Godzilla Minus One (2023)
Directed By Takashi Yamazaki
Starring Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe and Sakura Ando
I’ve never been a fan of Godzilla films. The older ones felt too campy, and the newer ones often got weighed down by lengthy exposition in the first two acts, leading to a CGI-heavy blur in the third. On a rainy December evening, I stepped into the theater with little knowledge about the latest installment in this decades-spanning franchise. To my surprise, Godzilla Minus One wasn’t another over-budgeted American film urging audiences to revisit the monster, nor was it a mere homage to the older Japanese films. Instead, it emerged as a fresh and definitive origin story for Godzilla, making it, in my opinion, the best kaiju film ever created.
Earlier this year, Oppenheimer recounted the tale of a man burdened by genius, unwittingly unleashing destruction upon a people he had never met. Now, this narrative unfolds from the perspective of those individuals grappling with the aftermath of those very bombs. Did a creature emerge from the ocean before the bombs? Yes, but the detonations transformed this creature into a monstrous force.
Kamikaze pilot Kōichi Shikishima touches down on a Japanese Island base, encountering a pre-atomic bomb version of Godzilla. After surviving this harrowing experience, he grapples with overwhelming guilt as he returns to the devastated Tokyo, braving the ensuing hardships. As life gradually improves with newfound companionship and a perilous yet rewarding job, a genuine monster emerges from the sea, aiming to complete what the Americans initiated – the complete destruction of Japan.
Minus One captures the vintage Hollywood pathos of the studio era, acknowledging certain elements of storytelling as artifice while emphasizing the genuine emotion conveyed by the actors. The film’s mere existence on a $15M budget is nothing short of miraculous. In a year where at least 10 films were produced with budgets ten times that amount, Minus One outshined all of them in nearly every aspect. Locations. Set pieces. Camera work. Even the CGI was better than mega-films like The Flash and Shazam: Fury of the Gods. This movie, alongside The Creator (2023), underscores the significance of special effects artistry over the sheer financial investment in existing intellectual properties. While The Creator — a sci-fi film about AI — struggled with a poor script, Minus One excelled. Each character becomes someone the audience cares deeply about, leading to moments of emotional resonance that prompted spontaneous applause in the theater—something noticeably absent during screenings of the aforementioned higher-budget films I attended.
I won’t go overboard in urging you to watch this excellent film, but I must highlight the impeccable score and sound design. These auditory elements, combined with stunning effects and a clever script, elevate Godzilla Minus One to become one of my favorite films of the year—an outcome I hadn’t anticipated as I entered the theater on that rainy December evening.
While the last three American installments in the Godzilla franchise ((Godzilla (2014), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)) received Ds and Fs, the latest Japanese version easily earns an A.
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