Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Thoughts on 'Godzilla Resurgence'/'Shin Gojira' (SPOILERIFIC post!)

Stuart K. Hayashi

This is full of SPOILERS

There was no poster next to which I could pose. My cousin therefore took this photo of me before we entered the theater.

On Monday, October 17, 2016, I finally saw Godzilla Resurgence, better known in Japan as Shin Godzilla (that title deliberately has multiple meanings; it can mean ‘New Godzilla’ as in the newest Godzilla movie, or it could also mean Godzilla Reborn or Renewed).

On almost any occasion on which I see this logo at the start of a movie, I know I am in for a good time. ^_^ <3 td="">

The Anticipation
This is the fourth time in my whole life I saw a Godzilla movie in a theater (the 1998 travesty by TriStar does not count at all). The first one I saw on the silver screen was King Kong vs. Godzilla. When I was a little boy, my parents took me to that at an art house near the University of Hawaii; I think it was Varsity Theater, which has since closed.

The second one I ever saw at the theater -- and the first Toho Godzilla movie I ever saw in a theater when it was considered a new release in the United States -- was in 2000, when 1999’s Godzilla Millennium was released. It was actually a very uncompetitive weekend at the box office, with the number-one movie in the USA being The Original Kings of Comedy; Godzilla Millennium did not make the top-ten list at all.

The third one was the 2014 American production. You may recall that a very handsome Oahuan appears in that movie, as you can see here.

From the 1:00:05 mark of the 2014 American Godzilla movie.

As was the case with the 2014 American movie, I wanted to go in as “cold” as possible so that I could be surprised; I didn’t want to be contaminated by spoilers from fan sites. (Of course, actually being an extra in the 2014 movie did give me ideas about what would happen in it.)

As was the case with the 2014 film, I found that my favorite Godzilla fan pages on Facebook were bombarding me with spoilers and therefore I had to click “unfollow” for them.

However, I saw no harm in continuing to “follow” the Godzilla toy collectors’ Facebook groups. How naive! An American comic book artist wrote a quick Facebook status update mentioning how impressed he was by the strangeness of the new Godzilla. He announced that this Godzilla had a second head. Oh, no (and that wasn’t even a pleasant surprise)! I immediately had to unfollow him. Then a man from a Godzilla toy collectors’ Facebook group showed off his action figure of the new Godzilla from the new movie and announced that this action figure had a special feature: consistent with the new movie, the end of the tail opened up and--

OHHH, NO! Maybe the second head is at the end of the tail? And maybe the second head looks like the chestburster from Alien? I quickly unfollowed the Godzilla toy collectors Facebook groups as well. Not even those were safe!

Nor were the Twitter accounts of my fellow G-fans. The very day before I got to see the movie, they were showing off fan art of the new Godzilla’s original “tadpole” form with the shark-like gill slits. Thus, that was not a surprise for me either. -_-

At last I have seen the movie. Just as Japan rebuilds after a Godzilla attack, I can rebuild my Facebook account by re-following the English-speaking comic book artists and the Godzilla-related fan pages and Facebook groups that were insisting on spoiling me.

Does It Look and Behave Like Godzilla? Well, We’re 1/4 the Way There...
When the 1998 TriStar travesty came out, I had three major complaints about it. (1) It did not even look like Godzilla. (2) It did not behave like Godzilla. (3) The movie was corny in a way that exhibited how the film’s makers believed themselves to be above the material. People accuse Toho movies of being corny but they are always played straight; the Toho creators don’t sneer at the movie in the movie. The really corny running joke about people mispronouncing the Greek surname of Matthew Broderick’s character was wholly unnecessary.

Two of those major complaints do not apply to Godzilla Resurgence. First, if the filmmakers consider themselves above the material, it is not apparent from the movie itself. The movie is played completely straight. Secondly, the monster in the film does look like Godzilla . . . well, enough like Godzilla (more about that later). One of the old complaints does apply, though: the monster doesn’t actually behave like Godzilla. That is, the monster’s behavior contradicts a lot of what was memorable and distinctive about Godzilla in the previous movies, particularly the ones from the 1990s (called the second phase of Godzilla movies or the Heisei phase, since these came out when Japan’s imperial dynasty began its Heisei period).

All G-fans have commented on this new incarnation of Godzilla having a design radically different from all previous designs. There are a few changes I like and many I don’t (I will get to those points below). Despite all the radical changes, the monster still looks recognizably like Godzilla, more so than the 2014 American version and definitely much more than TriStar’s 1998 Fraudzilla. What I mean by that is that this new version passes “the silhouette test.” If you see just the silhouette of the new monster, it matches Godzilla’s. The head is the correct shape and size in proportion to the rest of the body. The neck is the correct length. Consistent with the previous incarnations of Godzilla, this one bends its neck and tilts its head slightly downward at an angle similar to the manner in which a horse does. The distinctive “maple-leaf-shaped” dorsal spikes are all right and even the proper size. And, of course, this one has the huge thighs that Godzilla had in the first three movies and throughout the 1990s.

