Ultrabrief Capsule Review:
Number of theater-wide chuckles: 2
Number of theater-wide laughs - 3
Number of theater-wide 'wow!'s - 2
Number of theater-wide 'daaaaaaammnn's - 1
Ovation at the end? - yes, not standing
Out of 5 stars? - 5
full review below
Nuts and Bolts:
Camera: In too many Godzilla films the camera work is decent for the kaiju and rather - TV sitcom for the live actors. Not this time! Kosuke Yamada was great mixing contemporary sensibilities (which is good! Contemporary cinematography is reaching towards greatness) with excellent flourishes. Unusual POVs; moving cameras; anamorphic lenses; deep focus lenses; filters. He did excellent work throughout.
What to look for - when the characters are tired the camera will be low and stationary. When characters are excited the camera will be high and stationary. Fear = standard height and frenetic movement; emotional means movement and changes in height to reflect mood. There is a lot more!
Editing: Also excellent. The editing was smooth and never jarring to me with a great use of angles, cuts, and pacing. Reminded me of both Kurosawa and Paul Machliss' work with Edgar Wright.
What to look for - how rapidly cuts are made when characters are scared versus how cuts are used to show what the characters are paying attention to.
Writing and Directing: Combined because it had a writer/director. Very good. Pacing is solid, characters are fun, dialog is crisp (if subtitled in the version I saw), no one is allowed to overact, and you can see depth and growth.
Acting: Its Toho - the acting was never less than 'good journeyman' because its Toho. The leads were great and the character actors really had a chance to shine. The only part that snapped me out of the film was the part of the American liaison. This part was given to Satomi Ishihara, a native Japanese given the thankless task of playing a third generation Japanese-American. I can be hard for Brits or Aussies to speak English like you;re from Ohio, so this wasn't bad acting, just a tough role. It will be dubbed for international release, so this is an artifact of the version I saw
The Movie (No Spoilers):
The film is a mash-up of Daikaiju fun, disaster film, social commentary, and satire and it fires on all cylinders. There are very obvious visual and script references to Fukushima, the Tohoku quake and tsunami, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fire bombings of Tokyo, and the rapid rebuilding of Japan in the immediate post-war period.
They also reference the Lost Decade, the infamous levels of government bureaucracy and red tape, the odd death-grip age and seniority have over skill and merit in government and business, the horrible inefficiencies of Democracy, news-cycle driven political decisions, the constitution and laws forced upon them by the US that causes a near-inability to even defend themselves, and the disengagement many young Japanese have from civic like in general.
There has been a theory floating around for decades that Godzilla is an emotional proxy for how the Japanese view America. It starts off as a giant, unstoppable force that emerges from the sea and annihilates the nation with fire and radiation in the 1950's, transforms into a protector of Japan in the '60's and early '70's, is more of a really big thing to be deflected and managed in the 1980's and such, then back into a threat, but that can be handled with technology!, in the 1990's until in Final Wars Godzilla is sealed evil in a can that mindlessly destroys anything that might challenge it.
Anyway, it is obvious that Hideaki Anno, the writer/director, knows of this theory and he probably accepts it as accurate. There are explicit mentions of America's influence over Japan and the Japanese feeling that Japan is just a tributary nation to the US. As much as Godzilla smashes the city it is also very clear the US is willing to do even worse to stop it.
What? No! It is not a preachy, political movie at all! The satire was quite effective and made the entire audience laugh out loud in a few places. The discussion of government inefficiency and such was more akin to a Salaryman farce movie of the 1960's and was usually played for laughs, which it got. This is all background stuff that might fly right past people who don't have Godzilla movies running in their house 2-4 hours or more everyday.
Yes, really. I like the movies, as do all of my sons. Including the 3 year old who watches them EVERY DAY like some toddlers watch Dora or Pocoyo.
The star, though is Godzilla. Big G doesn't fight other kaiju, but man does he throw down! With a nice in-movie explanation of the source of his abilities and just how dangerous he could be to the entire planet the movie edges up not just from Daikaiju to Disaster movie but actually skirts with becoming an actual Horror movie. In Shin Godzilla Big G is relentless, unpredictable, and unstoppable, like he was the killer in a 1980's slasher movie, but 200' tall and radioactive. Despite all the subtext, all the background, and all the drama (all of which is well-written, well-acted, and not intrusive) this movie is about Godzilla and Godzilla is at his most impressive in this film. The sheer level of destruction of Tokyo in this film is almost certainly the most of any of the movies in the franchise.
Bottom line: well-made, well-acted, and fun to watch. When you can, see it!