"...shockingly and surprisingly good"

Classy Dark Dramady about Social Class

(121423) I recently went to New Orleans, and I observed firsthand the cultural impact that Godzilla had on American culture in general and music in particular. One of our uber drivers had a play list he had chosen which was on display on the front car panel and every single composition he played was somehow related to Godzilla, These included an alternate version of Blue Oyster Cultís classic Godzilla (another version by Tool was used in one of the American Godzilla films) as well as the orchestral theme from the first Japanese film ďGodzilla King of the MonstersĒ which also is echoed in the climax of Godzilla Minus Zero. Eminemís Godzilla was not on the list.

The big green monster has been massively successful and, in a way, it is the fictional character/cultural touchstone that has come to represent Japan. Even Kurasawa at one point in his career wanted to make a film in the series. Just as much as James Bond or Sherlock Holmes represents England, the impact that the character has had on the world is much greater than the actual quality of the films.

Many viewers might argue that 33 Godzilla films is too much, and I would normally agree, but this new Godzilla film is one of the best in the series and it is about as good as a Godzilla film can be. It ranks right up there with the best films in the series such as Godzilla (1954), Godzilla vs the Thing (1962), Ghidorah the Three Headd Monster (1964), Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: All Monsters Attack (2000), and Shin Godzilla (2016).

Itís good to see the big lizard back in the bands of the Japanese who understand him the best, you might notice that my list contains none of the American films. Although they were technically competent all the American Godzilla films somehow seemed off. They were often stupid without being campy or fun and they somehow failed to capture most of the charm of the original Japanese series, although some of those got too silly and childish.

But Godzilla Minus One is shockingly and surprisingly good. The difference here is the script is not preposterous and the dialogue isnít moronic (unlike recent Godzilla films) and the acting is better than average. It is fitting that the film was released in Japan on November 3, exactly 50 years after the original movie because it does an excellent job in honoring that filmís memory.

Also, the film which is an updated remake of the original with better special effects captures the excitement and social commentary of the original, but it also incorporates some of the best aspects of a few big American films which helps elevate it. It has some of the aquatic suspense of Jaws and the aerial military heroism of Top Gun.

The title creature himself has never looked better. In contrast to the hokey rubber costumed humans or unconvincing versions of the past. The 1998 Mathew Broderick Godzilla film with the mutated Iguana Godzilla was particularly loathsome and it was great to see him renamed 'Zilla and eviscerated in Godzilla Final Wars. This one is a fearsome and realistic looking CGI made engine of destruction. It is not at all surprising that the film made the shortlist for best visual effects in this yearís Oscar race. On a 15-million-dollar budget it is surprising how much better this looks than the recent American Godzilla films, which cost close to 250 million apiece, and the film earned double its cost in the first few days. Disney/Marvel and the rest of Hollywood could learn a lot from this.

Godzilla Minus Zero wisely places the action right after WW II. This is Japanís lowest point which in which the country is literally and figuratively at ground zero. But the emergence of Godzilla who goes on rampages brings the country even lower, until it becomes "minus zero". The filmís main human protagonist, Koichi, is initially a coward with some redeeming characteristics. He was ordered to do a kamikaze mission in WW II and instead of sacrificing himself he bails and pretends he has technical problems. He lives in eternal shame for his actions but spends the whole rest of his life trying to atone and help humanity-much like the main character in the documentary film, Killer Poet.

After a horrific encounter with the title giant lizard (which serves as our intro to the monster) he takes in a widowed woman, Noriko and her baby. She is supposed to stay for days but she ends up staying for years. The baby turned girl eventually comes to see Koichi as her father and he grows to love both her and her mom. He reveals his dirty secret to Noriko, and she helps him deal with the guilt and ďtry to live againĒ in his own world. He also gets some flak from his neighbor who blames him for deaths because he did not fulfill his mission. The only other person who knows his secret is a plane repair man who does not blame him for his cowardice, and he convinces him to aid him in a kamikaze mission to take out the radioactive dinosaur.

Unlike most of the other Kaiju films (and Iíve seen most of them) this film is as much about its main human characters as it is about its monster, and all the human drama works. The film also features one of the most memorable death scenes of the year, and it gives us a happy ending that should please almost everyone. The film also ends up making us question whether kamikaze methods are always the best tactics.

I donít know if any Godzilla film is truly mandatory viewing. The critics that have put this film in their Top 10 films of the year list are going a little bit too far. But this is a great diversion and antidote from some of the Oscar-bait films that had higher ambitions and but were less successful at achieving what they were trying to do. Of course, monsters and sci-fi aficionados should love this film and even people who dislike those genres will find much to admire in it. I still cannot believe it was this good!!

Written & Directed by:    Takashi Yamazacki
Starring:    Ryunosuke Karmaki, Minami Harnabi, Yuki
Released:    10/18/2023 (in Japan), 12/1/2023 (in US theatres)
Length:    125 minutes
Rating:    PG13 for action violence
Available On:    At press time playing in limited release at several
 Chicago area theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

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