“Shin Gojira” or “Godzilla Resurgence” is the third reboot of Toho’s Godzilla franchise. Toho has produced 29 Godzilla films, and this one takes Godzilla back to its roots–protesting environmental nuclear pollution.
The original Godzilla movie came out the same year as the Lucky Dragon 5 incident. The Lucky Dragon 5 (Daigo Fukuryū Maru 第五福龍丸) was exposed to nuclear fallout from a U.S. weapon best at the Bikini Atoll on 1 March 1954. The ship was 14 miles outside of the danger zone according to a 1997 paper by Martha Smith-Norris. The test, however, was more powerful than predicted. For about three hours, white dust fell (shi no hai 死の灰) fell upon the men. The 23 men had acute radiation syndrome. It’s estimated that as many as a hundred other ships were also exposed.
This was less than a decade after the two atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hibakusha (被爆者) as the survivors of those blasts are called, faced social stigma and were a grim reminder of atomic warfare.
In the first Godzilla movie, a Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) concludes Godzilla emerged as a result of repeated nuclear tests. Another researcher helps kill Godzilla at the price of his own life.
“Shin Godzilla” links with the previous Toho Godzilla series by mentioning Goro Maki, a character who appears as a reporter in the 1967 “Son of Godzilla” and the 1984 “The Return of Godzilla.” In “Son of Godzilla” Maki and his companions are saved by a U.N. submarine. In “The Return of Godzilla,” Maki is in a small boat when he finds a deserted fishing boat. Maki consults with a professor Hayashida about Godzilla. At the end of that movie, Godzilla is no Oshima Island, Godzilla falls into the erupting Mt. Mihara.
There is an actual Ōshima (Izu Ōshima 伊豆大島) which is an inhabited island 75 miles southeast of Honshu, Japan and is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Mount Mihara (三原山) is an active volcano that last erupted in 1990. Before Godzilla, Mt. Mihara was infamous for suicides, people jumping into the volcano.
“Shin Godzilla” begins with the Coast Guard boarding a small boat in Tokyo Harbor. The boat belongs to a scientist named Goro Maki. He has vanished. The boat begins to move. Elsewhere, in an underwater tunnel (Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line) where cars are being driven, the tunnel walls break and reddish water comes crashing through.
The Japanese government goes into panic mode when a tail appears in the waters of Tokyo Bay. No one expects this mysterious sea monster to come on to land, but it does, at first looking like a moray eel, but then morphing into a large seal-like creature with bulbous eyes and hind legs. The creature wan’t really walk. It flops around, crushing boats and cars. It has gill-like openings.
The creature’s body glows and from time to time it grows still and it stretches as it continues to evolve. What where front fins become tiny arms. Then the creature returns to the sea.
The government has to deal with widespread panic. The government is concerned with legal moves, constrained by bureaucracy and legal statutes put in place by the Allied Forces at the end of World War II. The focus eventually settles on the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, Rando Yaguchi (矢口 蘭堂 played by Hiroki Hasegawa) who charged with researching the creature.
Although he gathers various scientists, he learns from a U.S. special envoy, Kayoko Ann Patterson, that a zoology researcher, Maki Goro, had been studying mutations that resulted from radioactive contamination. His research had been covered up by the U.S. The boat found in Tokyo Bay belonged to Maki. Using Maki’s research the creature is dubbed Godzilla. The explanation is that the name comes from the native dialect of the island where Maki had done some of his research and the “god” refers to a deity as opposed to a portmanteau for gorilla (ゴリラ）and whale (kujiraくじら).
The creature is now named Godzilla, but the Maki’s research doesn’t describe how to kill the creature which reappears, doubled in size. The Japanese Self Defense Forces attempt to take Godzilla down as the creature emerges at Kamakura and heads toward Tokyo.
The U.S. wants to get involved and there’s some criticism toward the U.S. attitudes and policies, something that becomes clearer when the U.S. killing the creature with nuclear bombs. In the end, after the top Japanese leaders are killed, Yaguchi and his team find a way of stopping Godzilla–freezing it, but not killing it.
Instead of action and the terror and deaths of individuals, “Shin Godzilla” is more interested in the men behind the scenes and how sometimes they dismiss people for misguides reasons. The slogging problems of bureaucracy faced with an unprecedented emergency and the problems with secrets between allies is also explored. In the end, it isn’t Western intervention that saves Japan from another nuclear bombing and a creature created by mutations caused by nuclear waste.
Besides being inspired by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the resulting Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, “Shin Godzilla” also dredges memories of the not so distant past. In 1980, Japan learned that in 1965 a A-4E Skyhawk attack aircraft rolled off of an aircraft carrier (the USS Ticonderoga) that was en route to Yokosuka, Japan after a bombing mission in Vietnam. The aircraft was carrying a hydrogen bomb. The aircraft and its bomb were never found. When the U.S. Navy finally admitted to the incident, the Navy liked, indicating it happened 500 miles from land. The incident took place 80 miles from the Ryuku islands. Japan’s treaty with the U.S. prohibits nuclear weapons in its territory. This isn’t the only known loss of a nuclear weapon by the U.S.
Another concern is the dumping of nuclear waste, something that is certainly a problem in Japan but also a problem in the U.S. “Shin Godzilla” should make Americans think about our own nuclear waste. More recent articles indicate that the U.S. nuclear waste problem continues and global warming might make the problem worse.
“Shin Godzilla” is about a new Godzilla (Shin often means new in Japanese), a “Godzilla Resurgence.” This Godzilla is one with a red glow between blackened, perhaps scarred tissue, evolving in monstrous ways and feeding on radioactive materials. Godzilla has atomic breath and eventually develops a classic Godzilla screech. The green-screen CGI isn’t impressive and Godzilla’s tail seems incongruously large, as if it has a life of its own.
Unlike even the more recent U.S. Godzilla, this Godzilla is too big to fit itself into the streets (“Does Tokyo Make My Butt Look Big?“). Those familiar with the districts within Tokyo will be more aware of the implications of each report. The movie shows how much harder it is for a government to keep information under wraps with the advent of social media.
This Godzilla isn’t good or evil. This Godzilla is a creation of human carelessness–nuclear waste in the waters. While the original Godzilla wasn’t overtly critical of the U.S. and its nuclear experiments in the Bikini islands, this “Shin Godzilla” is. In both, the solution of Godzilla may be temporary, but it is a solution coming from Japan itself. While the special effects of “Shin Godzilla” has a corniness that harks back to science fiction of the 1950s despite the usage of motion-capture, “Shin Godzilla” brings concerns about nuclear energy and the environment a gigantic step forward: Daikaiju as eco-crusader.