SciFi Japan

    GODZILLA MINUS ONE + 5 = 4 More Than Most

      Godzilla Minus One statue at Chanter building entrance during Godzilla Fest 2023. Photo by Edward L. Holland. ©TOHO CO., LTD.

    Author: Edward L. Holland
    Special Thanks to Toho Co., Ltd.

    GODZILLA MINUS ONE theater exclusive seal design by Albatross Japan. ©TOHO CO., LTD.

    The atomic beast is back, menacing as ever and metabolizing the Godzilla franchise in GODZILLA MINUS ONE, a horrific, post war-torn tale directed by Toho Studios veteran, Takashi Yamazaki and starring Ryunosuke Kamiki and Minami Hamabe.

    Since its nationwide release on Godzilla Day Nov 3 to its worldwide Hollywood premier Nov 10 and multiple fan-centric releases since, GODZILLA MINUS ONE continues to gain steam and polarize incendiary critics to varying degrees.

    The majority has heaped glowing praise on the 37th film in the series, Toho’s 33rd, putting the film in position for a popular North American release this December. The two hour and five-minute epic is everything faithful fans want from the “Big G” with many voicing it ranks as gritty and almost as dark as GODZILLA (1954).

    “Japan’s monster movies may be inferior in budget and scale compared to Hollywood, but they have the groundwork to produce monster films with extreme appeal such as SHIN GODZILLA (2016) and GODZILLA MINUS ONE,” according to renowned illustrator, Yuji Kaida. “I think this is our greatest strength,” said Kaida after seeing the latest epic an additional time.

    Writer/director Takeshi Yamazaki at the US premier. Photo by Chris Mirjahangir.

    In interviews, director Yamazaki said he used the original directed by Ishiro Honda with effects by Eiji Tsuburaya and GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH [GMK] (2001) directed by Shunsuke Kaneko as inspiration in making his personal blockbuster. In the latest you might notice cinematic nods to Legendary GODZILLA (2014) directed by Gareth Edwards, who claims in cinema trailers that he was “jealous,” of Yamazaki when watching a private screening of the movie.

    Yamazaki as in his other works takes extreme liberty with history that predates Godzilla by about nine years, but his variance from facts about occupied Japan does not hinder the dramatic narrative nor the tear-jerking ability of kaiju-sized pathos for a decimated, powerless, public. The populace is destroyed even further by maybe the most horrific Godzilla ever. From the lowest point in modern times where disgraced Imperial Kamikaze fighter pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryuonsouke Kamiki) could go no further down, Godzilla unleashes his wrath on isolated Odo island, seas, shores and his central target, Tokyo.

    Forget that seventies hero flavor of Godzilla and be prepared for deeply emotional, gruesome, relentless destruction accompanied by tension building soundscapes by composer, Naoki Sato.

    After an unwelcoming return to a district riddled with bombings and empty homes, our most unlikely hero buckles down and courageously knocks difficult pitches of life out of the park steadily as he builds inner strength and fights his own personal battles. He accepts a position as a surrogate dad, co-parenting a newborn with a default young mother, Noriko Oishi played by TV and movie siren, Minami Hamabe. Together they raise the child Akiko in and out of abject poverty with a focus on a resilient chance to fight alongside her new mother and father.

    Knowing every film does not live up to everyone’s expectations, go into this motion picture expecting less and you might leave with more understanding that well-done monster epics can be pulled off in 2023 through singular visions full of tense drama. The view of Yamazaki’s radar is focused on a portion of the past but acts as a springboard into a climatic war against Godzilla.

    For many, this film connected to their psyche unlike other titles, with exception for SHIN GODZILLA, which some prefer for its cerebral and political slant at documenting disdain for citizens and bureaucracy at extreme levels. Additionally, it achieved the most ticket sales for any Japanese movie utilizing IMAX screens with some scenes lending themselves to paintings. Others have recommended multiple viewings including the 4DX format which works on a visceral, action-enhanced level, especially during the aviation sequences.

