Shin Godzilla: A Movie for Our Times
I wanted to share my thoughts about a remarkable film: the latest Godzilla flick from Toho, called Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla Resurgence, directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. It is a disaster movie, inspired to a great degree by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake (fourth most powerful on record) and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster, which ravaged north-eastern Japan. The movie has turned out to be immensely popular, winning many awards and grossing more than any other Toho Godzilla film.
The original 1954 Godzilla was a reaction to Japan’s World War II experience, particularly the annihilation of her cities by the U.S.’s nuclear-bombing missions. Godzilla was an incarnation of U.S. military power, and Japan was reliving the trauma of her defeat by America in the movie and its sequels. With this new version, the giant monster has become an incarnation of the fury of nature herself, and the film highlights the fragility of civilization and the complications faced by modern governments dealing with disaster in an age of massive urbanization and instant communication.
As such it is a tale of humanity entering the 21st century, leaving behind an earlier age and its wars and legacies, and facing new dangers and difficulties. Natural disasters loom large in an era of climate change and rapid population growth, with coastal megacities – where the bulk of humanity resides – being especially vulnerable. The destruction wrought by the latest form of Godzilla on the screen could be the destruction caused by Japan’s great earthquake, or that caused by the hurricanes which have wrecked the Gulf Coast of America in recent years.
This astonishing and heart-rending video much more compellingly makes the same point:
The key concept for survival in the 21st century threat environment is resilience, and in Godzilla Resurgence the bureaucratically hidebound government lacks this quality. This leads to shake ups in the power structure and a shift in focus from the aged officials to a team of creative young scientists and a savvy young diplomat who makes a deal with the U.S. government. With the risk of saying too much, I’ll just add that this final plot element brings back the specter of nuclear attack.
A final note about the film is to credit its brilliant score, by composer Shirō Sagisu. The music is haunting and powerful, and though difficult to make out under the orchestral instrumentation, on many of the tracks there are stirring vocals. One can easily imagine these lyrics over any of the scenes of horror and destruction that fill contemporary news feeds.
In the United States this movie was not widely distributed in theaters. I was lucky to have the chance to see it twice on the big screen. But you can get it on disc through your usual outlets and I highly recommend it if you like monster movies, or disaster movies, or movies that are relevant to our times.