GODZILLA MINUS ONE

Poffy The Cucumber

A headache the size of a Goji…

Godzilla Minus Heft.

GODZILLA MINUS ONE opens with Japanese kamikaze pilot Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki) landing his fighter aircraft at a repair station on Odo Island, reporting the plane as faulty. Godzilla aficionados go nuts. Odo is, of course, where Godzilla was first sighted in the very first GOJIRA (1954). It is 1945, the end of World War II, and the mechanics, headed by Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki), look at Koichi sideways for being a coward. Kamikaze pilots, after all, don’t generally “land” planes for service…

Suddenly – Godzilla comes ashore (more about this moment later), annihilating the station. Koichi, too terrified to fire his plane guns at the beast, is blamed by Tachibana for all his mechanics being killed, “If it weren’t for you, everybody wouldn’t be dead!”

Upon returning home to his war-decimated neighborhood, Koichi stands in the ruins of his parents’ house, while his neighbor Sumiko (Sakura Ando) accuses him, from the ruins of her house, “If it weren’t for you, my children wouldn’t be dead.” If this guy didn’t want to commit suicide before…

We know this devastation is from the OPPENHEIMER bomb that annihilated Hiroshima and irradiated Big G. Godz fans once again rub their hands in glee for the inevitable connections to Godzilla legacy… but in this sleek new ferocious Toho production, all these “connections” would never come…

GODZILLA MINUS ONE is not about the monster – it’s about the man, Koichi. Taking in a vagrant girl, Noriko (Minami Hamabe), whose parents were also killed, and an abandoned child, Koichi gradually builds back his home with this ready-made family, although his relationship with Noriko would remain platonic, even though we sense a whiff that he would like to pursue couplehood. 1946 cultural norms probably prevented him from going full carpe diem on Noriko, yet when she is presumed dead during a Godzilla attack, we realize that losing her was the last straw Koichi could endure.

Consumed with survivor’s guilt, self-doubt and revenge, Koichi joins a project to kill Godzilla, the beast responsible for putting Japan in the negative (the war took them down to zero, Godzilla’s appearance made them MINUS 1). Headed by Dr. Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka, with a Timothee Chalamet ‘do), the scientists’ plan is an echo of the “oxygen destroyer” and Koichi concocts a suicide gambit within their plan, seemingly welcoming his impending doom as redemption.

the plus

This Godzilla is megalithic. Computer generated, and interacting seamlessly with the real world, its design is a mix between Millennial, Earth and Shin. (A strange irony here, because we are so conditioned to the visual aspect of the Godzilla design; the look and feel that we nostalgically remember is from a bygone era, forged by Eiji Tsuburaya’s innovative Suitmation – so this modern Godzilla is a fully CGI creature designed to look like a guy in a rubber suit!)

The “presence” of this Godzilla is enough to make this film roar above its minor conceptual demerits. We can feel the power of this daikaiju, as it tears through warships or holds aloft a train carriage. (Ambitious shots of the train attack, one POV from inside the vertical carriage as Noriko hangs on, while the rest of the carriage falls away from us!) And there is Godzilla’s dreaded heat ray, presaged by his cerulean triple-spikes locking and loading along his dorsal spine.

Godzilla now has healing powers like Wolverine. (Superhero movies have conditioned us to accept this instantaneous healing facility.) Whereas the early Godzilla eras simply made Godzilla too powerful to be harmed by missiles or tank shells, now we see him sustain injuries which quickly heal. Make no mistake, this is a retcon, which will no doubt spread teleologically backwards into all the eras (just like James T. Kirk’s middle name was revealed first in 1973’s STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES, but never canonized or spoken until 1991’s STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, yet everyone believes they’ve known him as James Tiberius Kirk since the 1966 TV series). You’ve seen it here first, daikaiju fans – mark the day!

Another “first” is the explanation of how Godzilla seems to be “standing up waist deep” in the middle of the ocean. This occurs in numerous Godzilla movies, and it’s always been a minor hilarity for me, but camera angles now show us he is treading water, the larger portion of him under the waves, like an iceberg (which accounts for the design of his thunder thighs – which is again a retcon, as he was designed that way originally due to the prevailing ignorance of how dinosaurs were constructed, not to give him the physics of an iceberg).

