Matt’s review published on Letterboxd:
While the great Hideaki Anno (along with frequent collaborates Shiro Sagisu and Shinji Higuchi) made “Shin Godzilla” as allegory for the 2011 nuclear incidents in Japan, the film also feels tailored made for this moment in history. In the last year, a crisis has been exacerbated and magnified thanks to petty political conflict, power-hungry ghouls playing with our lives, and international groin measuring contests. Much like in the film, the greatest threat to mankind isn’t the beast but it is man itself — our greed, our conflict.
I can’t help but think about how authentic this all feels when compared to the last year: lower-level government workers being made to “toe the line” even when they know it isn’t true, senior officials flagrantly lying to the public in order to stave off a panic, the way society doesn’t know how to respond when their very core has been shaken (I think of the bit with the worker standing in the store by the wall of televisions). Things don’t break down into immediate chaos or anarchy, nor does tyranny immediately rise — instead, the direct aftermath of a crisis lends itself to this odd state of stagnation where no one really knows what to do. Some try to respond, but most try to act as everything is normal. The institution we put up as guardrails in society end up choking us with red tape. The leaders we trust due to their caution and deliberation end up killing us with their hesitation and tentativeness
Yet, as typical for Anno, there’s a spark of optimism amidst the struggle and suffering. People band together, find a way to emerge out of the gridlock, and find a way to succeed while not casting off what it is important to them.
Of course, success comes at a price. I find this film’s ending, much like his masterpiece “End of Evangelion”, to be layered and textured with meaning all across a spectrum of emotion. The creature is frozen, yet the countdown to destruction is only paused — not stopped. The final shot of humans frozen to the tail of the beast remind me of the grotesque and unnatural contortions Anno does with the human body throughout “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “End of Evangelion”. I hate to constantly be comparing this film, which stands as a great piece on its own, to Eva — but, well, when the film reuses one of the show’s signature music cues as well as the iconic shot of the railway crossing (Same sound effect!) I can’t help but note the similarities between the two.
There’s a sterility running through the whole film, a sense of coldness. Unlike a lot of other big monster movies or other similar projects, which tend to be very melodramatic and overload the audience with sensory information, this film takes an opposite approach. Yes, there’s bits where the monster ravages through the city and fires lasers everywhere, but those are few and far between. The focus is on the process, the grim realities of how governments operate during crisis and struggle to decisively respond. Not due to malice or incompetence, but because of how life puts us in these impossible situations — drop a nuke or try and freeze the monster, either way millions could die and will be displaced. Anno and his team contrast this slow narrative with a fast, almost breakneck speed film: quick cutting from face to face during dialogue bits (I love how disoriented they made me), enjoyable POV shots from tables or desk or other surfaces where the audience looks “up” at the environment that shift throughout a room.
This isn’t like a lot of monster films, yet in a way it is the perfect successor to the 1954 classic — an allegory of the dangers of war and government and technology run amok. Anno doesn’t do things in a standard way, but he does them in a masterful way.