Imagine, if you will, a government — just a mess of normally self-centered and inept bureaucrats — faced with a surprise disaster that threatens the human race. Can you do that? Good.
Now, imagine that this disaster is not, say, some pandemic, but instead a giant disgusting lizard thing with a terrible sense of direction and the kind of indigestion that could obliterate Tokyo.
That’s Shin Godzilla — which is not only the best Godzilla movie, but also in serious competition for the best monster movie of all time. I watched it again last night and, upon second viewing, decided the best thing to do was watch it a third time. And to tell you to watch it twice.
You should watch Shin Godzilla twice.
You know the basic story. There is a country: Japan. There is a history of nuclear devastation (and reactor breach, earthquake, tsunami, etc.). From somehow: a creature, terrible and near-indestructible. Cue the stomping, the roaring, and the puny weapons of man.
So why does Shin Godzilla tower above the others? For a start, it is another version of the monster from Toho Pictures — studio that gave life to the original. And then, like that original, the monster’s design is unreal. Godzilla in Shin Godzilla is not a man in a rubber suit. Nor is he a slick digital creation of modern sensibilities. He is an organic, burbling, wretched, unholy mess, spilling filth and screaming plasma.
You will not gaze upon this Godzilla and feel a frisson of excitement. You will gasp and say, as if you were in The Princess Bride, “Dear God, what is that thing?!” You will watch it squither and flubbish all a gawp. And then it will grow. It will change. It will get worse.
Oh, yes. It will get worse. So much worse. Who — besides everyone who was not primarily concerned with their political career — could have seen that coming?
And you, you are just some mid-level government official, wondering which is less desirable: the monster before you or the ministers and generals playing their game as if the board hasn’t already been eaten and shat out loosely upon the bed.
Shin Godzilla borrows, stylistically, from “found footage” films and cinema verité and newscasts. Scenes slam together like the cars of a train that’s had its emergency brake pulled. Who is this character? What just happened? Should this be translated from the Japanese? No time, friend, no time. Godzilla is here.
Then, when he rises in all his might and anger, when he tells us, clearly and with perfect diction, exactly how displeased he is to be assaulted by his own damned parents, it is nothing short of beautiful terror. It is the awe of armageddon. There is nothing in all of Michael Bay-dom nor the mind of Roland Emmerich that comes close to the physical and psychic shellacking this Godzilla in this movie metes out.
Shin Godzilla is a film in which people complain about soggy noodles while surrounded by devastation. It is a film in which body odor and social media and origami all play a role. The acting is not great, not is the dialogue or, honestly, the plot. Life, after all, is messy with Godzilla in it.
On the other hand, Shin Godzilla is what might actually happen if a giant, nuclear, death lizard were to crawl from the seabed muck off Tokyo — until its relatively happy ending.
‘Cause if there’s one thing this past year has taught me, it’s to put my money on the disaster coming out on top.
The film didn’t make as big of a splash in America as Gareth Edwards Godzilla — which objectively sucks — nor as Kong: Skull Island, which I enjoy despite it being goofball nonsense. But Shin Godzilla is something else. One may need to go back to the original King Kong to tap into this same level of delightful pants-ruining horror.
You aren’t afraid of what happens on screen, though. You’re afraid that it’s only a matter of time before what you’re watching in this fiction does happen. We are so stupid. Our leaders are so inept. The world, literally, runs down the drain and something — does it? — stirs in the soft mud. How could it not?
Better hope Ultraman is on the way.