Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"Shin Gojira/Godzilla Resurgence" (2016)

a film review by CatsMando

    Monster films, as they closely tie with horror movies, works best when they mainly work being a commentary to something. Dracula works best when it focuses on being the representation of the threatening form of ambiguous, emasculating, masculinity. The Wolf Man is essentially the fear of man losing his control with his base urges. The Mummy and King Kong is the peril of adventure, Frankenstein and Jurrassic Park is punishment to man's arrogance towards science and nature, zombies are a violent, satiric take on the human collective, Xenomorph Aliens are layers upon layers of analogy about rape and violence against women, The Predator is the ultimate unknown enemy, the cyborg/android motif(think Terminator/Westworld) are based around the fear of man-made technology turning against them.

    It's often strongly about the commentary. Everything else, like Frankenstein's iconic look, King Kong's scale, zombie genre's strong ties with body horror; are secondary. A complementary feature, never the main.

    So Japan with Godzilla? Same principle. Yes, the giant, iconic monster is a good hook, but that's just what it is, a good hook. What really make the original stand strong through time is its message; it's Japan's contemplation to its post-war mindset, a grueling look at its society, figuratively and literally ruined by war. Ultimately, Godzilla is the atom bomb. A swift, uncontrollable destructive force of penance which people do not have the power to stop. The people only learned to have the will to weather-NOT defeat-what wrath it brings. And to stand strong in its wake.

    So this newfangled, 'modern reboot' of the Japanese movie, now created by the same studio who spearheaded the original, has alot of challenges in its way. The top three in my mind is; "How does this compare to the modern, American take?", "How does this compare to the old one?", and "How does this stand on its own?".

   Naturally, the premise is pretty much its original's base narrative; monster appears, monster arrived at destination, monster wreaks havoc, while we watch people go about it. Now, what's both interesting and effective is its approach. It didn't center mainly about the monster, and it didn't focused on few main characters either. In a great nod to the very first film, it opted to treating the monster as a  mere backdrop entity, and by casting the point of view to the people, to the society. Not just in, like, two-three characters.

  Of course, we got some of what could be considered as major characters. First one is  Rando Yaguchi(Hiroki Hasegawa), one of the younger members of the cabinet. As with his youth, his decisions and ideas tend to be more bold and risky, which as shown in the film, often goes against his generally cautious peers. Another one is Kayoko Ann Patterson(Satomi Ishihara), a sort of Japanese representative from America?(never really got what her role is) Look, if there's ONE thing that really dragged this film for me, it would be her character. A spoiled-ish, surprise-english-speaking character who just appeared out of nowhere just to tell how much America wants to get in on their business. Hey, I see the point, and it could work well-but-eghhh, alright, I'll save the criticisms for later. Anyway, another one is Hideki Akasaka(Yutaka Takenouchi), another personel for the Prime Minister. He's a contrast to Rando, but not an adversary. He acts as the third side, the middle ground between the ideals of the old and the young. Other notable characters are Prime Minister Seiji Okochi(Ren Ohsugi), instant-fan favorite Hiromi Ogashira(Mikako Ichikawa), and Defense Minister Reiko Hanamori(Kimiko Yo). There are key and recurring personel, but it's a very big set of characters interacting with one another that it's a disservice for the film to just point to only a handful of characters as "important ones".

    The film's main point is less about the monster itself and more about how Japan faces it. And interestingly so, this film strongly feels like a sharp criticism of the country's bureaucracy. As portrayed in the first half of the film, the big problem isn't actually the monster that appeared in Tokyo Bay, but the overly time consuming, hogwash info dumping, finger pointing busywork of a way their system of government operates. By the time they posit that it could pose a serious threat, the monster is already wreaking havoc by the city river. By the time they concluded through majority decision that the monster cannot go inland, the monster's already rampaging through traffic. By the time they mobilized a strike force, the monster's already at different form. Before they completed an evacuation(which the film show, is horribly disorganized) and ready to face the monster. It already made a mad, destructive dash back into the bay.

   On the next day, while surveying the aftermath, Yaguchi and Akasaka have their respective say about the terror that occurred. Akasaka noted on the shocking destruction, for a monster to destroy this much in few hours. Yaguchi reply in dissappointment and condemnation; they had hours to find a way to fend off the monster. Both of them have a point. Akasaka believes the system works, this event just needed a solid plan implemented in the future. Yaguchi believes they need a totally different form of system.

  This film is just rich in commentary. The ineffectively confusing government work. The pressure of foreign intervention. And my most favorite of all; it's representation on American adventurism. All of it didn't just sprout up of nowhere because of Godzilla, those problems' presence are just made clear because of Godzilla. If the old Godzilla is sort of penance to it's country, the new one acts as a catalyst. Like a storm or an earthquake(which this film strongly alludes to actually), it is a calamity that revealed a much deeper problem in its system and on the people involved.

    By it's second appearance, it's just astonishing. The new Godzilla is much, much more slower than the American(2014) counterpart, but it's godlike capabilities are well showcased. Every stomp is truly(literally!) crushing, with each step sending quakes that could shake off trees and weak buildings. As the government properly mobilized a combined arms assault on the colossal monstrosity, one couldn't help but feel in awe. And man, once Godzilla retaliated with his signature attack, the atomic ray, it's just...glorious is the word that comes to mind.

    The visual effects strongly hearkens to the old days. Yes it is CGI, but the way the visuals are animated and rendered evokes that "man in lizard suit" feel, and it kind of works! Unlike the 2014 film, the destruction rendered here feels more weighty, more palpable. And I like that unlike the common Hollywood CGI-fests where they just throw out tons and tons of short shots and sharp-cutted scenes, here there's confidence on letting the shot linger. Whether from afar, from above, to down on the ground, all of those helped on making Godzilla's presence truly felt.

    Another great point is the score. It's never uninteresting. It's well used in giving us bead on the monster's impression. It also plays with its ode too, by mixing the scores of old with the new ones, it works great on evoking the feel the film tries to aim. Also, I give great credit to the music for being a great companion in Godzilla's retaliation scene. Shiro Sagisu did great on his part.

    So yeah, the film's point is clear, the visual fx are solid, and the score works in tying those two. It's an overall good film bordering to great. So here I go pointing out some points that I think dragged this movie a bit. First off is, as a pure monster flick-monster flick? It's weak. People looking for a film that simply focuses on some monster wreaking havok will not be fully satiated here. It's here more to make a point than make things destroyed(although there's still alot of things that got destroyed in this movie). Another is the first "baby" iteration of Godzilla is adorably stupid-looking. It may be a point and I admit, I myself have no qualms with it. But I'd understand if some folks would feel that it would lessen Godzilla's sense of threat for them. And this...THING that I've been holding back. I'm talking about that "special bratty american english-ing envoy" character. Conceptually, I really have no problem with the character, she works well as another contrast to Yaguchi, and is a good surrogate to America's smug, overbearingly confident way of "always wanting to get involved in big shit". But really, I think it would have worked better if they got an actual Japanese-American actress, who speaks english well but struggles to speak japanese. That would be a better point for me in hammering home this particular character.

    Besides those, I like it. I really like this film. To compare to the 2014 film, this one has a stronger point and(naturally) has a better grasp on what Godzilla is and should be. Compared to the first one, while it's not enough to take over the throne, it's still a great enough to be a very close companion film to it. On its own, it's a very good, talky, monster movie because it really has something to say, and this new iteration of the monster is just awesome. They state that the term "Shin" means 'true', 'new', and 'God'. For me THIS mutha-effin' kaiju got those terms on pat.

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