However, the monster’s behavior is actually not consistent with what I think has been established as Godzilla’s personality over the past sixty years (and yes, he does have a personality). What has characterized Godzilla’s personality for the past sixty years is his consistency: he always behaves the same, and therefore you know where you stand with him. I suppose that many people would consider this a weakness in terms of making Godzilla a fearsome movie monster. Throughout the 1990s, the humans tasked with fighting Godzilla (such as the psychic Miki Saegusa) consider Godzilla generally predictable in his behavior; usually it’s the appearance of Godzilla’s opponent that catches the humans off-guard and requires them to alter their plans. I suppose that is exactly what Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno wanted to discard -- the idea is that for a monster to be scary, it has to be remain unpredictable to the audience; the monster has to surprise both the protagonists and the audience. However, the problem with this is that if you change this aspect of Godzilla, he is no longer recognizably Godzilla -- at least not recognizable to anyone who watched Godzilla movies in the 1990s or in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Here is what I mean by that. From 1954 to 2001, there was not a single movie in which Godzilla ever retreated from a battle. That was an established behavioral trait -- Godzilla does not retreat ever; he only advances. By contrast, in the 1998 TriStar travesty, retreat was all that the monster did. As soon as the U.S. military’s aircraft advanced on the 1998 creature, it ran away and hid. All the fans in the theater booed that, because -- even if they couldn’t put it into words -- they recognized on some subconscious level that Godzilla does not retreat.

The monster in Godzilla Resurgence does not retreat, but it has an indefinite power to metamorphose -- its body can change shape in any manner to suit the monster, and it is said that the form in which the monster appears at movie’s end is not even its final (adult) form. The monster has no final form. At one point in the movie, the scientists predict that this monster could even one day sprout wings(!!!) and fly from one continent to another(!!!). At that point the loud, talkative woman next to me in the theater, exclaimed, “Wait; what?!!” The ability to metamorphose has worked for many of Godzilla’s foes; many of them have a larval form and then an adult form: Hedorah (the smog monster), Mothra, Battra, Biollante, Destoroyah, Orga, and Megaguirus. It works for them. But I think that doesn’t actually “work” for Godzilla. The creature in this film seems to have less in common with Godzilla than with John Carpenter's version of The Thing.

One of the appeals of many ancient pagan gods is that they are supposed to be reliable. Many of them, such as Quetzalcoatl, are easily angered if you do not appease them. However, they are still reliable. That is, if some rituals are performed correctly, the ancient pagan god will do exactly as promised. There are some pagan gods that are reputed to be unpredictable, such as Loki in the Norse legends, but all of the unpredictable pagan gods are tricksters. Daikaiju, especially Godzilla, are supposed to be pagan gods for the modern age, and therefore it makes sense that their appeal is that they are reliable: when the proper conditions are in place, you know what to expect from them. You know that Mothra is going to protect the indigenous peoples of Infant Island and only reacts violently if the natives or Mothra’s eggs are threatened. Throughout the 1990s, you would know that Godzilla feeds on nuclear radiation and that he is attracted to nuclear power plants. When the human characters devised all sorts of plans in the 1990s to counteract Godzilla, it was based on Godzilla being reliable in that respect (what remained uncertain was the extent to which Godzilla would be able to endure the attacks resulting from those plans, as his strength is immeasurable). If there is an unpredictable trickster in the pantheon of Godzilla’s allies and enemies, it would probably be Gigan.

The shape-changing in Godzilla Resurgence undermines the established personality trait of Godzilla being reliable.

Also, I didn’t like how the film’s makers went out of their way to make new monster seem “gross.”

First, the monster appears in a tadpole form and is bleeding everywhere. He has naked gills like a shark’s on the sides of his neck, and they appear to be bleeding. He has bulging fish eyes that cannot blink because they have no lids. And he already has big legs with those memorably thick thighs, but no arms. Then the monster metamorphoses (the protagonists say evolve but a more biologically proper term is metamorphose) into the form that looks more like Godzilla in terms of “the silhouette test.” That’s when the little arms sprout out from beneath the skin and the audience is supposed to think, “Ew, gross.”

And, of course, he has that skull-face. When I was little, I would see paintings of sunken pirate ships. The painting of the sunken ship usually included the image of a pirate’s skeleton, with algae growing on the front of the skull. That is what the new monster’s face looks like: it looks like a deformed, festering human skull with algae growing on it. It particularly looks like a pirate’s skull because the teeth are not concealed by any lips or gums; some teeth are rooted not in the gums but are sprouting from the skin itself, further emphasizing the deformity and grossness. When I first saw the publicity images, I thought, “Well, that’s surprising but I think I can grow accustomed to that.”

