If SciFiHistory.Net is any indication, I’ve always been a fan of the theatrical experiences, and a night out at the movies (or a matinee) is always something to look forward to. The problem historically has often been that – because I can’t control what comes out when – I’ve often had to choose something outside my personal favorite genres – that being Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror – when my special day rolls around: if there were none of those available at the multiplexes, then I’d just scan the titles, read a few plot summaries, and make my selection from something that was playing. It ain’t a perfect world – if it was, then those choices would be playing without pause – but I’ve learned to adjust … and I’ve even found some great Comedies, Mysteries, and Dramas to enjoy in the process.
But, thankfully, the good people at Toho Studios must’ve known that my birthday was right around the corner – and they wanted to make me giddy with delight – as Godzilla Minus One had just graced America’s silver screens in celebration of the big lizard’s seventieth birthday. (Wowza! He looks great for 70, doesn’t he?) I’d read that the picture was produced on an astounding $15 million dollar budget, and – given the fact that I follow the industry fairly closely – I didn’t quite know what to expect. $15 million? Why, in the U.S., actors and actresses often command a $15 million payday for a single role, so how is it that the Japanese can produce an entire picture on such a meager investment?
Well, if you’re anything like me, then you’re about to be thunderstruck, as Godzilla Minus One might just be the best film in all of 2023. It’s an incredible throwback to a time when characters mattered more than story, and there wasn’t an incessant need to push some political message, patron cause, or progressive talking point. What there are are people – real, authentic folks you might even recognize and could be plucked from regular existence – and they’re torn by the decision they made in their past while guiding what their heart tells them today in the present. It’s a respectable morality play set against the backdrop of the screen’s biggest baddie, and everything you’ve heard is true: this one deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Frankly, it’s everything a movie ought to be. And more.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Post war Japan is at its lowest point when a new crisis emerges in the form of a giant monster, baptized in the horrific power of the atomic bomb.”
As a form of art, film has the unique potential to truly transcend any story it delivers while also educating the viewers to, perhaps, take action on some of the more pressing social concerns of the day.
But the single greatest problem with having this potential is that there are a great number of folks working within the wider film industry today who’ve decided to exploit such ends with almost nefarious means. Producers, storytellers, and acting talent have conspired to deliver yarns that are less about the characters they represent and more about ‘The Message’ they want to convey, even at the expense of dwindling box office returns. All one needs to do is take a glance at the financial returns of 2023’s The Marvels and Walt Disney’s Wish to see that if propaganda is all you have to offer then consumers are apt to spend their money elsewhere. Viewers have grown tired with being both preached at and ostracized for daring to have a different worldview than these storytellers; instead of subjecting themselves, their friends, and their families to the latest sermon, they’re going elsewhere for their entertainment … with ‘entertainment’ being the operative word. No one wants to endure such recrimination at the hands of the Harvey Weinstein class, nor should they.
Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why I found Godzilla Minus One so refreshing.
It contains none of the usual suspects. There is no self-serving ‘soapbox’ moment by any of the actors at all. While the script does include a minor condemnation about how governments behave in wartime – along with an even lesser reflection on the potential disposability of people and culture at the hands of the political movers and shakers – Godzilla stays true to the old-timey Hollywood formula of just crafting compelling characters and putting their through their respective cases, messages and moralities be damned. The end result is a vividly human story that only gets overshadowed – albeit briefly – when the lumbering monster takes center stage, and his arrival serves the sole purpose of giving his human costars the chance to right the wrongs they’re carrying like chips on their shoulders.
Take note: there’s no discussion about Godzilla’s pronouns. There’s no contemplation of the big guy’s gender. There are no trans players. There’s no token nod for racial equity. There’s no single scene decrying mankind for the lack of inclusivity. There’s no discussion about the patriarchy. There are no soliloquies about pornography being taught in schools, and the Walt Disney Company isn’t trying to get your kid to think he’s a girl when he was born a boy. What there is – and plenty of it – is s-t-o-r-y with c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r-s, and all of it still somehow miraculously manages to delight, captivate, and entertain … even though it’s missing everything Hollywood tells you is a prerequisite for Academy Award eligibility. This one is easily the most fun I’ve had at the theater this year, and it never challenged nor approached any criticism of my moral compass.
In perhaps the greatest stroke of brilliance, the Toho Studios epic went with the approach of crafting this celebration of Godzilla as a period piece, taking the monster back to his inception as a consequence of our planet’s Nuclear Age. The behemoth is shown on screen both before and after his atomization – the film unfolds over a few years after the conclusion of World War II – thus showing that it was all of mankind that ushered in its existence but left the Japanese people to fend for themselves in this God-awful aftermath. Well, fend for themselves they did, as Godzilla’s arrival gave the people a chance to truly coalesce around an all-new menace. Instead of following the dire direction of their central government, regular folks came together they way we’ve always hoped they would, and they made a last stand – a last, risky stand – against the monster …
… and they survived.
This is franchise filmmaking, after all, so it’s only natural that Yamazaki leave an opening for a sequel. As mentioned, the original ‘Big Guy’ (screw you, Joe Biden) has been around for 70 years, proving that monsters never quite go out of style. I suppose there are some out there who might think such an obvious turn might cheapen the brew, but I, for one, would welcome a return, especially if it’s handled with some accomplished mythmaking as this celebration was. It’s a surprising home run that deserves to be enjoyed again and again, especially by folks who can appreciate what going to the movies used to be before corporate preachers latched onto it for the purpose of perpetuating their groupthink. That there is a Godzilla society can do without.
Godzilla Minus One (2023) was produced by Robot Communications, Toho Company, and Toho Studios. The film is presently playing theatrically around the world. As for the technical specifications? Wowza. This film looks and sounds astonishing … and all of it was reportedly achieved on a budget of $15 million. (Seriously, folks, you will not believe how damn great this flick both looks and sounds … on $15 million. It seriously blows away a great deal of Hollywood blockbusters that clock in between $200-$300 million.) Lastly, as this was a theatrical screening, there were no special features to consider.
Highest recommendation possible.
At times, Godzilla Minus One (2023) feels like a welcome throwback to the days when monster movies weren’t politicized in any way and simply went for the goal of achieving maximum entertainment potential. Oh, yes, there’s an obvious political jab here and there regarding the philosophy of war and/or government policy during wartimes, but none of that messaging ever overtakes the importance of (A) characters, (B) the principal story, and (C) delivering the goods. In that respect, this Godzilla could serve as a lesson to the film industry around the world but especially in America: give audiences a reason to come to the theaters, and they will come. Leave your token causes like representation, gender fluidity, pronoun usage, and destroying Conservatives on the sidelines; and audiences will most definitely come.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’m beholden to no one for this review as I went to see Godzilla Minus One (2023) theatrically on my own dollar … and I’ll be forever glad that I did.