Takashi Yamazaki’s outstanding “Godzilla Minus One” has already arrived with a wave of critical acclaim and positive audience word of mouth.
I heard the movie was good but wasn’t prepared for how impactful and tough it is. I’ve loved these Toho kaiju movies all my life, but this feels like something altogether new.
Set in Japan near the end of World War II, a Kamikaze pilot named Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) has landed his plane on an airbase and revealed himself to his fellow soldiers as fearful of his assignment. Moments later, a large creature arises from the ocean and annihilates his camp.
Shikishima returns to his town, now in ruins, and discovers Noriko (Minami Hamabe). The meeting gives him a reason to keep pushing forward even as he’s crippled by shame.
The human characters in Godzilla movies typically function as exposition machines, talking about the fate of the world, how the weapon against the monster works and little else. Here, we have developed characters who are so interesting, that I would sometimes forget that scenes had gone by without a Godzilla sighting.
Only in the third act does the human story drag its feet to get to the grand finale.
A black & white version of ‘GODZILLA MINUS ONE’ has been announced.
Will release in Japanese theaters on January 12. pic.twitter.com/ZYKG9BEqYl
— DiscussingFilm (@DiscussingFilm) December 19, 2023
“Godzilla Minus One” is about survivor’s guilt, how war and devastation change us, causing some to react internally while others wear their scars and keep pushing forward. It’s also about how family units form in times of tragedy.
That’s a lot for any movie, let alone a Godzilla movie, though the original 1954 “Gojira” (before it was reshaped and added Raymond Burr to become “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!!”) and many of the finest entries in this nearly 70-year-old franchise address this directly.
Before “Godzilla Minus One,” my favorite installments have been the glum, fantastic “Shin Godzilla” (2016), “The Return of Godzilla” (1984), the American “Godzilla” (2014) and “Godzilla 2000.”
The special effects in “Godzilla Minus One” are a knockout, and so is the scale of the production. An early set piece of a fishing boat being attacked by Godzilla is among the few examples of a sequence inspired by “Jaws” that actually deserves and earns the comparison.
A wrenching scene of loss is capped by the sight of Godzilla staring admiringly at a mushroom cloud he created – the creature design is awesome, but this might be the first time I wasn’t rooting for Godzilla.
I honestly hated him.
If the character is the embodiment of human error and our tendency to destroy one another through weapons of mass destruction and to turn to war to solve our problems, then he’s never been more so here.
The creature feature action astonishes, but here’s a welcome monster movie that recognizes that Godzilla is the villain. I liked the human characters so much, I worried for them. There have been interesting humans in these films before, but not like this.
Only a last-minute twist suggests a bit of unnecessary melodrama, though it’s still an emotionally satisfying capper. So is the use of the classic Akira Ikakube Godzilla theme music.
If you’ve never seen a Godzilla movie and never had any interest in them, then this is the one to see.
For everyone who loves these movies, “Godzilla Minus One” is so technically accomplished and heartbreaking, it feels like we’re seeing these movies for the first time. Here’s a sleeper that lives up to the hype.
Three and a Half Stars
Editor’s Note: The original article incorrectly stated the film is a prequel to the original “Godzilla” film.