Shin Godzilla is the story of hard-working bureaucrats responding successfully to a national crisis. When the giant monsters invade, you can’t do better than the able public servants of Shin Godzilla.
And for most of the film, directors Higuchi and Anno pull it off. The first act of the film, with the introduction of the unlikely new Godzilla, races–Anno edits with Sato Atsuki and they don’t slow down until it’s time for a full stop. There’s a lot of humor to Shin Godzilla, but it’s entirely for the viewer. The characters don’t get a break or a laugh or even regular smiling. They stoically battle the apocalypse, whether it’s a giant monster or the U.S. government externally unwanted pressure on Japan.
Shin Godzilla avoids politics. Way too much. But it does have this steady mistrust of the United States. It’s too bad too, because the U.S. shows up in the second act with all sorts of Godzilla info and those information dumps are a mess. On one hand, Anno doesn’t want to take the kaiju thing too seriously. He knows he’s got disbelief suspended by this time, so why not rush through some really silly origin stuff. There’s a portents to Shin Godzilla, which the directors pull off (thanks to the actors, thanks to the editing), but Anno doesn’t have a sense of humor about it. After the almost goofy first act–which transitions masterfully into the second act through montage–it seems like Shin is going to be something special.
Except it never gets there. For two hours, the movie keeps promising something more in a few minutes, delivering an almost perfect moment here and there, but always dragging it out. The second act is lead Hasegawa Hiroki dragging the cast of hundreds through the clumsy introduction of new ideas, new mutations, new characters.
Shin Godzilla has a hundred speaking parts. Maybe. It has a lot. It’s this rapid fire political thriller thing, only instead of a nuclear war, they’re fighting this giant monster. Every once in a while, there’s a “Godzilla moment” with the giant monster and the film seems to be moving more towards something to do with Godzilla symbolically. Even self-referentially. Anno and Higuchi use some classic Godzilla music, but they don’t do much else referential. The locations, sure, but it’s supposed to be scary. Godzilla’s supposed to be dangerous.
And Godzilla does do some serious damage, which the film completely ignores in terms of human casualties. There’s maybe one tragic scene, early on, when it seems like Shin Godzilla still might go somewhere else–into the cellphone footage, into the lives of the displaced–but then it doesn’t.
Instead, the film introduces Ishihara Satomi. Ishihara is the half-Japanese, half-white American daughter of a U.S. senator who’s on her way up the ladder in Washington. She’s also a bit of a party girl, because she’s rich. Ishihara does okay with some of the part. She’s bad at the English deliveries, which immediately kills the cinema verite the directors try to keep going. She’s got too much character for the movie and nothing to do with it. If Ishihara were better, the character not be such a drag. But Ishihara’s just fine, not phenomenal. Again, she gets no help from the directors. Maybe one of them told her to play flirty with Hasegawa and the other said not to play flirty with him.
As for Hasegawa, he’s a great lead. His character is a young, bright, impetuous staffer who just wants to do good. He wants to be Justin Trudeau. Ishihara wants to be Hillary. Except to change political analogies, Ishihara’s character is more the Mandy Hampton part.
Everyone else is great because they aren’t in it too much. If the performance is broad, the actor is gone pretty soon. By the time they’re back, they’re now a familiar face and they’re welcome. It perpetuates. It’s a very well made film. Until the third act, at least. The sludge second act seems like it’s building, through monotony maybe, but definitely intensifying. Because it’s so well-made. Then it collapses and Shin Godzilla just gets heavier and heavier.
Anno, in the script, tries to keep it light. He tries to play up the characters as familiar to the audience, but the film’s lost its teeth. If you’re going to deus ex machina, put it in the right spot and don’t try to drag it out two weeks in the present action. Because the directors break Shin Godzilla. For a better part of its runtime, it could’ve gone somewhere. But Anno and Higuchi don’t want to take it anywhere.
Except as a politician positivity message.
Directed by Higuchi Shinji and Anno Hideaki; written by Anno; director of photography, Yamada Kosuke; edited by Anno and Sato Atsuki; music by Sagisu Shiro; produced by Satô Yoshihiro, Shibusawa Masaya, Ueda Taichi, and Wadakura Kazutoshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.
Starring Hasegawa Hiroki (Yaguchi), Takenouchi Yutaka (Akasaka), Ishihara Satomi (Kayoko Ann Patterson), Ôsugi Ren (Prime Minister Okochi), Emoto Akira (Azuma), Kôra Kengo (Shimura, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary), Ichikawa Mikako (Ogashira, Deputy Director of Nature Conservation Bureau), Kunimura Jun (Zaizen, Integrated Chief of Staff), Pierre Taki (Saigo, Combat Leader), Shimada Kyûsaku (Katayama, Minister of Foreign Affairs), and Mitsuishi Ken (Kozuka, Governor of Tokyo).