Editor’s Note: Huge thanks to Japan Society for letting us screen Godzilla Minus One early to provide our readers (you!) with this review, enjoy the read – the movie’s rating can be found at the bottom of the article.
The world of Godzilla continues to get bigger with more renditions and collaborations, particularly with Legendary’s MonsterVerse. While audiences have been acclimated to that universe, hardcore fans have been given the chance to see their favorite kaiju hit the big screen once again. Luckily, with Toho’s latest Godzilla picture, Godzilla Minus One, manages to create a story that not only intensifies its titular monster in the best possible way but also is emotionally powerful through its in-depth characters.
Set in postwar Japan, Godzilla Minus One follows Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a kamikaze pilot-turned-deserter whose actions incidentally lead him to confront Godzilla. Years after his initial encounter, a guilt-ridden Shikishima comes across Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and her adopted daughter, Akiko, allowing their relationship to slowly, but surely blossom. However, when Godzilla comes back to wreak havoc once more, Shikishima must prove whether he can overcome his trauma or succumb to it.
Godzilla Minus One Review
Unlike recent takes in the Godzilla franchise (see Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Godzilla Minus One revels in its character-driven story by putting its focus on the human struggle. Shikishima not only holds so much cursed trauma from dealing with coming face-to-face with Godzilla but also a shame because of his desertion. It’s a great driving force when he interacts with other characters, especially with Noriko and Akiko as he’s too stricken with fear to fully come to terms with Godzilla, and pretty much anything, with them.
In addition, the naval minesweeping crew of Kenji “Doc” Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka), Seiji “Cap” Akitsu (Kuranosuke Sasaki), and Shirō “Kid” Mizushima (Yuki Yamada) provide a more lighthearted tone with some funny ramblings here and there. The jokes are perfectly timed, not lingering for long, and their shared brotherly chemistry alongside Shikishima creates some of the most wonderful performances in that showcase the desperation of what’s coming while reflecting on what’s already happened.
However, the movie also allows for them to have these captivating moments, specifically with Doc’s inspirational speech that lights the citizen effort to take down Godzilla. Although, some character-focused scenes play on the melodramatic element, which may briefly take away attention if for a second.
The sweeping action sequences, combined with Shirogumi’s VFX on Godzilla himself, were really astounding. This Godzilla is truly unlike any other modern counterpart: his nuclear breath is literally nuclear in shape, inspired by certain historical undertones to enhance the world. Plus, Kōzō Shibasaki’s cinematographic focus on the humans’ evacuation truly makes Godzilla more like a force of nature to be reckoned with. Mix it all up with Akira Ifukube’s iconic Godzilla theme and you get yourself a classic kaiju that’s more than meets the eye.
In terms of the overall story itself, Godzilla Minus One manages to successfully maintain a tonal focus on Shikishima’s personal journey in overcoming his internal trauma through his caring for family while being forced to face literal death personified. With all the charm, sincerity, and terror for a two-hour movie, Takashi Yamazaki intricately paces each story and character beat naturally so that it can deeply resonate with fans and general viewers. In doing so, it makes the film grow ever-terrifying stakes, both physically and emotionally, for Shikishima to face with the help of his family and brothers-in-arms.
Overall, Godzilla Minus One is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of familial struggle, courageousness, and survival that gets its very important message about fighting for the future through the most terrifying stakes possible. With great technical effects, large-scale action sequences, and a great story at its core, it succeeds in being more than a romp-and-stomp monster fest. Alongside the likes of another human-centric Godzilla story in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, it finally looks like this franchise has hit a new peak for today’s era.
Rating – 9/10
Godzilla Minus One releases in theaters on November 29 and in North America on December 1.