Shin Godzilla is Toho Picture’s 29th entry in the Godzilla franchise, and the first Godzilla film created by the venerable Japanese studio in over a decade. Toho’s filmmakers strung together Shin Godzilla for only $20 million. While this is a big budget for a non-American film, it’s still a surprising number when you account for the fact that Gareth Edwards spent $200 million on his Godzilla (2014).
Fans and critics lauded Shin Godzilla in its homeland of Japan. The film even won the 2017 Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture. However, can Toho hope to entertain international audiences (beyond Kaiju nerds like myself) with this very Japansese film? Do American audiences require action behemoths and comic book ultra-franchises with massive budgets? How does this classic formula Godzilla flick compare to its Monsterverse counterpart?
The Movie (4.5/5)
Hiroki Hasegawa plays Yaguchi, the main (human) character of the film. He is a young opportunistic bureaucrat who serves the Japanese Prime Minister. Yaguchi isn’t afraid to speak up at meetings, and the older and more conservative officials consider him a loud mouthed rebel. While most of the officials are at a loss when Godzilla attacks Japan, Yaguchi quickly becomes the only person offering solutions to stop the monster. He assembles a crackshot team which personifies the best qualities of Japanese culture and technology. Yaguchi’s team works tirelessly to find a way to stop Godzilla before Tokyo is obliterated.
Let’s get the Monsterverse comparison of the way, Shin Godzilla is not an action film. Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi have made a political drama that has more in common with House of Cards and The West Wing than it does with Godzilla (2014) or Kong: Skull Island. If you expect to see Godzilla fight other monsters, then you’re going to be disappointed. Yes, there are plenty of action scenes in the movie and Godzilla destroys half of Tokyo. Anno and Higuchi strive to realistically depict how notoriously bureaucratic Japanese officials would respond to a mythical monster wrecking their shit.
This might seem like a strange approach to a series that primarily focuses on schlocky monster battles, but it really isn’t if you think about. Toho’s producers intended for this film to be a complete reboot of the franchise. As a result, Shin Godzilla has a lot in common with the original Godzilla (1954), which was a political satire about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Anyone who has seen Anno and Higuchi’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, should already know that they thrive on subverting the expectations of their audience. If high level political intrigue based around a massive monster wrecking havoc across Japan does not tickle your fantasy, then this might not be the film for you.
Even with a tight budget, Anno and Higuchi succeeded in creating a gorgeous looking film. Godzilla oozes style, the cinematography is spot on and does a great job portraying the magnitude of the monster, and the vast majority of effects shots are very impressive.
Godzilla looks gorgeous. This film expands greatly on his concept, even adding physical stages of evolution to his modus operandi in the film (the second and third stages are featured in photos prior to this paragraph, while the fourth stage is featured in all the remaining photos). When you first see him in his final fourth stage form, you assume by his appearance and motions that it is indeed the famous man in a rubber suit (which is how all classic Godzilla films were created). This film makes practical monster effects look sexy. However, while some man-in-suit shots were filmed, surprisingly the vast majority of the film was done with motion capture and pure CG. It’s dazzling how real Godzilla looks, and it truly is a work of movie magic.
While most of the effects shots look great there are some stinkers, especially in shots which don’t feature Godzilla. Taking into account the low budget, and innovative ideas powering this film I think most of the less polished shots will be forgiven by viewers. It’s worth noting that part of the reason Shin Godzilla took a long time to be released on home video in the US is because Toho felt they needed to do more post-production to satisfy visually spoiled American audiences. It took nearly a full year after this film released in Japan for it to reach Blu-ray in the US.
I enjoyed listening to Shin Godzilla’s orchestral soundtrack, in fact it is one of the best soundtracks I have listened to all year. The filmmakers featured several compositions from 1954’s Godzilla, and it really brings life to the monster. However, not all of the music was recycled from the original Godzilla film. Famed Japanese composer Shirō Sagisu also wrote compositions for Shin Godzilla. Sagisu has worked with Anno and Higuchi before, and if you have watched Neon Genesis Evangelion it’s easy recognize his compositions in this film. Whether government lackeys are busy rolling copiers into a conference room (this happens a lot in Shin Godzilla) or Godzilla is destroying a tank battalion, Sagisu does a great job expanding the atmosphere of total destruction that permeates Shin Godzilla.
Both the original Japanese and English Dub tracks in Shin Godzilla are Dolby TrueHD 3.1. While it seems unusual that Shin Godzilla did not make use of surround sound, I don’t feel this was a detriment to the film. It really does sound spectacular in my home theater, and the lack of channels doesn’t seem to hinder your ability to perceive Godzilla pulverizing Tokyo’s high rises or Sagisu’s awesome orchestral score.
Another reason this film took so long to release is because Funimation went to great lengths to produce a high quality dub track. I personally prefer watching Godzilla movies dubbed, and this is indeed one of the best Godzilla dubs I have ever seen or listened to. The voices almost always match the characters and even the mouth movements seem to sync for the most with what is being said in the dub. The voiceover actors all seem invested in their roles and there’s no bad anime acting to be found in Shin Godzilla.
The Special Features Funimation included with this release are very lackluster. There are no commentary tracks, and only one of the two extras actually pertains to the film (and it takes less than 10 minutes to watch). You’re not gaining much over downloading this movie in the special features department. That being said, they did produce a fantastic English dub track for this release.
Extras (All two of them)
- Godzilla vs. the Nerds: Interview
In contrast, Shin Godzilla’s packaging is some of the best I have ever seen for a non-steelbook release. Shin Godzilla has been shipped with an embossed slipcover, and the discs are enclosed in a black ELITE clamshell (the same case used for very expensive specialty blu-rays released in Japan). The insert is reversible (or can be used as a poster) and features a snapshot of Godzilla on the back side. I was very impressed that Funimation paid so much attention to detail on this product, and I look forward to seeing more of their future live action movie releases.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: A
Runtime: 120 minutes
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (H.264)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Dolby TrueHD 3.1: English, Japanese
I think some filmgoers will have issues with Shin Godzilla, because there’s too much palace intrigue and not enough monsters wrecking things. That being said, I absolutely loved it and I know that this film is going to get a lot of praise from hardcore Godzilla fans. If you consider yourself to be knowledgable about Japanese culture or simply a Godzilla fan then this is a must own film for your collection. Funimation has done an amazing job packaging Shin Godzilla, and Anno and Higuchi have made a very unique and interesting contribution to the franchise with this film. If you’re looking for a dumb popcorn flick, perhaps you should try watching Gareth Edward’s Godzilla instead?