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Review: Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Directed by: Takashi Yamazaki

Premise: A remake of the original 1954 film. At the end of World War II, a Japanese pilot (Ryunosuke Kamiki) returns home feeling disgraced. After rebuilding his life, Japan is attacked by the giant radioactive monster known as Godzilla.

What Works: Godzilla originated as a metaphor of Japan’s guilt and trauma over World War II, a point that was very clear in the Japanese version of the 1954 film but was lost in a lot of the sillier sequels and spinoffs. Godzilla Minus One revisits the original concept and essentially retells that story from a different point of view. Minus One focuses on Kōichi, a former kamikaze pilot who did not fulfill his duty. Ryunosuke Kamiki plays the character with visceral shame. Koichi wants to live but feels guilt about doing so. This picture is really a post-war drama with Kōichi’s returning home to discover Tokyo in ruins and his family and friends dead. Koichi gradually rebuilds his life but he needs to do something meaningful in order to move on. The film deals with that quite well and the dramatic human story of Godzilla Minus One is quite involving even without the kaiju threat. A lot of action and sci-fi movies—including the original Godzilla—extol the virtues of self-sacrifice but the filmmakers of Godzilla Minus One take matters in a different direction. This is ultimately a life affirming picture about survival and leading a worthwhile life and it does so without feeling hokey or forced. This is still a Godzilla film and Minus One has the requisite kaiju thrills and it is tense and scary. Godzilla Minus One is beautifully made. The film has a tangible visual texture and Godzilla is rendered with great detail. He’s computer generated while most of the rest of the film appears to be shot practically but everything looks organic. Composer Naoki Satō makes effective use of the themes established by Akira Ifukube for the original film. The music is indicative of the way Godzilla Minus One is an excellent example of revisiting a legacy character. The film retains the core appeals of the Godzilla film series but presents them in a way that brings a fresh approach to the material.

What Doesn’t: The pacing of Godzilla Minus One is a bit start and stop. The filmmakers spend a lot of time with the characters before Godzilla’s arrival, maybe a little too much time, and the destruction sequences alternate with domestic scenes. For awhile the filmmakers have some trouble keeping up the tension.

Bottom Line: Godzilla Minus One is one of the best, if not the best, entry in this franchise. It’s expertly made with a genuine focus on its characters that makes this film an entertaining monster movie and a moving human drama.

Episode: #976 (December 10, 2023)