Between 2014’s “Godzilla” and the upcoming “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” I am glad to see a Kaiju film that embraces the spirit of its ancestors. “Shin Godzilla,” directed by Hideaki Anno, is low-budget, compared to its American-made counterparts, and it does not act like it is not. The effects are not top-tier and the story can be difficult to follow at times; however, I prefer to view these details as at least somewhat intentional, and I believe that they add to the film rather than detract from it.
“Shin Godzilla” is at once a serious homage to the older Toho kaiju films and a humorous-yet-not-wholly-ridiculous critique of modern bureaucracy. Composer Shirō Sagisu borrows from Akira Ifukube’s 1954 “Godzilla” soundtrack, as well as from his own work for Anno’s acclaimed anime series, “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” The combination of CGI and motion capture technology used to bring the monster to life create an effect reminiscent of the “suitmation” in early Godzilla films, and Godzilla’s fourth form—the form in which Godzilla appears for most of the movie—is highly reminiscent of ShodaiGoji, the suit design used in the original 1954 film.
The movie’s dialogue-heavy plot is what truly sets it apart from its predecessors; such emphasis on planning and characterization is likely to be unfamiliar to fans of Toho’s former works. The majority of the film takes place in boardrooms and offices, where the terror struck by the giant lizard is shown through panicked people passing convoluted plans through layers upon layers of official approval—and this rigor is all only so such plans may be considered for action. It is a leap from the expected running and screaming of previous films, but one which is meaningful. Although “Shin Godzilla” draws much from its forebears, it offers a poignant commentary on how today’s world would react to such a sudden and unexpected issue. Confusion and frustration abound, and tensions between countries rise exponentially. To audiences, the disarray likely seems unnecessary. For the most part, the humans—with their preoccupations and egos—hinder themselves, more than the lizard at hand does. The obstructions they cause are even visually represented; quite often, officials’ too-long titles take up the entire bottom half of the screen.
The film’s wry humor combined with the classic “horror” elements of the Godzilla franchise make “Shin Godzilla,” in my view, a worthwhile two hours—especially for fans of Toho or Anno. If this is your first Kaiju film, do not expect a polished, Hollywood-style masterpiece, but do expect a captivating, fast-paced, human-centric plot, capped off with an ending which is both satisfying and ominous.