The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - GODZILLA MINUS ONE | The Movie Waffler


A giant lizard visits post-war Japan.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Takashi Yamazaki

Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Sakura Ando, Kuranosuke Sasaki

Godzilla Minus One poster

Godzilla, or Gojira if you're Japanese, first appeared in 1954 as a giant destructive metaphor for Japan's collective apprehension over nuclear annihilation, the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the nation's conscience. That first film was a relatively gritty take on the giant monster genre but as Japan recovered and became one of the world's leading economic powerhouses, the sequels would become increasingly goofy as men in rubber suits stomped on train sets and a series of whacky rival monsters were introduced. In 2016 Toho Studios revitalised their most famous creation with Shin Godzilla, a reboot which successfully took the series back to its more grounded roots. Rather than the expected sequel to Shin Godzilla, we have another reboot in Godzilla Minus One, which ups the ante and is no doubt the best movie to ever bear the Godzilla name.

Writer/director Takashi Yamazaki does for the monster movie here what Christopher Nolan did for superhero movies with The Dark Knight, proving that a genre known largely for its sillier aspects can be taken seriously while still delivering audience-pleasing thrills. Indeed, Nolan appears to be a key influence on Yamazaki, whose film often resembles Dunkirk both in its theme of how there's no shame in survival and in its decidedly Nolan-esque ticking clock narrative.

Godzilla Minus One review

That first idea is represented by the film's protagonist, Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a kamikaze pilot who aborts his mission in the dying days of WWII and lands on a small Pacific island used as a Japanese refuelling base. It's there that he first encounters Godzilla, who emerges from the sea and kills everyone in sight barring Koichi and an engineer, Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki), who blames Koichi for freezing when he had the beast in the sights of his plane's gun. Riddled with guilt, Koichi returns to a Tokyo left in rubble by American bombing. A neighbour blames his "cowardice" for the deaths of her family, but Koichi is befriended by Noriko (Minami Hamabe), a young woman who turns up with an infant girl she rescued from the rubble. Sharing a home, Koichi, Noriko and the child become a surrogate family. Noriko doesn't care if Koichi failed in his duties during the war, she's simply appreciative that he's around now. Koichi takes a job on a minesweeping vessel and begins to rebuild his life just as his country is putting itself back together. He clearly has feelings for Noriko, but his guilt won't allow him to act on them.

Godzilla Minus One's title is a reference to the Japanese idea of "Year Zero," when the nation decided it needed to reset itself following World War II. When the giant lizard shows up in Tokyo in 1947, there's the fear that its presence will ruin all the progress the nation has made over the previous two years and that Japan will sink back into the militaristic mindset of its imperial era. It always irks me in monster movies when the military shows up like the cavalry in the final act and resolves things through brute strength. I much prefer those monster movies where the heroes are scientists and everymen who find an answer through a combination of brainpower and pooled resources. That's what we get here. Godzilla Minus One is decidedly anti-military and explicitly denounces Japan's more toxic traditions regarding honour through sacrifice (I imagine Japan's far right elements are incensed by its existence). Mistrusting the government, a group of boffins and former sailors, including Koichi, come together to find a way of taking down Godzilla. It's no easy task, as due to American nuclear testing in the Pacific, the monster has ingested radiation which gives it not only the power to regenerate its wounds but to fire atomic blasts from its throat.

Godzilla Minus One review

The western influence on Yamazaki's film extends to taking the premise of Jaws, a ragtag group heading out into the ocean to take on a formidable creature, and amping it up with destroyers and bombs rather than trawlers and harpoons. Like Gareth Edwards did with his Godzilla in 2014, Yamazaki homages the famous shot of the shark swimming beneath the boat, this time with Godzilla's massive form making its way under a battleship. Like Jaws, the action works not only because it's very well choreographed and coherently assembled, but because we actually care about the people involved. There's a commendable focus on character here, with some scenes that wouldn't be out of place in a Hirokazu Kore-eda or Naomi Kawase film. The movie occasionally leans into clichés but it earns the right to do so, and there's something intensely satisfying about its more predictable elements, like the familiar taste of your favourite burger.

The titular beast has never looked better. The CG creation is a huge step up from the dodgy FX of Shin Godzilla and is more convincing than the version seen in recent Hollywood offerings. More than any previous version, this Godzilla behaves like an animal. Its trail of destruction is merely instinctive rather than a product of human-like sentience. When it pulls a train carriage off an overhead track it might just as well be a dog swiping a pair of knickers from a washing line. Of course, nature can be terrifying too, and when this Godzilla's scales turn a neon blue as it charges up its radioactive blast you can feel the apprehension rumbling through the audience. The resulting explosions make the centrepiece of Oppenheimer look like a fizzling firecracker in comparison. Unlike recent Hollywood monster movies, all the action here takes place in daylight, allowing us to bask in the awesomeness of its titular terror.

Godzilla Minus One review

Godzilla Minus One is a proper spectacle, the sort of movie that makes you feel like an ant as you stare up at the screen. It's remarkable that it was made for less than $15 million (Hollywood really needs to take a long hard look at itself). Spectacle is nothing without heart though, and Godzilla Minus One throbs with humanity. But what's most notable about Yamazaki's film is how revolutionary it feels in proffering the anti-nationalistic idea that no country is worth martyring yourself for, but those you love are worth staying alive for.

Godzilla Minus One
 is on Netflix UK/ROI now.