But then, when this monster fires his atomic breath, his face actually splits into three pieces and opens up like a flower bud with three petals opening up. This happens because his lower jaw splits into two pieces (connected only by an icky thin membrane) and the whole mouth grows wider. His face opens up like the Graboid’s from Tremors and the sandworm’s from Dune. I understand what the film’s makers were going for: his mouth widens the same way a snake’s does when it unhinges its jaw and then swallows an object, such as an egg, that is wider than the diameter of the snake’s whole body. Snakes looks gross when they do that, and the monster looks comparably gross with his mouth open that wide. When this monster was firing his atomic ray, I think that was the first time I ever thought Godzilla looked ugly. (Prior to this, the closest I came to thinking that was when I saw the costume for Godzilla in Son of Godzilla, where the eyes were elevated to the top of his head like a mudskipper's eyes.)

And, of course, the “adult” version of this monster has those beady little fish eyes, with most of the eye cavities being sunken in like those of an emaciated person in a concentration camp. This is in great contrast to how Godzilla’s eyes have appeared for the past fifty years. It is well-remembered how he had huge, neotenous, “puppy dog eyes” in the 1970s, but his eyes were large, wise, and neotenous even in the 1990s.

The gore factor is enhanced in the final shot of the movie. The movie ends with a close-up of the end of Godzilla’s tail. Apparently, there are creatures that look like deformed human skeletons(!!!) sprouting out of it. When I saw that, I thought, “What the hell are those?!!! This is even sillier than the end of Godzilla’s tail looking like the chestburster from Alien!” Incidentally, mere hours after I saw the movie, I noticed on Facebook that there was one Godzilla-related Facebook group I neglected to unfollow. In my news feed, I saw that for that group, someone posted a screen shot of the image of the deformed humanoids sprouting from Godzilla’s tail, saying, “What is that?!” Had my cousin and I waited just one more day to see the movie, that part would have been spoiled for me, too.

As With Dinosaurs and European Dragons, Godzilla Is Appreciated for Being Pretty (Yes, Really): How to Confirm This
Many American non-fans will have a difficult time understanding what I am about to say, but one major reason for Godzilla’s popularity is that he is pretty. If you doubt this, you can simply ask little boys why they like dinosaurs and European dragons so much. Usually they will tell you that they like dinosaurs and European dragons because they are strong and fearsome (little boys don’t feel strong or powerful, and therefore they admire creatures that are strong and powerful) and they like how such creature look (this is code for: such creatures are pretty, comparable to how many people think lions and tigers are pretty). If you are skeptical of the idea that people recognize dinosaurs and European dragons are pretty, you can check out the astonishing popularity of paintings of dinosaurs and European dragons on Pinterest among people of all sexes. And Godzilla’s appearance has always combined that of a dinosaur and a European dragon (paradoxically, all the incarnations of Godzilla look and behave more like a European dragon than an Asian one).

The recognition that Godzilla is pretty became more and more overt throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The term to be associated with Godzilla’s reputation wasn’t “pretty,” though, as much as it was majestic. The protagonists never hated Godzilla or found him repulsive, and the films’ makers expected the audience to have the same reaction. The psychology behind this was that, throughout the 1990s, the human protagonists recognized Godzilla as a danger that they had to fight -- possibly even destroy -- but that there was no point in hating him or finding him disgusting. He’s not evil; he just is; he's going to do what he's going to do, and that can be done is for people either get out of his way and combat him. Along with that was the recognition of Godzilla as beautiful. This became particularly explicit in the Toho-approved English-language young adult novels that Random House published in the late 1990s; the author, Marc Cerasini, had one of the protagonists say to Godzilla (despite his inability to understand her) that she recognized him as graceful and beautiful. The protagonists’ respect for Godzilla comes from their noticing that Godzilla is graceful in the way that a shark is graceful; he is dangerous and beautiful in the same manner that a waterfall or a lightning storm is dangerous and beautiful. The closest to an English-language equivalent of how they think of him is that he is majestic. The protagonists of Godzilla Resurgence don’t hate or disrespect this new monster either. They respect its power and its ability to surprise them, but they are not awed by its majesty or grace the way that the protagonists were of Godzilla in the ‘90s films.

In previous movies, Godzilla did have some opponents that were intended to be interpreted, by the audience, as unpredictable (and therefore scary) and gross, most notably Megaguirus (an insect) and Hedorah (a sludge creature that feeds on pollution). In being unpredictable, gross, and able to change its shape to suit its latest needs, the monster in the new movie is actually more like Hedorah than Godzilla. It’s as if Hedorah finally ate Godzilla (the same way the Blob eats people) and then assumed Godzilla’s shape. That would not be without precedent, as the monster Orga in 2001’s Godzilla Millennium (again, the first Toho Godzilla movie I ever saw in the theater as a new release) absorbed Godzilla’s DNA and tried to swallow Godzilla whole as it increasingly took on Godzilla’s appearance. There is also the monster Biollante, which has the DNA of both a rose and Godzilla. It might have made more sense if the characters in Godzilla Resurgence said that the new monster was Biollante having resurfaced and taken on a new form more closely resembling Godzilla’s. But, again, in terms of being gross, unpredictable, and shape-changing, this movie’s monster is most like Hedorah, both in terms of how it behaves and in how the audience is supposed to react to it. (Hedorah’s movie, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, is surprisingly gory and probably remains the goriest entry in the series.)