AKIRA IFUKUBE: As Godzilla attacks during the finale, the awe-inspiring majesty of Ifukube’s Godzilla Theme, with modern production boosting the bass, pounding into our temples heavier than kaiju. Initially composed for the first GOJIRA in 1954, used across the decades in various Godz films, this theme is SEVENTY YEARS OLD and still raises the arm hairs and curdles the blood.

MINUS ONE is the 5th film in the Reiwa Era, that started with SHIN GODZILLA in 2016; the non-canon anime trilogy followed, that featured Godzilla Earth, MONSTER PLANET, CITY ON THE EDGE OF BATTLE, and PLANET EATER (2017-2018); another non-canon anime followed in 2021, GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT. Even though 2023’s MINUS ONE is canon, it is on another timeline, not a prequel or sequel. And that brings me to…

the minus

The actual minus in this movie is Godzilla’s complete lack of motivation, and (except for Ifukube’s theme) the “disconnection” from all Godzilla legacy. And that starts with the beast’s introduction. There is no buildup, no foreshadowing, no fanfare – when Godz appears on Odo Island in the film’s first five minutes, there is zero dramatic impact. The mechanics describe his presence like it’s a regular Tuesday. They’re scared, yes, but in the sense that he’s a 160-foot predatory animal, not in the sense that Godz is a mythic force of nature. He stands there, then destroys, not eating anyone, rather picking them up with his teeth and throwing them, or stomping them unintentionally. We wonder why he’s here, if not to eat, mate, or defend territory. We will never find out.

Godzilla: Killing In The Name Of…?

The original Gojira was “birthed in the fires of the nuclear bomb” and was an allegory for WMDs fire-hosing out of control, a metaphor for the weapons we make turning against us. Godz aficionados will feel the emptiness of writer-director Takashi Yamazaki’s film right away. It’s big and brash and blustery, entertaining us in original ways, yet it never mentions Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Germans, and if you blink, you miss the references to Soviets and Americans. And when the war IS spoken of, it is only in relation to the devastation on our protagonists’ homes.

We are shown the American nuclear test detonation at Bikini Atoll in 1946, the radiation of which grows this Godzilla, but it’s a simple plot point, not a metaphor connecting to darker themes. And Godzilla’s sizing up affects nothing. For example, it’s not like he can now reach the top of a tower to grab someone that he couldn’t grab before – he’s just the same destructive force he would have been without the bomb.

In any worthwhile Godz movie (GOJIRA, ALL-OUT ATTACK, AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, TOKYO S.O.S., GODZILLA 2014, SHIN GODZILLA) there is a compelling reason why Big G comes stomping around.

With no reason and no motivation, there is no weight to Godzilla’s actions here, no HEFT. This Goji is not a political statement; he’s not in pain, or lashing out against malefactors; he isn’t here to feed, he isn’t looking for a mate, he isn’t seeking radiation for sustenance or seeking revenge for being irradiated; he’s not being territorial, and he’s not spoiling for a fight with another rubber animal. He’s just a story element in Koichi’s quest to find his true grit.


The other side of this equation is: Godzilla is killing for the sake of killing. That makes him, well, unmitigated pure evil. Now that’s an angle I can get behind, but no!—We know this is not the message. It’s a conceptual element the filmmakers didn’t think through.

As a movie, GODZILLA MINUS ONE is a well-produced action-adventure tale, with more plusses than minuses. Most viewers unconcerned with the geopolitical background of the beast will no doubt thrill to the dynamite visuals, and shed a tear for the solid human drama and hero’s journey; however, MINUS ONE may leave many Godzilla aficionados… nonplussed.

END

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GODZILLA MINUS ONE (Nov 2023) | PG-13
aka: POSTWAR JAPAN: FROM ZERO TO MINUS.
Director, Writer: Takashi Yamazaki.
Music: Naoki Sato, Akira Ifukube.
Starring: Minami Hamabe, Sakura Ando, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki.
Japanese Version, English subtitles.
RATINGS-08imdb
Word Count: 1,430      No. 1,635
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