"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


IT'S EASY TO FORGET, after decades of rubber-suited wrestling matches and plucky Japanese kids, that the original 1954 film Godzilla was a horror movie.  Most of you have likely never seen it.  Ishirō Honda's tale about a gigantic, radioactive monster that emerges from the deep to terrorise a nation is an exorcism. Just nine years after the end of the Second World War, Japan was still traumatised not only by the tens of thousands killed by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but by the hundreds of thousands killed by the carpet bombing of its cities.  This was a country that had seen a staggering number of men, women and children burned alive, blasted to pieces, and crushed under rubble. A titanic, unstoppable monster with radioactive breath was the war personified, the collective echo of a million terrible memories.  It's a frightening movie, and a melancholy one.

The one that some of you probably do remember is the 1956 Godzilla! King of Monsters.  This was Honda's film severely edited, with all the social, nuclear, and anti-war elements carefully removed and English speaking Japanese Americans and Raymond Burr added in.  All the horror of the original was gone from this American-friendly adaptation; it wouldn't do, after all, to try and sell those "horror of war" bits to the very country that had bombed you.  A commercial success, this is the film that kicked off the "dumbing down" of Godzilla.  Soon there would be a crowd-pleasing match up against King Kong, followed by a long series of marauding kaiju, or giant monsters.  But throughout these Godzilla got cuter and cuter, dancing his little victory jig after saving Japan from the bad guy beasties, while adoring school kids cheered and yelled out his name.  This feel-good Godzilla wasn't just an international crowd pleaser, it was a proud Japanese export in an era where the country was known largely for cheap toys and transistor radios.  Godzilla became a kind of symbol of the rising Japan to the post-War baby boomer generation.

This isn't to say that there haven't been attempts to bring real terror back to the Godzilla franchise, or that some of the films didn't manage to sneak in social issues and concerns.  Yet the recent 2014 American Godzilla is pretty typical of what the films have become.  There is more action and thrills than pathos or terror.

シンゴジラ, or Shin Godzilla (plans to call the English release Godzilla Resurgence have apparently been scrapped by Toho and it will be released under the Anglicised spelling of its Japanese name) is the first Japanese Godzilla movie in twelve years, and a fresh reboot of the series.  The story bears no relation to the 2014 Hollywood version, or any of the Japanese versions before.  Writer-Director Hideaki Anno's film (co-directed with Shinji Higuchi) is a break with all the others, and the spiritual ancestor of the original Honda movie.  It is not a kids movie.  It's not a feel good movie.  There is more political drama than guys in rubber suits knocking down fake buildings.  It is a shockingly realistic film (half the time it looks like a documentary) that seems to ask one very compelling question...what the hell would really happen if a giant monster came shambling up out of the sea?

Like Honda's movie, there is a lot of collective soul searching, conscience wrestling, and trauma facing.  The film comes just five years after the historic earthquake and devastating tsunami that left more than ten thousand dead and a city irradiated.  It comes at a time when neighbouring China is flexing its military muscle right on Japan's doorstep.  It comes in the midst of an American election when one of the Presidential candidates seems ambivalent about looking out for his allies, and Japan fears having to go it alone.  And yes, it comes when the conservative leaning Japanese government is starting to think its long-standing "pacifist Constitution" needs amending.  All of this uncertainty, this fear, feeds into Shin Godzilla, making it a much deeper and richer film.

The plot is simple.  The sudden devastating collapse of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line, a bridge and tunnel allowing traffic to cross the bay, leaves the government scrambling to figure out if this was a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.  Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (played with steely certainty by Hiroki Hasegawa) has reason to believe it might actually have been caused by a giant creature.  No one believes this idea, of course, until a monstrous tail emerges from the waters of the bay, and later, the creature comes ashore.

One of the most frightening Godzillas ever

I say "creature" because this is not your father's Godzilla.  Drawing on the elements of alien body horror he fuelled his Evangelion series with, director Anno gives us a Godzilla that is a sort of colony organism, a sickening fusion of multiple forms of life bred in the polluted and irradiated depths of the Pacific.  The monster is constantly mutating.  He emerges first as a slithering, limbless horror and gradually, over the course of the film, evolves into something more similar to the Godzilla we know.  But this is not our irradiated dinosaur.  It is a hideous mess of rippling tendrils, ragged teeth, and even the suggestion of little eyes, mouths, and fused spines in the tip of its tail.  As it rampages, it keeps growing and adapting.

Note the tip of the monster's tail

Like Spielberg's Jaws, however, Godzilla actually has surprisingly little screen time in the film.  As with Jaws, Shin Godzilla is far more concerned with the repercussions a disaster like this might have and the way people might respond to it.  The beginning is a long political debate over the use of force, with politicians going head to head over it.  After the Japanese Defense Force fails against the creature, there is mounting pressure from the international community--and especially Japan's neighbours, who worry once this thing is done tearing up Japan they might be next on the menu.  What would happen if Beijing, fearing Godzilla might head its way, might decide a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Tokyo was in order?  These fears are intensified as the nature of the monster becomes clear, and the possibility that just blasting pieces of it off might cause them to grow into separate Godzillas.  All this leads to a long subplot with the Americans, who eventually arm twist the beleaguered Prime Minister into agreeing to a city wide evacuation of Tokyo so that a nuclear weapon can be dropped on it, and Japan--which is strongly against such a strike, races against time to find a solution before it comes to that.

I won't give away the ending, but it should be clear by now this is unlike most of the other Godzilla films before it.  That is a good thing.  It is not a flawless movie--Satomi Ishihara's character, "Kayoko Ann Patterson" who is the American President's special envoy, has some cringe-worthy moments when she tries to play her image of what a brassy American girl should be like--but it is probably the best Godzilla movie since Honda's.  It's effects, a mixture of CGI and traditional Japanese model making and guys in rubber suits, are excellent and have the feel of an authentic Godzilla film. Shirō Sagisu's score is excellent, and incorporates several notes from the original 1954 movie.  All in all this is the right blend of contemporary drama and nostalgia, a surprisingly adult and profound giant monster flick.

We give it four out of five stars.

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