Basically, this new monster seems to be inspired by the “body horror” genre of movies. “Body horror” films are movies that revolve around the fear of losing control over one’s own body. A person’s body mutates in a gruesome fashion, and audience members find this scary because it reminds them of real-life painful and fatal diseases -- fatal diseases involve losing control of one’s body and, through natural selection, we have evolved to be disgusted by the physical symptoms of such diseases (because we find such symptoms disgusting, our “selfish genes” “program” us to try to avoid catching these diseases). Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing remake are examples of “body horror,” but, throughout the 1990s, the most heavy-handed “body horror” movies were always made by David Cronenberg, most famous for the Jeff Goldblum-featuring remake of The Fly. And the make-up effects for these “body horror” movies were almost always done by a man called Screaming Mad George (who is from Japan, by the way). If you want to apply “body horror” to an opponent of Godzilla’s to make it more menacing, it works for an opponent of Godzilla’s like Hedorah or Megaguirus, but it doesn’t really work for Godzilla (I know that there are G-fans who have an immediate rebuttal to this point; I will get to that below).

When it comes to direct influences on this “Gross Godzilla,” I blame co-director Shinji Higuchi’s work on the live-action motion picture adaptation of Attack on Titan, which came out soon before this movie. Attack on Titan relies very heavily (too heavily, for my taste) on “body horror.” The titular titans are giants that eat human beings, and these titans pretty much look like human corpses. In 2015 Shinji Higuchi came out with a movie about giant human corpses and then, appropriately enough, the next year he came out with a movie about a giant everyone called Godzilla but had a face that resembled that of a festering human corpse. All of the “titans” look different, and there is a famous skull-faced one called “Smiling Titan.” The monster from Godzilla Resurgence has the same face as “Smiling Titan”: the same beady little eyes buried in the same sunken-in and cavernous eye sockets and the same skeletal smile with no gums and too many teeth.

I think the emphasis on making Godzilla gory and repulsive changes the identity of the monster to the point where I can’t think of it as Godzilla anymore.

But, Since the Very First Movie, Wasn’t Godzilla’s Skin Intended to Look Gross?
Many G-fans have a rebuttal to what I have said above. They can say that, actually, since the very first movie, the films’ makers did intend for Godzilla to look gross. They can say that the distinctive texture of Godzilla’s skin was, from the outset, intended to be gory.

Ever since I was little, I wondered why Godzilla had the texture he did. Instead of having a scaly hide like his opponent King Ghidorah, Godzilla has a lot of long grooves running throughout his skin. His texture resembles that of tree bark. In the past few years I learned the explanation for this. When the makers of the first movie were deciding on how Godzilla should look, they experimented with different textures. One potential design had Godzilla with the large scales and scutes of a crocodile. However, they ultimately went with the tree-bark texture, and the reasoning behind this was gory. The artists noticed that when Japanese victims were scarred by radiation burns, the lesions the burns left behind on the skin of these people that came in the form of long grooves. Although this was never stated explicitly in any of the movies, the artists gave Godzilla that tree-bark texture to remind the Japanese audience -- which vividly remembered the atomic bombings -- of the scars left on the victims. The implication is that Godzilla has been disfigured by nuclear bomb tests and has been left in constant pain; no wonder he is lashing back on humanity. That’s gross!

That idea is indeed disturbing but, overall, I think the artists never succeeded, in the long term, in making Godzilla look gross with the tree-bark texture. Since the first movie didn’t show what Godzilla looked like before being scarred by atomic bomb blasts, it was never obvious that he was disfigured. I suppose that the very strange maple-leaf shapes of his dorsal spikes also could be taken as an indication that Godzilla is deformed -- his dorsal spikes wouldn’t be so weird-looking if not for humans disfiguring him.

My response: if the first movie showed what Godzilla looked like prior to being exposed to nuclear radiation, then it would have been more apparent that the grooves on his skin indicated that human actions had disfigured him. It was therefore easy for me and the rest of the audience to assume that the tree-bark texture was the default; that Godzilla had that texture even prior to being affected by human technology. Also, the tree-bark texture would have come across as gory and pity-inducing if the movie makers conveyed that Godzilla was in pain the whole time. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s when he had the tree-bark texture, it was never apparent that Godzilla was in chronic pain. He seemed happy being that way.

The 1991 movie Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah actually does show what Godzilla looked like before being mutated by atomic bombs -- he was a fifty-foot tall Godzillasaurus with a scaly hide and his dorsal spikes were tiny in comparison to the rest of his body. Then, after being hit by the atomic bomb, the Godzillasaurus grows much larger, develops the weird tree-bark texture, and grows the big maple-leaf-shaped dorsal spikes. He also changes color: from brown to that charcoal gray hue (Godzilla is seldom green in the movies). But since it seems he is not in pain in his present form, it doesn’t come across as gross. (This is not shape-changing comparable to the monster in Shin Godzilla, since the audience understands that the form Godzilla takes in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is the “permanent” form he will always have in the future.) The reason that Godzilla Resurgence conveys that Godzilla might be in chronic pain is that he keeps bleeding all over the place.

