GODZILLA MINUS ONE (G MINUS ONE) (Gojira mainasu wan)
(director/writer: Takashi Yamazaki; cinematographer: Kozo Shibasaki; editor: Ryuji Myajima; music: Naoki Sato; cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki (Koichi Shikishima), Minami Hamabe (Noriko Oishi), Munetaka Aoki (Sosaku Tachibana), Hidetaka Yoshioka (Kenji Noda), Yuki Yamada (Shiro Mizushima), Sakura Ando (Sumiko Ota, neighbor of Noriko), Kuranosuke Sasaki (Yoji Akitsu), Saki Nakatani (Akiko); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Minami Ichikawa, Kazauki Kishida, Keiichiro Moriya, Kenji Yamada; Toho Studios; 2023-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“A rousing spectacle.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The aesthetic period piece Japanese sci-fi monster blockbuster is a rousing spectacle, challenging the 2016 Shin Godzilla for best Godzilla sequel (the first live-action one since the 2016 film). It begins where the 1954 Japanese filmmaker Honda Ishiro’s Godzilla ends. And its thoughtfully written and directed with taste and political acumen by the outstanding Japanese filmmaker Takashi Yamazaki (“The Fighter Pilot”/”Always: Sunset on Third Street”). It delights as melodrama (except for a few lapses) and is special as a work of romanticized history.
The throwback film is a crowd-pleasing one, capturing the same spirit as the debut film. At a budget of only 15 million dollars it can’t compete with the CGIs of the blg budget MonsterVerse Godzilla films. But I enjoyed the visuals, especially the one where Godzilla uses his teeth to lift a commuter train off the tracks.
We note on Gojira’s 70th anniversary that there were 33 Toho Studio sequels plus 4 others made by other studios, giving it a grand total of 37.
One of the important things to note in this film is that ‘Gojira’ was originally a dinosaur but mutated into an atomic-powered giant monster lizard because of nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific.
In Japan’s post-World War II period, the ex-kamikaze pilot, the grim Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), seeks redemption with Godzilla after his bad encounter with the beast just before the war ended and he still wants revenge instead of just gettng on with his life.
In the summer of 1945 Kōichi makes an emergency landing on Odo Island (a fictional place). The mechanic Sōsaku Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki) thinks the pilot has given up on the lost war and fakes engine trouble to get out of flight duty because he is just looking to survive. While the men are standing around, a fierce giant monster attacks and crushes the airport buildings and swallows the soldiers stationed at the outpost.
Two years pass and the guilt-ridden war survivor, Koichi, attempts to rebuild his life and help rebuild his country, while living in the rubble of post-war Tokyo, in his old neighborhood. Koichi suffers from PTSD, and lives with a caring woman named Noriko (Minami Hamabe) who previously adopted an orphan girl, Akiko (Saki Nakatani). Koichi finds work on an old wooden boat as a minesweeper, cleaning the ocean floor, and relates well to some of his eccentric ex-servicemen neighbors: Kenji Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka), a.k.a. Doc, the nerdy techie; Seiji Akitsu (Kuranosuke Sasaki), a.k.a. The Captain; and Shirō Mizushima (Yuki Yamada), a.k.a. The Kid.
These neighborhood scenes show how the determined Japanese people are overcoming their losses by working hard and building powerful relationships through their community gatherings, but only a few of them are like Koichi still willing to die for their country if it’s threatened.
The country is threatened by the radioactive monster Godzilla, now bigger and fiercer then ever, and armed with radioactive scales, who in Tokyo threatens to annihilate the population, as things are bleak with no government or army help. So it’s up to the civilians to figure out how to save their ass.
That Koichi and his pals have figured out a ridiculously ingenuous way to attack the monster with a delivery system from an airplane containing a cocktail of chemicals with a Freon base, makes the film that much more exciting–even if the monster can never be completely vanquished and we will always have to deal with its traumatic effects no matter what.
Yamazaki intelligently interjects an anti-war message in the narrative by showing the destructive monster is a product of nuclear testing and the world’s war-like mentality. His messaging goes seamlessly with its spirited narrative and compelling character study and set-piece Godzilla sightings. During its tense emotional moments, there’s just the right humor to keep things light. While its social commentary is even-handed: as it critiques the Japanese Imperialists Army for being ruthless in its use of kamikaze pilots and or being untruthful with the people about its war aims. Yamazaki also takes shots at the world powers, the Americans and Soviets, for going nuclear, scaring the world with a Cold War and for being so nationalistic. But he never vilifies America for its postwar control of his country.
The film centers on how the civilians must solve the postwar threats in Japan and not rely on either the military or bureaucrats to do it.
Yamazaki can be real even when telling a fictional story, and he can do it with the ease of a filmmaker making a B film without camp but with a deep love for his characters.
The touching performances by both Kamiki and Hamabe elevated the pop culture film with some impressive dramatic moments, while still keeping it entertaining. But the film relied on the shock and awe confrontations with Godzilla, the indestructible one, as a scary looking monster with a powerful roar, who grabs our attention on the Big Screen and makes us think twice before we can go to the concession stand to get our popcorn.
11/26/2023 GRADE: A-