It is 1945. It is Post-War Japan. The Imperial Navy is at the bottom of the Pacific. The Japanese Air Force is no more. Millions of soldiers, sailors, and pilots have lost their lives in World War II, with survivors struggling to piece together their broken lives. Years of firebombing have left cities burned to ash, and the country reels from being the first nation to suffer nuclear attacks. As the country slowly recovers, the manifestation of War surfaces from beneath the sea. Infused with nuclear power, a dinosaur-like being emerges to destroy Japan without remorse or fear. They call him Godzilla.
The first Toho Godzilla since 2016’s amazing Shin Godzilla, the King of the Monsters is back in a new movie but told through a surprisingly tragic and heartfelt lens. Godzilla is the villain and holds no empathy for an island that has witnessed atomic war. With no defense forces in an already devastated land, an island braces for a monster’s wrath and fights for one belief: Living. A heartfelt tale told in a world of chaos, Godzilla: Minus One is the best Toho Godzilla to date.
Godzilla Minus One is the first Toho Godzilla since Shin Godzilla and has no affiliation with the more recently released Godzilla Vs Kong. Released in 2016, Shin Godzilla was seen as a soft reboot of the famed monster. Famed director Hideaki Anno takes his larger-than-life anime inspirations and turns Godzilla into a raw weapon of science and chaos in what was seen as a metaphor for the 2011 Tokasu Tsunami. The film was lauded for its scale and action. With Godzilla Minus One, the setting is toned down. There is no highly advanced defense force. No cutting-edge weapons. The world of post-war Japan is ground zero for the beginning of a horrific tale of death and hope.
Godzilla Minus One makes many bold new directions. Among them is the focus on the human story and the underscored meaning of the tale. In most Godzilla movies, the humans are there to simply move a scene along and don’t add to anything. The film knows its audience, and they want to see Godzilla rampage across a city and destroy things. Godzilla Minus One crafts a surprisingly engaging human story that invests audiences and respects them for their time. While it isn’t anything earth-shattering, it's a refreshing change to traditional Godzilla movies.
Audiences are introduced to Kōichi Shikishima, a disgraced kamikaze fighter pilot struggling with trauma, both from the war and an earlier encounter with Godzilla. He stumbles upon an orphaned baby, Akiko, and begins to support an adoptive mother, Noriko Ōishi. He slowly carves out a solid living as a minesweeper and is joined by a crew of fellow soldiers and sailors as they begin the slow steps of rebuilding Japan. Then, Godzilla arrives, and everything is at stake.
I couldn't help but feel for these characters and rooting for them all the way through. My heart went in my throat when Godzilla began his attack, hoping this crew would make it. The story even had a theme of life and the yearning to not give up. To live is the ultimate victory. Given the times we live in and the movie's setting, it was a surprisingly profound theme.
Godzilla is back, and he is more terrifying than ever before. Angry, irradiated, he is here to destroy. Godzilla sports his more classic look with thighs that could crush a building, spikes that could slice through steel, and a vicious look that tells anyone not to mess with me. However, there isn't exactly a goal to his distraction. He is here to destroy anything and everything in his path with impunity.
In Godzilla Minus One, Godzilla is the representation of War. War doesn't care what it touches or sees. It only cares about destruction. War leaves sadness and death in its wake. It doesn't think twice about what it has done. There is no worthy cause. Only obliteration. Godzilla's image as War incarnate is used wisely here. This is especially true as his Atomic Breath is easily one of the most horrifying moments in cinema of the year.
Everything else about the movie is classic Godzilla. The human effort to survive. The wild scientific experiment to stop an unstoppable beast. A creature that seeks only to destroy. Wild special effects. The key here is it is all done so remarkably well, and it wisely uses the dystopian post-war period to great effect. In an age of worn-out superhero movies and multiverse calamity, it is a surprisingly well-told and exciting tale of man versus radioactive beast.
Godzilla Minus One is for the fans but also for the filmgoer looking for something different and authentic. There are no connected multiple universes or secret scenes. All it needs is a grand battle of survival against the King of the Monsters, Godzilla. Godzilla Minus One is a masterpiece that everyone should watch.