Therefore, I think my point still applies: even if Godzilla having the tree-bark texture was part of an effort to make him look gross and ugly, that didn’t really succeed. If any filmmaker wanted Godzilla to be ugly, the makers of Godzilla Resurgence were the first to succeed at that. Yes, part of what makes Godzilla Godzilla -- and widely beloved throughout the world -- is that fans recognize him as pretty, even if they are reluctant to use that word to describe him. Again, if you doubt that much of the fascination with dinosaurs, European dragons, and Godzilla has to do with them being pretty, then simply observe the large number of females on Pinterest who keep re-pinning images of dinosaurs, European dragons, and Godzilla.

For the reasons provided, I don’t recognize the monster in this movie as Godzilla. I think of it as a new monster that took the basic shape of Godzilla but is clearly not Godzilla, as it doesn’t behave as he does.

Other Observations of the Design of the Creature in This Movie
Here are some other observations I have about the monster in this movie that are not necessarily complaints.

I thought it was interesting how the film’s makers chose the sound effect for when this monster emits its atomic ray. For most of Godzilla’s history -- say, from around 1962 in King Kong vs. Godzilla to 1991 with Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah -- the films’ makers used the same sound effect for when Godzilla fires his atomic ray. It sounds sort of like the kindling of flames, but not exactly. It sounds like rocks rolling down an incline, or a rotor turning through water, or a large gust of wind blowing in a swirl during a storm. Then, for the movie directly following 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah -- 1992’s Godzilla vs. Mothra -- the movie makers changed the sound effect. In 1992, every time Godzilla fired his atomic ray at Mothra and Battra, the ray made a high-pitched, whirring noise, as if he is shooting a laser beam instead of flames. It sounds like an aircraft in flight or a long laser blast from a spacecraft in Star Wars. (You can hear that sound effect here; I cued it to that spot.) In the years immediately following -- 1993, 1994, and 1995, the films’ makers quickly abandoned use of the high-pitched whirring as the sound effect accompanying Godzilla’s blasts. (In the 2001 with Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack and 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla’s atomic ray does make a similar whirring, laser-beam-like noise, except that it isn’t as high-pitched.) What I found interesting about Godzilla Resurgence is that it seems to have restored usage of that high-pitched whirring sound effect for when this new monster fires its atomic ray.

I have to admit to being worried about the prospect that the design of the monster in this movie will become the “official” design of Godzilla to be used for every subsequent Godzilla movie for the next 15 years or so. For instance, I hope that if I’m watching a newly released Godzilla movie twenty years from today -- okay, well, I guess I should be grateful that any Godzilla movie would still get released -- it won’t be the case that when Godzilla fires his atomic ray, his face splits into three pieces and his maw widens grotesquely like in this movie. Prior to this movie, Godzilla has been graceful when firing his atomic ray. It will be easier for me to appreciate the novelty of this movie if “Godzilla [sic]” looking and behaving this way is a one-time deal for this movie alone.

Even if it weren’t for the ugly mouth expansion, the scenes of this monster firing its atomic ray would not have been the prettiest scenes of something being called “Godzilla” firing the atomic ray. Nor does that honor go to the 2014 American Godzilla, despite that one being the most expensive rendering of that special effect. That honor goes to Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, despite this being one of the most overrated entries, and also Final Wars, despite that one being weaker than most entries overall. In both of these movies, there is the neat effect where, as Godzilla readies his beam, strange blue orbs of light orbit around his head. He inhales those orbs right before emitting his blast.

One “new power” from Godzilla Resurgence that I did appreciate was the new monster firing laser beams out of the spikes on his back. I thought that was interesting because it seems to be a logical extension of the “new power” that Godzilla started to use in 1989. In 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla got tangled in Biollante’s tentacle-like vines. To get out of this, Godzilla first powered up his atomic ray and caused his dorsal spikes to glow blue. However, instead of firing anything from his mouth, he emitted a large and quick flash of light in every direction from his upper torso. The blast burst open Biollante’s tentacles and released the Big G from her grasp. This was called the “nuclear pulse” and Godzilla employed it again in the very next entry, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. When King Ghidorah was strangling the Big G with its serpentine middle neck, Godzilla employed the nuclear pulse again, stunning King Ghidorah enough that the monster loosened its grip on Godzilla. King Ghidorah then fell on its back in a daze. Then the Big G employed it yet again in the next movie, Godzilla vs. Mothra. As the titular lepidopteran flew too close to the Big G, the Big let out the nuclear pulse and knocked Mothra backward (this was first battle in which Godzilla employed the nuclear pulse and still got humiliated in the end). Even back then, I thought it would be neat for Godzilla to shoot his glowing atomic blasts out of the dorsal spikes. At last I got to see that -- I only had to wait over twenty years for that to happen. ^_^

Notes on the Movie
I found this movie interesting in that it featured the most realistic depiction of the Japanese government and its military out of any of the movies following the first one. In almost every Godzilla movie, the government and military are glamorized and the level of their technological sophistication is exaggerated to comic-book proportions. The Japanese Self-Defense Force in Godzilla movies is pretty much S.H.I.E.L.D. (By the way, when Marvel Comics published an authorized Godzilla comic series in the 1970s, SHIELD was the agency officially tasked with monitoring and battling Godzilla.)