    Photo courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd. ©TOHO CO., LTD.

    F.J. DeSanto a producer in Los Angeles mentioned, “It’s an absolute masterpiece filled with incredible emotion with a Godzilla that truly embodies humanity’s darkest fears. While it’s a period film set in postwar Japan it captures the mood of our current society around the world today. I truly loved it,” said DeSanto.

    What is unique about this film is once the kaiju action subsides you still feel the fear and despair until the possessed beast surfaces again to tear more families, business, and neighborhoods apart. The film unearths the grim hopelessness of those left standing and rummaging after endless firebombs condemned Tokyo and the nation.

    For those who studied the occupation, the absence of US forces is a glaring omission, but something that could never be addressed in such a limited budget film that cost 15 million, a paltry sum in today’s standards. A more accurate and costly epic would have bogged down Yamazaki’s narrative by a myriad of foreign characters, sub plots and high production budgets.

    Lead actor Ryuonsouke Kamiki. Photo by Chris Mirjahangir.

    Shikishima has a chance of redemption, but almost walks out on the chance until coaxed back into the huddle by scientist, Kenji Noda played Hidetaka Yoshioka at a community meeting of what is left of a disgraced naval commander and local citizens. Most of those gathered unify to give one last shot to win a different kind of war against an enemy who does not understand loss, only annihilation.

    Though there is a slight recovery with Shikishima picking up a cool military motorcycle from welcomed earnings during his minesweeper patrols, things are not rosy. How their tight team comes together is refreshing and you really want to cheer them on in their struggle. Dynamic performances by Kuranosuke Sasaki as patrol boat captain Yoji Akitsu and tokusatsu favorite Yuki Yamada as Shiro Mizushima suitably compliment the patrol boat crew on and off the water.

    Comic artist Matt Frank, who was at the Hollywood premier said, “I was really struck by the emotional intensity of the film! The feelings of a population beaten and abused by powers bigger than themselves was perfectly captured, and it made the resolution intensely satisfying."

    GODZILLA MINUS ONE rates equal with any of the other entries and offers deep-seated fear and onscreen terror equaled only by GODZILLA and SHIN GODZILLA to a lesser degree.

    John Ruffin, kaiju content creator from Philadelphia who traveled to Japan for Godzilla Day and the film told SciFi Japan, “GODZILLA MINUS ONE is a quintessential Yamazaki film set in postwar Japan with a great cast, great story, great score and an uber-powerful Godzilla you will never forget.”

    Yuki Yamada at Tsubucon. Photo by Edward L. Holland.

    Though it would have been interesting to see GIs in GODZILLA MINUS ONE, it would have stretched thin what storyline was carefully built by Yamazaki. There is always room for that in another movie, but not in this production on the cusp of the 70th anniversary of the kaiju. Whether you can get over such omissions or not is your own personal struggle. For those who want to see emotion, kaiju action, and people fighting as one together in a common cause for survival, GODZILLA MINUS ONE is your film for 2023.

    Shikishima in a moment of redemption after being flogged and hogtied by his former plane mechanic Sosaku Watanabe (Munetaka Aoki) cries out, “The war is not over and this is your war too,” a resonant chord throughout until the last moments of screen time and end credits role accompanied by a piping loud version of Akira Ifukube’s score soaring over the theater sound system into the emotional hearts of fans across the world. See the intensely satisfying GODZILLA MINUS ONE in theaters today.

    Edward L. Holland is a longtime contributor to SciFi Japan, an office manager in Yokosuka city, and a recipient of a community service award from the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan. Follow him on Instagram @ edwardlholland

    Godzilla attacks Ginza. Photo courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd. ©TOHO CO., LTD.

    Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) witness the utter devastation caused by Godzilla. Photo courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd. ©TOHO CO., LTD.

    Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe) is about to have a terrifying encounter with Godzilla. Photo courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd. ©TOHO CO., LTD.


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