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  • Writer's pictureNoah Yard

Godzilla Minus One Gets it Right.

It’s a rare thing, for me at least, when you see a kaiju movie and don’t root for the monster in some way. I mean they’re just so cool. And I think part of the reason for this is American Kaiju movies, especially MonsterVerse movies, rarely give you any humans to care about at all. They are always the subplot. The funnel in which to drive more awesome monster fights.


This is not the case with Takashi Yamaziki’s “Godzilla Minus One.” The movie has more than just big monster fights and mass destruction of property. It has an actual story, and a cast of characters worth rooting for!


We open on a young pilot, Kōichi Shikishima is a deserter from the Japanese Army at the end of WW2. Originally a kamikaze pilot meant to die “honourably” instead he feigns plane troubles and lands on Odo island, an army base meant for plane repairs.


Little does he know, in avoiding death he has wrought upon himself a terrible curse, plagued by, you guessed it, Godzilla. Yet to have been genetically mutated Godzilla is on the smaller side but still levels the army base with ease, leaving Shikishima and one other man as soul survivors.


He carries his guilt all the way back to Tokyo, devastated by the war and the atomic bomb, and finds his old house in ruins and his parents dead. However, he finds a young woman, Noriko, fleeing through Tokyo with an orphaned baby.


They make a home for themselves and Shikishima finds a job as a minesweeper, shooting up old US sea mines left over after the war. It’s a dangerous job, but it leaves Shikishima with some extra cash to spend on a home for him and Noriko, as well as their baby, Akiko.


You can tell, just from this first opening of the movie, that the heart and soul of this movie is not a monster but a family. And you desperately want this beautiful found family to survive.


Enter Godzilla, who is now superpowered and extra big after years of absorbing radiation and being hit by US nuclear tests. He’s big, and he’s got a big heat ray now, and essentially flattens the city of Ginza.


Wrapped with guilt over his inability to stop the monster, Shikishima joins an effort to stop the monster once and for all.


The story here is so rich and the characters are so wonderful that Godzilla finally feels like a threat, not a thrill.


Take “Godzilla x Kong” and that whole franchise. I don’t remember any humans, or what they even did in those movies. All I remember is Godzilla and Kong's big fights. Good for an exciting movie, but not an engaging one. The big difference here is the purpose of the Kaiju also. In the MonsterVerse movies, Godzilla is a protector against bigger threats. He is nature personified, fighting for the people. “Yass Godzilla slay that dragon!” he beats up monsters and leaves.


In Minus One, he is more than a beat 'em-up monster. He is an allegory for survivors' guilt and the horrors of nuclear war. He must be defeated, or Japan's hope of moving forward, of processing its grief, is lost. He follows Shikishima around, a representation of his guilt at deserting. He feels Godzilla’s continued existence is his burden to bear. Making him a true monster, and not just a benevolent wrecking ball, gives Godzilla greater purpose in the film. The less you see of him the better, but when you do see him it’s well worth it.


Now let's talk visual effects. With a crew of only 35 and a budget of only 15 million, (Godzilla x Kong’s sequel had an alleged budget of 150 million.) Godzilla Minus One uses VFX to create possibly the coolest version of Godzilla I’ve seen in a while. It’s due to, in part, how they choose to animate Godzilla. He doesn’t run, or pick up buildings, or use weapons. He is a large, cumbersome, lumbering thing. He moves slowly because he is a big guy. His steps are lurching, his head turns slowly. He has a stiff quality that almost mimics puppetry or the styles of original Godzilla movies. Sometimes he looks a little corny, but he looks real.


The famous scene of him swimming quickly behind a minesweeper that Shikishima is on, is one occasion where his movements are smooth, fast and deliberate. Because these things are used sparingly, the scene is terrifying.


Godzilla Minus One manages to do many things that Hollywood’s versions just don’t. There are emotional stakes, a worthwhile human storyline that doesn’t feel shoehorned in, and a unique, visually stunning way of capturing the creature himself. If you’re going to watch any Kaiju movie this year, let it be Minus One. Now available in Australia on Netflix.

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