When the series was first rebooted in Godzilla 1985, the intention was to make the series more “realistic” and darker in tone. Even in this entry, though, the level of Japan’s technological sophistication was exaggerated, as the movie pit Godzilla against a giant UFO-shaped aircraft called the Super X. And despite the 1990s movies supposedly intending to be more realistic than the ones from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the ‘90s movies quickly got equally far-fetched, with the Japanese military pitting a psychic girl(!!!) and a time machine(!!!) against Godzilla, soon followed by giant robots such as Mecha-Godzilla and MOGUERA.

Godzilla Resurgence is different in that I think every form of technology used in this movie, is a form of technology that is at the disposal of the Japanese Self-Defense Force in real life. For the climax, the protagonists do invent some new chemical compound to exploit Godzilla’s cell structure. Something like that does not exist in real life but, even here, that is much more plausible than the high-tech weapons used against Godzilla in previous entries, such as the genetically engineered Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria (my favorite, which should have been revisited in subsequent 1990s entries) and even the first movie’s Oxygen Destroyer.

There was a downside to that new emphasis on realism, though. My cousin Mark told me he found the movie boring, and I can understand why. He said it was too dialogue-heavy. Most of the movie is talking. Most of the movie pretty much consists of this: the government team tasked with battling Godzilla comes up with some plan. Someone from the team goes to the Prime Minister to authorize the plan. Then a few minutes later, the team discovers some complication that might thwart the plan. The team members therefore brainstorm on how they can make some minor adjustment to the plan. Then they have to go back to the Prime Minister to approve that minor adjustment. This back-and-forth must have happened around seventeen times. That routine got old very quickly. o.O

One very well-deserved complaint about the previous entry, Godzilla: Final Wars, was that the whole movie was humans fighting. Normally, audiences complain that the human scenes are boring because the humans are just talking and then they watch Godzilla on some big screen. Final Wars tried to remedy that by having the human characters do a lot of martial-arts fighting. What really irked me about this, though, was that, except for the climactic battle, all of the monster fights were super-short, whereas the human-versus-humanoid battles went on forever. Worse, they were highly imitative of The Matrix. If I wanted to watch The Matrix, I would have watched The Matrix. If the movie says Godzilla on it, I expect a Godzilla movie. But anyway, that movie had hardly any monster battles and consisted almost entirely of humans fighting. As James "Angry Video Game Nerd" Rolfe put it, "It's all fighting." I think someone on Facebook properly called it a “cacophony.”

Well, Godzilla Resurgence went to the other extreme by having just people talking throughout the whole movie.

One common complaint about this movie that frequently slipped through my “information embargo” was that this movie was surprisingly nationalistic. When I heard that, I was worried that the protagonists would sound like the Japanese equivalents of Donald Trump and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Fortunately, this wasn’t as heavy-handed as I feared it would be. The movie did take a very condescending tone toward the United States government, but I don’t think that is the same as being condescending toward American people in general. The previous entry, Godzilla: Final Wars, was condescending in its depiction of American civilians. As for how the U.S. government was depicted, I thought this movie was no more condescending than Godzilla 1985 and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. In the case of Godzilla 1985, the original version came off as relentless wagging of the finger against President Reagan for being hawkish against the Soviet Union. (Roger Corman’s U.S. release of Godzilla 1985 made many silly changes to bowdlerize the depiction of Cold War tensions and to emphasize the unmatched villainy of the Soviet side.)

The Kayoco (is that really the spelling?) Anne Patterson character was supposed to be part white, part Japanese, but she came off as completely Japanese to me. (By the way, Steven Seagal’s daughter, who does have a Japanese mother, was very good in Gamera, The Guardian of the Universe.)

One interesting twist was how the United Nations was also depicted as villainous. That is a sharp departure from how the U.N. was portrayed in all previous movies, especially the ones from the 1990s. In the 1990s movies, all the world’s nations properly recognized Godzilla as a mortal threat to all countries, and therefore Japan was not alone in facing him. All the governments of the world banded together to fight Godzilla, establishing the UNGCC -- the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center. In these films, the U.N. was not merely glamorized but depicted in a fawning light. The U.N. could do no wrong. Prior to Godzilla Resurgence, the closest the Toho movies came to depicting the U.N. as corrupt was in the prior entry, Final Wars. In that one, the aliens of Planet X abduct the U.N. Secretary General and replace him with a look-alike agent of theirs. In that respect, the movie depicted the U.N. as being corrupted, but it was corrupted only because warlike extraterrestrials had infiltrated it. By contrast, Godzilla Resurgence conveys that the U.N. does not have to be infiltrated by supervillains; it suggests that corruption is just the default for the humans running the U.N. That is much more realistic, and very new for the Godzilla series.

