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Month: September 2017

Shin Godzilla: A Movie for Our Times

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.

Enjoying an old TV show – Smallville

Enjoying an old TV show – Smallville

I’m up in PA for a bit and the boy wants to watch as much Smallville as we can get in while I am here. He says it’s his favorite Superman story because Clark Kent is not overpowered compared to his adversaries. The girl mostly likes it because Tom Welling is such a cutie, but she’s so exhausted from her work days that she usually falls asleep during the episodes anyway.

I like the way it neatly bridges the transition from the Gen-X youth era, as exemplified by a similar TV series, into the Millennial youth era. The other series to which I refer is (you may have guessed) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which like Smallville has a superpowered chief protagonist who attends high school in a town where weird things happen. In Buffy the preternatural events occur because of a gate to Hell, whereas in Smallville they are because of a meteor impact – a minor difference. In both shows the main characters depend on, as well as protect, a cadre of loyal peers, and there is ample high school relationship drama.

What’s neat is that the characters in Buffy are from the class of 1999, the last Gen-Xer high school class, while the characters in Smallville are part of the first wave of Millennial high school grads. Granted, Clark Kent is portrayed by a Gen-Xer (Tom Welling was born in 1977), but the supporting cast of friends and love interests are almost all first wave Millennials. Overall the characters seem more well-adjusted, more outgoing and less angst-ridden than the characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Smallville characters with emotional issues who exhibit antisocial behavior turn out to be the episode’s bad guy and often meet unfortunate ends.

You can really see the contrast in the families of the main characters. Buffy has a fraught relationship with her single mother, who is usually too busy to be involved with her daughter’s life and doesn’t even realize she is a Vampire-slayer until later in the series (sorry for the spoiler). But Clark’s Mom and Dad are together, invested in helping him with his powers and fully present in every episode. The Kents are a quintessentially American midwestern family, corny and endearingly wholesome.

I’ve heard that the series changes format and gets darker in later seasons; so far I’ve only seen Season One episodes. For now we’re enjoying what feels to me like part of the early 2000s television coming of age of the Millennial generation. I guess Glee could be next…