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Godzilla Minus One Review: Japanese Godzilla Remains King

Kamiki shines in these moments, immediately earning viewers’ sympathy with his troubled brow and burning eyes, suggesting rage against the war machine that too often sublimates into self-hatred. Even when teamed with the small crew of sailors hired to destroy ocean mines, or creating a found family with fellow survivor Noriko Ōishi (Minami Hamabe) and the abandoned child (Sae Nagatani), Kamiki plays the tension between the need for belonging and his inescapable guilt. Hamabe gets less to do as Noriko, a fairly one-note doe-eyed character reduced to supporting Shikishima through his PTSD, but she makes for a warm presence in a bleak setting. 

Yamazaki’s film better serves co-stars Hidetaka Yoshioka, who plays engineer Dr. Noda, and Kuranosuke Sasaki and Yuki Yamada as Captain Akitsu and young trainee Mizushima, Shikishima’s shipmates aboard the Shinsei Maru. Yamazaki borrows heavily from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in these sequences, combining the stress between the mismatched crew, particularly Mizushima’s disappointment that the war ended before he could enlist, with the camaraderie they quickly develop while blasting mines out to sea. 

Compelling as the humans are, Yamazaki never lets them distract from the main event: Godzilla himself. Serving as visual effects director alongside Kiyoko Shibuya, Yamazaki gives us a Godzilla even more beefiness than his current American counterpart without losing the feel of a person in a rubber suit. 

Unlike Toho’s last outing, the equally excellent Shin Godzilla (2016), the monster of Godzilla Minus One remains fundamentally dino-like, even in his earliest incarnation. But where the younger Godzilla had a fleetness that recalls the T-Rex of Jurassic Park, the mature monster thunders with unadulterated power. Yamazaki reimagines Godzilla’s atomic breath as a more machine-like buildup, with the scales on his back mechanically popping up as they turn blue. The sound cuts out when Godzilla releases his blue blast followed by a mushroom cloud at the point of impact, which decimates the surrounding area with a hurricane gust that first radiates out and then implodes in. 

As that description suggests, Godzilla of Minus One once again represents the uncontrollable destruction of atomic weapons. But Yamazaki broadens the movie’s metaphorical view to link Godzilla to war in general, a seemingly unstoppable death dealer with no understandable motivation. 

On one hand, this shift in perspective lets the U.S. off relatively easy. A quick shot of the atomic explosion at Bikini Atoll juxtaposes with an extreme close-up of Godzilla’s eye, establishing that U.S. testing mutated Godzilla into the hulking beast we know, but not that it created the monster in the first place. Characters briefly mention the dangers to civilians posed by magnetic mines left in the Pacific, but quickly turn their criticisms toward their own government. When the American military refuses to help Japan fight Godzilla for fear of arousing Soviet suspicions, the Japanese characters nod in understanding.

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