I suppose it was only a matter of time for Godzilla to once again, become a main stay of cinema. Long gone are the days when a performer would put on a ridiculous, dinosaur-looking costume and wreak havoc over a miniature set. Now with how fantastic visual effects look and with the advent of AI only lowering the barrier to entry, apparently you can make a giant monster/disaster movie for only $15 million. But visual effects only enhance a story and can’t fix a bad script (which for some reason Hollywood is still learning that lesson). Which is why Godzilla Minus One is such a revelation: it looks great but more importantly the film is great.
Godzilla Minus One starts in Japan at the end of World War II on the island of Ono where a kamikaze (a pilot sent on a suicide mission) fighter plane is being checked for defects by a maintenance crew stationed there. A monster (Godzilla) appears and more or less destroys the depot, with only two survivors: Shirō (Munetaka Aoki), the head mechanic, and Kōichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), the pilot.
Shirō ends up blaming Kōichi for his indecisive action in fighting Godzilla and imparts him with a set of photos of his deceased crew. This ends up being a large part of the emotional core of the film and affects all of Kōichi’s decisions throughout the rest of the story.
Kōichi ends up being haunted by his lack of action and also the dishonor that comes with not performing his kamikaze duties by dying. It is a fascinating exercise to try to go on this journey with our protagonist where the idea of what it means to be selfless during that era meant something different than what it does now. The filmmakers make an implicit judgement that while it is truly a great sacrifice to die for your country/family/friends, it is almost certainly better to live for them.
It is interesting that Godzilla is the villain in this film, as opposed to every other recent outing with their name on it. And while previously it was an interesting take to try and get the audience to root for this monster, it was very refreshing to have them back as a mindless menace. There is no effort to understand their motivations or provoke sympathy. Maybe this film proves that it’s OK to have a purely evil antagonist without knowing their backstory?
The recent trend of having villains be the hero of the own story is overdone, particularly in superhero films. This might have been a reason why Top Gun: Maverick was so successful: it had a nameless, faceless enemy country that they were fighting against, and that was OK.
Another unexpected aspect to this film that was how grounded and emotional the performances were. Every single performance, while still feeling Japanese, was spot on, particularly Kamiki’s portrayal of Kōichi. His face was etched with the internal anguish that he battled in almost every scene he was in.
The Bottom Line
Godzilla Minus One has one of the greatest scripts of the year and is the best foreign film of recent memory. Its simpleness is its strength.
Check out our review of the new Hunger Games movie here.