Even though this was a minor point, I also liked how Big Pharma was credited with saving the day in this movie. I think this was only the second time I had seen a movie where Big Pharma was the good guys and not the villains (the first case was the movie Extraordinary Measures starring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford). ^_^

I appreciated Akira Ifukube’s classic score from the first movie being used in this one. I thought that a nod to Ifukube’s classic music was sorely missing from the 2014 American movie. It would have been a nice touch if the 2014 American movie at least had a short bar -- if jazzed up -- of the classic Ifukube score in it somewhere. I don’t know if this was just a quirk of Funimation’s U.S. release or if it was this way in the original Japanese version, but there was something very odd about how the music was handled in Godzilla Resurgence. All of the sound effects -- such as Godzilla roaring and the collision of one skyscraper on another -- were loud and in glorious high-fi stereo. Yet, for some reason, all of the music seemed to be monaural. Was that only in the theater I was in? 😕

There was a new musical piece written for this movie; that’s the one that played during the trailer. It’s choir music. One Western comic-book artist whom I had to unfollow for spoiling (he’s the one that announced that the monster had a second head) said he really liked the new music. It doesn’t do it for me. It sounds like cliched "spooky choir singing" that played in 1970s movies about the Devil, such as The Exorcist and The Omen. I guess it’s because those 1970s demonology movies were about the end of the world, and the monster represents an apocalyptic threat. Although Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack was terribly overrated (lots of G-fans call it the best movie, but I consider it one of the least watchable), it had a much better score. There is a part in the Giant Monsters All-Out Attack theme that uses “eerie choir music,” but that is used sparingly; that theme still overall sounds big and adventurous and Godzilla-esque, whereas the Godzilla Resurgence music is indistinguishable from music from 1970s Devil-themed movies.

It would be misleading to call this movie humorless, as people watching next to me did pick up on the humor. I would say that the humor was much more subdued in this movie than in prior entries, though. Humorous elements in prior Godzilla movies have usually been broad and heavy handed, such as with Gengo the cartoonist protagonist in Godzilla vs. Gigan. In Godzilla Resurgence, the humor usually involved formalities in Japanese custom; because the situation warrants it, the characters frequently behave in ways that Japanese would normally consider “socially improper.” Since I don’t have direct experience with “high-context” Japanese culture, I didn’t pick up on this as much as did the more-cosmopolitan, more-traveled people sitting near me (the only theater on Oahu playing this movie was in the more upper-class, more “cultured” part of Honolulu; lots of the people sitting around me were art house/film-festival-attending types).

Overall, I thought the human characters in this movie were quite bland. The sass of the “Anne Patterson” character was supposed to supply some comic relief but, no, the sass was bland. “The human characters were bland” is a common criticism of Godzilla movies even by fans, but I think that doesn’t always apply. The mad scientist Dr. Serizawa from the first movie was a very memorable character, as was the aforementioned cartoonist protagonist Gengo from Godzilla vs. Gigan.

I did catch some in-jokes. When the monster reaches the final “form” that he takes for this movie, a biologist shouts that the monster has taken his “fourth form.” I think I was the only person in the audience who understood this joke. Everyone around me was confused because the monster is only shown taking two forms in the movie; they were perplexed as to how this scientist knew that this was the monster’s “fourth form.” This refers to this movie being the third reboot of the series. The first reboot was Godzilla 1985, which acknowledges only the events of the first movie and ignores all the movies from 1955 to 1975 as if they never happened. From 1984 to 1995, the Godzilla movies cared more about continuity; finally the characters easily remembered the events of the previous movies (even though, due to their using a time machine in 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah to change the past, they actually should not have remembered the events of Godzilla 1985 and Godzilla vs. Biollante). The 1990s/Heisei Godzilla can thus be considered “Godzilla’s second form.” Then the series was rebooted again in 1999 with Godzilla Millennium, and what was particularly odd about this series was that every new entry from 1999 to 2004 was a new story where the characters only remembered the events of the first movie. That was the third form. Since Godzilla Resurgence is the third reboot, it means the monster in this was supposed to be “Godzilla’s fourth form.”

Another in-joke was that the scientific expert on the monster for this movie was named Goro Maki. That was the name of the journalist protagonist in Godzilla 1985. I thought it would have been more interesting if this movie was a sequel to Godzilla 1985 and that was the same character. It’s obviously not the same character, though, since Godzilla Resurgence ignores the events of all previous movies, even the first one (this is the first Toho Godzilla movie ever to ignore the first entry) and this is allegedly the first time that humans learn about something they call “Godzilla.”

Speaking of humor, there were many scenes where the people around me laughed. That is not new for a Godzilla movie, but what was new was the tone of their laughter. Normally when people around me laugh at a Godzilla movie, it’s because they are being derogatory and feel superior, as if watching the movie is so undignified and beneath them. The laughter from this theater audience was different because it sounded sympathetic. Besides the parts where the audience laughed at the intended points, they also laughed at the scenes emphasizing how extreeeeeeeeeeeme the monster’s power is. At the parts exhibiting the military’s ineffectiveness against the monster, people in the seats near me laughed because they sounded impressed.

