Coming with a boatload of deserved hype, ‘Godzilla Minus One’ really does live up to the love that has been showered upon it. Takashi Yamazaki’s (‘Returner’, ‘Space Battleship Yamato’) film is a near perfect blend of drama and giant monster movie and (like many are exclaiming!) quite possibly the best Godzilla to come along in an age.
In the dying days of World War II, kamikaze pilot Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) lands his fighter plane on Odo Island claiming he needs repairs. Feeling guilt at abandoning his squadron and his pledge to kamikaze, he and the stationed mechanics on the island are attacked by giant monster Godzilla, all slain but for Shikishima and head mechanic Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki). Again, feeling ashamed for not acting fast enough to help protect the mechanics, Shikishima is sent home to Toyko where he finds his home in ruins and his family dead. However, things take a turn for the better when he takes in the likewise now homeless Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and the small child she has in tow: the three making a makeshift family. After a couple of years, Shikishima finds purpose with his new family and his new role as part of a team de-mining the local waters. But when the legendary Godzilla rears his vengeful head once again and begins to lay waste to the city, Shikishima finds a chance to atone for his long-felt guilt and, along with his new crew, hatches a plan to stop the rampaging monster.
While the opening paragraph to this review contains a fair bit of hyperbole, ‘Godzilla Minus One’ really is a great film and a great Godzilla film. The period setting is perfectly realized and the human drama engaging and touching rather then mawkish, the dysfunctional family element seen with Shikishima and Norika (and with Shikishima and his boat crew) a great counterpoint to the epic monster action. Sure, the dramatic elements may be a little heavy handed on occasion (Godzilla’s rampaging destruction not exactly a subtle comparison to the destruction wrecked upon Japan during the war!) but the cast imbue their characters with credibility and a sense of real people caught up in cataclysmic events.
Takashi Yamazaki wisely builds to and spaces out the Godzilla attacks rather than pummelling us with constant CGI and destruction. The Big G set-pieces are fantastic, bringing real scale to the monster and the action that unfolds. Tension and solid CGI meld well to escalate a sense of terror with a sequence where Godzilla pursues our would-be band of heroes on their rickety boat through the sea, particularly effective. Some may have hoped for a bit more Godzilla rampage action (and perhaps more monsters!) yet Takashi Yamazaki is just as concerned about his human characters (and he’s given ones to actually care for in a monster movie for once!) as he is with the giant monster, building everything to a fantastically staged showdown.
A wonderfully constructed film (the musical score is chef’s kiss!) that shows monster movies can be serious as well as fun. Some may nitpick for faults but if you a fan of The Big G it’s hard to imagine it getting much better than this.