Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★★

Godzilla, having long ago become a cartoon character whose political importance faded away in the face of kaiju battles, returns to terrifying flesh, ironically, at the hands of an anime master. Anno's conception of the creature is well in line with the monsters of his Neon Genesis Evangelion: this is not a static being but a creature in constant evolutionary flux, responding to its energy intake and any threats by morphing and growing. As the nature of the nuclear threat to Japan has shifted from foreign intervention to the environmental disasters-in-waiting of vulnerable domestic plants and careless multinational pollution, so too has the physicality of Godzilla warped and mutated to represent new perils.

What is surprising is how even-handed Anno is showing humans' similarly mutable response to this catastrophic, existential threat. Effectively every human character in the film is a bureaucrat, a member of some department. Anno introduces each with a ludicrously detailed title description and departmental attribute, wryly poking fun at the status-seeking of the individuals within the collective state. Initially, as trouble begins to brew just offshore, each agency passes the buck to each other, and the hot potato game of responsibility between them only intensifies when Godzilla emerges and wreaks havoc. But the satire eventually gives way to an honest, unified effort to solve the issue before foreign powers can lay even greater waste to Japan to isolate the threat. If the first half of the film outlines the reasons why Japan has struggled to assert itself globally in ways beyond economic stability, the second half becomes a measure of self-actualization.

Still, this is Hideaki Anno, and though the focus remains on a level-headed, practical disaster response, the monster itself gains something for being such an abstract element of its own story. Anyone who got mad at the 2014 Godzilla for only rarely invoking the creature will be even more pissed with this, but seen from the remove of emergency meetings, Godzilla only becomes more ominous, particularly in those moments that Anno does get close to the monster and lets the conceptual nightmare become real. The final shot, a close-up of Godzilla's tail and what, exactly, it contains, is quite possibly the most disturbing image in the entire franchise.

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