In ‘Godzilla Minus One,’ the ghost of WWII looms just as large as the giant radioactive lizard

Godzilla will turn 70 next year, and to celebrate, its original company, Toho Studios, has waited until the end of this year to release its most traditional Godzilla film in recent memory. ‘Godzilla Minus One,’ inspired by the 1954 original atomic lizard disaster image, could be the most serious and least fiery Japanese-made Godzilla film since ‘Godzilla 1985’ (though fans may disagree). Some reviews of ‘Godzilla Minus One’ have already praised the film as a departure in crowd-pleasing form. Seeing its somber yet well-calibrated tone in human-centered scenes makes it easy to understand why.

Established in 1946, ‘Godzilla Minus One‘ follows a spiritually weakened group of former military personnel as they rally to defeat everyone’s favorite kaiju antihero. Here, Godzilla’s presence is looming, as it should be after dozens of films and spin-off projects. If disgraced kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (played by Rayunosuke Kamiki) cannot stop Godzilla, then he will obliterate Ginza and then seize control of the entire Tokyo.

Koichi is motivated by post-apocalyptic inspiration. In a scene set on Odo Island, Koichi takes aim at Godzilla but cannot bring himself to shoot. As a result, several comrades die, and Koichi is left to bury their bodies. Koichi’s patriotic zeal to revive the nation is a priority, as battling Godzilla requires such a nationalist fervor. Additionally, Koichi’s loved ones have already perished, so now he must care for the remaining survivors, many of whom have lost their loved ones, homes, and the will to fight. This final part is crucial, as overcoming spiritual decline is a significant part of Koichi’s story in ‘Godzilla Minus One.’

“I want to try living again,” says Koichi Chuo-ko, with determined honesty. Proving himself is equally important, but Koichi never connects with fellow male co-stars, such as the bookish former weapons engineer Kenji Noda (Hidehaka Yoshioka) and former navy mechanic Sosaku Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki).

They merely signal to their inner demons; they often truly carry the weight of their wounds on their sleeves since the aftermath of war has already weighed heavily on them. Some female characters, like Koichi’s selfless lover Noriko Oshi (Minami Hamabe) and his newfound daughter Aki-ko (Sae Nagatani), provide more reasons for him to fight, although their agency and personalities are more limited compared to Koichi’s male co-stars.

Nevertheless, Godzilla is also present in ‘Godzilla Minus One,’ and it is treated with clear reverence. ‘Godzilla Minus One’ is a well-calibrated popcorn film, and you can feel that its producers play the favorite tools and associations of fans. It’s an event when he roars for the first time in this film or spews his fire. Fans of Godzilla may also appreciate the use of some Akira Ifukube’s now iconic ‘Gojira’ score motifs as strategic elements in creating the sound of Godzilla.

Ifukube’s music for ‘Godzilla Minus One’ works seamlessly without sound, enveloping the listener in a droning orchestra that blankets the wall, its string section riding a high and steadily increasing wave like a surfer. It’s one of the most exciting and anxiety-inducing original scores in recent Godzilla films. The strategically deployed silent and mood-setting background shots also give on-screen action a fantastic on-screen action pause and laugh.

The release timing of “Godzilla Minus One” could make it challenging to love. After “Shin Godzilla,” this is the first Japanese-made live-action Godzilla film, which is stylistically a daring disaster film and political spectacle, while also presenting a modern take on a beloved character.

Toho has been inactive for the past six years, though the dominance of the American “MonsterVerse” franchise by Warner Bros may have played a role. (If you’re interested, Toho’s animated Godzilla features are worth checking out as well.) Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, the co-directors/writers of “Shin Godzilla,” are not part of the team for “Godzilla Minus One,” which was released in the United States earlier this year. Both of those films, “Shin Ultraman” and “Shin Kamen Rider,” had limited theatrical releases in the United States, similar to a “big event” concert played in large auditoriums like Beyoncé’s three-hour concert documentary.

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“Godzilla Minus One” clearly attempts to bring Toho’s iconic star character to the forefront as both a spectacular and traditional crowd-pleaser. They found the right person for the job in director Takashi Yamazaki, who established his poignant yet uncontroversial family film “Always: Sunset on Third Street” in the era of 2005 and its two sequels.

Yamazaki gives Godzilla fans several reasons to watch “Godzilla Minus One” in theaters. He has a clear eye for action and a strong grip on feel-good, powerful melodrama. Yamazaki’s style, much like the politics of his film, only appears conservative compared to his predecessors. He hasn’t made a great Godzilla film, but he’s made a good one, especially for fans of Yamazaki’s style, which, much like the politics of his film, only appears conservative compared to his predecessors.

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