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What to Watch This Weekend – Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla Minus One is the story of Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a kamikaze fighter pilot. As World War II draws to a close in 1945, Shikishima questions the purpose of giving his life to a losing struggle. He feigns trouble with his plane and lands on a Japanese military installation on Odo Island. There, Shikishima first encounters Godzilla: an enormous dinosaur-like lizard capable of epic destruction. Godzilla decimates most of Odo Island, but Shikishima escapes with his life. Upon returning home, Shikishima begins a new life for himself. He takes up residency with Noriko Ōishi (Minami Hamabe) and an orphaned baby. For work, Shikishima serves in the risky position of a minesweeper tasked to clean up all the dangerous bombs around Japan’s coastline. During his efforts however, Shikishima discovers that Godzilla lurks close by and mainland Japan may be its next target.

What works in Godzilla Minus One is the humanity set against the backdrop of horrors. Writer/director Takashi Yamazaki (The Great War of Archimedes) uses the familiar tale of the awe-inspiring Godzilla wreaking havoc to tell an intimate story of grief and guilt. Shikishima is clearly the protagonist of the tale, but he represents a very different kind of hero. Kamiki does an exceptional job of portraying a character torn apart between a duty he doesn’t agree with (but never overtly states) and his own “right” to happiness. His encounters with Godzilla almost feel metaphorical to inner conflict. He is grappling against something that feels out of control, insurmountable, and dangerous.

At this point, the eponymous character of Godzilla Minus One deserves positive mention. The creature design and subsequent action sequences are tense, bombastic, and fantastic. Godzilla Minus One (with a budget of 10 to 15 million dollars) won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and once the first monster attack occurs, audiences will understand exactly why this accolade is both impressive and deserved.

Some audience members may find Godzilla Minus One uncomfortable, especially as it relates to the depiction of Japanese culture. Some Japanese critics have admonished the sentiments expressed in the film concerning major characters’ views on the government and wartime mandates. Others may find the post-traumatic stress disorder Shikishima experiences to be disconcerting given the authentic portrayal. For a “monster movie” Godzilla Minus One tackles a lot of complex themes and difficult questions. Those seeking a lighter blockbuster experience may opt for a different choice.

Godzilla Minus One is a breathtaking spectacle. Yamazaki delivers thrills by developing relatable characters that are impossible not to root for. After all the countless Godzilla movies and interpretations over the years, it is truly remarkable to have a new entry that feels wholly faithful to the source material and still offers something completely fresh and novel at the same time. Highly recommended.

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