By Jason Delgado
Godzilla has long been a popular Japanese symbol of the terrifying nuclear age, bringing the type of destruction that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki knew all too well in real-life after the atomic bombs from World War II. The masterpiece that is director Takashi Yamazaki’s Godzilla Minus One brings viewers back to the aftermath of that war in 1946, following a failed kamikaze pilot named Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki). Shikishima lives in a war-torn Ginza that has been shredded to bits, just like his dignity after failing to do his military job. Koichi fatefully finds a caring woman named Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe) who has taken in an abandoned baby girl named Akiko (Sae Nagatani). They took the liberty of sleeping in his modest living quarters, and a makeshift family was born.
Godzilla is grounded in a redemption tale for Shikishima, as well as an against-all-odds underdog story of ex-military veterans and cast-offs such as Kenji Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka), a former weapons engineer, and Sosaku Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki) a former Navy mechanic, banding together with others to try to defeat a nuclear-breathing monster which only gets bigger when missiles strike it. In the story, both the Japanese and US governments are unwilling to fight Godzilla for various reasons, so it is up to this ragtag bunch.
The love that the Shikishima family has for one another is something to which we can all relate. When a young child-aged Akiko draws a picture of the family before Shikishima goes off on his seemingly impossible mission versus Godzilla, it is a touching moment. The audience grows to care for these characters over the course of the film.
The story of this new family is so good that this movie could have been a compelling drama without Godzilla even in it, but the monster does add an especially frightening element. This incarnation of Godzilla is the best I have ever seen of this creature, with heart-pounding, suspenseful action. Most importantly, the story surrounding Godzilla is better by far than anything the United States film industry has attempted. The US versions of Godzilla movies seem soulless in comparison to this film. The look of Godzilla, the sounds, and effects, are far better than audiences have ever seen, and all for a reported budget of only $15 million (when US studios spend upwards of $200 million on some films)!
I grew up loving the cheesy-looking, older Japanese versions of Godzilla that featured guys in rubber suits. This version is far more advanced, while still keeping such a grounded, heartfelt storyline. I will say without spoilers that there is something improbable that happens, but this is a monster movie after all, so I expect some disbelief. The story builds up viewers’ emotions to a crescendo and I ended up crying, at a Godzilla movie! I feel no shame in this because the movie is that great.
I give Godzilla Minus One five out of five hot sauce packets. It’s so atomic level hot that I couldn’t even imagine a better Godzilla movie.