úterý 5. prosince 2023

Some analytical notes on GODZILLA MINUS ONE (2023)

This time, it's... Japanese - and must-watch surprise! If you can see this new Godzilla in the cinema, do so soon - preferably now, as it is one of this year's best blockbusters. Yes! In my short blog item I offer some analytically based arguments why this is so. In doing it, I also consider the very beginning of the series in the first half of the 1950s, to which the latest film returns, as well as the nine-year-old American version.

Set within a few years after World War II, GODZILLA MINUS ONE (Godzilla -1.0; Takashi Yamazaki) does not contain any Americans, nor does it blame them for anything connected to a nuclear topic. It is a great relief to see a genre movie protagonist slowly developed across the plot as an ordinary, vulnerable, and traumatized character among other vulnerable characters, including two amazing female ones.

Plus, what I usually love about many Asian films, and what is true also here, is that they're not afraid to show the hero at his lowest point as someone who is truly despicable, someone we have to learn to respect as much as he has to learn to respect himself - in this case, against the backdrop of a struggle with a monster on the outside that is nothing compared to the trauma on the inside. 

The film is cleverly structured, starting with the story of an individual (Koichi), then a couple (Koichi and Noriko), then a smaller team (the team on the boat), then a bigger collective (civic initiative), then a nation (Japan). In the end, it surprisingly becomes a story of two wounded characters (Kouchi and Sosaku) who went through hell in the first scene, and the war still isn't over for them. 

The film's structure also changes significantly at exactly one hour of screen time (the Koichi's awakening), which serves as an imaginary pivot around which both the micro-level story of the hero and the macro-level story of the fictional world revolve. It is the climax of a scene that has its functional alternatives at the beginning and at the end of the film, each time connected to Koichi's internal experience.

Thus, for most of the film, Godzilla is rather a tool all the way through, but a damn impressive one, shot in the spirit of tradition with an emphasis on scale from low angle and low height of framing. Moreover, I love how they waited for the right moment to use the classic music theme. What's more, this time Godzilla doesn't just have radioactive breath, but generates focused atomic explosions!

On the other hand, it's in the psychological characterization that it differs from the original Godzilla movies from the 50s and 60s, as those replaced psychological character development with the application of Japanese melodramatic genre conventions, skillfully motivating sudden decisions and motivations (it is not mine, but my student Dan Krátký's explanation in his forthcoming book KRÁL MONSTER!). 


GODZILLA MINUS ONE is also fascinating as a parallel to the 2014 movie GODZILLA, which I also consider an excellent work. In my view, Edwards' film, in defiance of Hollywood conventions, made any human endeavor irrelevant; it's a tale of three giant monsters that play out virtually independent of anything humans will or can do (with Godzilla as a birth control pill :)). 

In GODZILLA MINUS ONE, on the other hand, it's an exciting shift in the context of Japanese Godzillas to a more psychological take on the characters and a highly tactical fight with the monster, though actually, both offered plans kind of mirror the very first two films from 1954 and 1955: physics (collective plan), airplane (hero's plan).

I do hope that more films and big movies from countries whose productions rarely appear in European cinemas will appear in our cinemas due to this strike year without new movies being shot. Moreover, it's almost unbelievable that GODZILLA MINUS ONE was made on 5-10% of the budget of most 2023 Hollywood blockbusters. So, yeah, let's go to the cinema!


I also recommend reading the commentary written by my friendfriend, film and media scholar Colin Burnett, as well as subscribing to his entire excellent channel on Letterbox here.