There were three points in the movie where the theater audience did seem to be laughing at the filmmakers’ expense. When the monster first appears on land, crawling on the ground, the loud and obnoxious woman next to me laughed because of how awkwardly the monster moved and because of its bulging fish eyes. The audience also laughed at the climax when the trains full of explosives crashed into the monster’s huge thighs. Finally, lots of people laughed at the sight of the cranes injecting the chemical into the monster’s open mouth. I couldn’t blame those people for laughing at that part because it really did look like the monster was at the dentist’s office and the cranes were dental instruments.

When we walked out of the movie, my cousin pointed out another weakness -- the movie provides no reason for the monster to be in the city in the first place. The scientist characters state that the monster is immortal and can survive anywhere there is oxygen or water; he doesn’t have to eat. Why, then, does he have to be in the city? I told my cousin that Godzilla 1985 had a much better explanation for why Godzilla attacks the city: Godzilla feeds on nuclear radiation. He is therefore attracted to nuclear power plants in Japan; he gets to the reactor, absorbs the energy through his skin, and stores the energy in his dorsal spikes. Godzilla Resurgence changes the explanation for how the monster’s dorsal spikes function. It is said in this movie that Godzilla has the biological equivalent of a nuclear reactor inside of him, and that the dorsal spikes serve as vents whereby he expels heat and cools off his body. I’m sure many G-fans will say that Godzilla Resurgence was better than Godzilla 1985 but I contend that in almost all the important respects, the reverse is true.

I have to admit that Godzilla Resurgence left me a bit empty and unsatisfied because Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno didn’t actually bother to end the movie. What happens is that, by the explicit admission of the protagonists, the protagonists have only succeeded in immobilizing Godzilla for a few days. They expect that within days, he will awake and they will have to try some other tactic on him. Moreover, the order by the U.S. President and the United Nations to nuke Tokyo has only been halted temporarily. Then the protagonists look at the frozen Godzilla. Then the final shot is that very bizarre shot of the end of Godzilla’s tail with the deformed humanoid skeletons coming out of it. Then it cuts to the credits. When I saw the humanoid skeletons, I thought, “What the hell?!” Then, as soon the credits started rolling, I thought, “What the hell . . . again!” That isn’t even “ending on a cliffhanger”; it’s just not an ending at all!

I think that what Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi were going for here was that they wanted to convey that there is no end to the battle against Godzilla, just as there is no true end to adversity. There will always be problems and they have no nice-and-neat resolution. On aesthetic grounds, though, that doesn’t really work; it comes off as an artist deciding to abandon working on his piece prematurely.

A Good Movie, But Nowhere Close to the Best of the Series
Is this a good movie? Yes, but let’s be real here -- there are no non-good Godzillamovies. I have found something enjoyable in every entry in the series (the 1998 TriStar travesty is not a real Godzilla movie and does not count), and that includes entries that are hated even by die-hard fans, such as Godzilla vs. Megalon (the first one I ever saw), Godzilla’s Revenge, and Final Wars. The final battle in Godzilla’s Revenge was actually very well-done and the music that played during the battles -- composed by Kunio Miyauchi of Ultraman fame -- was catchy and exciting. The most poorly made Godzilla movie is still more enjoyable than even the best vampire movie that does not star Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee.

I asked my cousin what he thought of the fancy special effects. He was not impressed. He said, “In this day and age, they could and should have done better.” I laughed and told him it was unfortunate he was so non-plused, because these were the most expensive, sophisticated, and realistic special effects ever done in a Toho Godzilla movie.

Godzilla Resurgence and the 2014 American Godzilla movie were the two most expensive and technologically sophisticated Godzilla movies, but they were far from the best. They were not the most fun and not the most exciting, despite that extremely handsome Oahu resident who briefly appeared in the 2014 American movie. The Godzilla movies with the most exciting climaxes remain Godzilla vs. Biollante and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

Despite its aforementioned flaws, even Final Wars had a more thrilling conclusion than Godzilla Resurgence. Almost all of the monster battles in Final Wars were too short, but it the climactic battle against Keizer Ghidorah remains impressive (and both monsters were beautiful every time they fired beams from their mouths 😊).

And Godzilla doesn’t have to face another monster at the end for the movie to be exciting. Godzilla 1985 remains more exciting than Godzilla Resurgence. Godzilla 1985 also continues to have a much more dramatic and emotionally touching conclusion than Godzilla Resurgence -- both with and without a monologue from Raymond Burr. Of course, one advantage of Godzilla 1985 over Godzilla Resurgence is that Godzilla 1985 actually has an ending.

When Godzilla Resurgence comes out on DVD, it will definitely go into my collection, but it won’t be re-watched nearly as often as Godzilla 1985 and Godzilla vs. Biollante.

Still the Best 1989

Related blog posts of mine:

* "Godzilla Is Not a Large Animal But a Pagan Deity"

* "Godzilla Movies for Beginners: Which Movies to Start With, and Other Notes"

* "Favorite Godzilla Monsters Other Than Godzilla, Pt. 1 of ?: King Ghidorah"