Review: Godzilla – Minus One

Blockbusters weren’t always rollercoasters, and this film harkens back to the old days.

At the end of World War II, a Japanese kamikaze pilot not only dishonourably flees combat, but also witnesses a terrifying sight: a gigantic monster that threatens all of Japan.

Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, and produced by Toho Studios, the original studio who created the famous monster, Minus One is the most recent pedigree entry in the franchise. It is wild to compare this production with the American Godzilla movies of recent years, but compare you will.

Heck, when seeing this film, there was a trailer ahead of it for Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire, which by comparison looks like a multicoloured fairground ride. Indeed, Godzilla: Minus One won’t be for everyone; the franchise has changed over the decades since the original movie released in 1954. General western audiences will not expect this grim, grounded, emotionally-resonant story where Godzilla is an elemental force, not a character.

Must go faster. Must go faster!

It is quite fascinating as a franchise, and we are very privileged to get different interpretations of the monster. Interpretations that don’t influence each other greatly. Minus One opens with our lead protagonist Koichi Shikishima, a kamikaze pilot who refuses to lay down his life for a war that has already ended, despite the dishonour it places on his name. But in the act of doing this, he is caught in a deadly encounter with Godzilla, who rises from the ocean.
Shikishima survives this encounter, but his cowardice may have cost the lives of others, and by extension, even his own parents. Living with survivor’s guilt, dishonour, and the terrible images of Godzilla, he must scrounge a life from the wreckage along with another survivor, Noriko, and Akiko, an orphaned baby.

So yeah, surprisingly there is a lot of narrative weight placed on the characters and their emotional turmoil. Which western Godzilla movies often push to the side in preference for monsters fighting each other or the destruction of cities. Minus One portrays Godzilla more as force of nature, an allegory of destruction, the persistence of war, and nuclear threat. Of course… that was the creature’s original portrayal.

The positive reviews of the movie were just rolling in.

The emotions are running high for our characters. From Shikishima’s waking nightmares that maybe he never survived and everything is an after-death illusion, to the post-war destruction that Japan is reeling from. “Minus One” is indicative of Japan’s current status, with the war setting it to zero and Godzilla’s arrival pushing it into the negative, and certainly these characters are all struggling to maintain their culture and recover their lives.

There’s levity too, though. We get a humble rag-tag team assembled (the Japanese government is still dealing with the war’s aftermath) to somehow deal with the monstrous threat, and they all have good chemistry together. There’s a lengthy sequence that feels very inspired by Jaws, which was delightful.

There are some little nitpicks. Like how our protagonist rather magically appears exactly where he needs to be during an intense scene of total destruction. It is momentary, but it feels very silly (suspension of disbelief is strained) within that moment. The characters are all likeable, but they also fall into tropes.
The effects are solid, although some might find Godzilla’s stiff momentum displeasing. This is like the original movie; the creature isn’t running around at full speed, it is ponderous and unstoppable.

For a budget of $15 million, though, this is absurdly good, and the film really should be recognized for this fact. Remember, The Marvels and Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania had budgets of over $200million and look terrible.

It isn’t the light-hearted monster mash you might be wanting in 2023, it is often a very uncomfortable and grim post-war tale. A story of people living with trauma, or failing to live with it. It does have an awesome monster with atomic breath, but that is merely a plot device driving character motivations and emotions. You know, the way things should be.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *