of the kamikaze unit, Koichi (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), instead of dying for a lost cause, lands on a military base on Odo Island. It’s bad luck that a monster will come to the same place. A huge lizard, about which the natives have legends, will decimate the soldiers and leave the boy unable to cope with the soldier’s ethos with a sense of guilt, helplessness and shame. The return of the disgraced kamikaze to Tokyo will turn the trauma of war into a mournful drama experienced in the ruins of his hometown. However, the post-war order will be governed by different rules, so the fate will soon change. Koichi will build a family with the homeless Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and the girl she takes in. However, a familiar specter will cast a shadow over the increasingly bright everyday life. Koichi’s hunger to destroy the irradiated Godzilla will set him on a path of revenge and redemption. He finally has someone to fight for. There are more like him, so he won’t go alone. Death will fade into the background – life will become more important.
Takashi Yamazaki, who directed the whole film and was also responsible for the script and special effects, is able to reconcile the Japanese social context of the post-war years and the humanistic values represented by the individual characters. During the screening, however, I was often offended by the overly melodramatic tone of individual scenes. The exaltation of the Japanese actors left no room for speculation. The pathos in the group scenes evoked associations with patriotic speeches from Roland Emmerich’s filmography (with a different message, but similar emotionality). Anyone who wants to, can blame my complaints on European sensitivity and habits that limit empathy. In my defense, I will add that the exaggeration shows a lot of director’s care and understanding for the characters. The stakes are clear, the relationships are transparent, and the internal conflicts are believable. Yamazaki reflects on the value of individual sacrifice in the face of mass tragedy and the capitulation of the institutions of military and political power. He confronts seemingly weak civilians with the ambiguous martyrdom of the kamikaze. He’s looking for something more constructive. He wants to refresh his viewers in the old-fashioned way.
However, don’t think that he despises genre entertainment. The titular monster pleases the eye with its texture rich in details. Importantly for the dynamics of the show, the kaijū is not afraid of daylight and can keep his full arsenal secret for a long time. The creators do not lose spatial coherence when Godzilla chews city trains, throws a warship with a stick and passes through skyscrapers. The weight and slowness of his movements make our spines crackle. At the same time, the trombones of Akira Ifukube’s classic motif give chills. In addition to the urban apocalypse, we also get episodes straight from Spielberg’s ” Jaws ” and sea battles – with a clearly defined goal, neat dynamics and the desired tension.
Know the ambivalent symbolism (and great sense of framing) when a kaijū stands in front of a nuclear mushroom cloud. Although he is an aggressor here rather than an innocent victim of nuclear tests, this does not rule out a broader metaphor than just an anti-nuclear warning. In Yamazaki’s monster movie, Godzilla no longer embodies a single fear, but appears in a place of catastrophe, death, and destruction. It reminds us of man’s powerlessness, and yet it motivates the same man to face his own weakness. As befits an award-winning pop culture icon.
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