Godzilla Minus One (2023) Review
Godzilla Minus One (Gojira -1.0) returns Godzilla to his home at Japan’s Toho Studios, as well as to the more serious themes that the original film concerned itself with. Writer/director Takashi Yamazaki (Ghost Book, Space Battleship Yamato) has made a film that deals with not just nuclear weapons, but PTSD, Japan’s post-war struggle, guilt and redemption.
In the closing days of the war, kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki, The Great Yokai War: Guardians, Spirited Away) lands on Odo Island claiming his plane was malfunctioning. That night, a giant creature the natives call Godzilla comes ashore and attacks the camp. Koichi has the creature in the sights of hi plane’s guns but freezes, allowing it to kill all but himself and one of the mechanics Sosaku Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki, The Roundup: No Way Out, Battle Royale II).
Back in Tokyo, Koichi finds his neighbourhood destroyed and his family dead, further adding to his guilt. He meets Noriko (Minami Hambe, Shin Kamen Rider, Ajin: Demi-Human) a survivor caring for an orphaned baby, Akiko (Sae Nagatani) At first unwillingly, he allows himself to be drawn into a makeshift family with them and attempts to resume a normal life.
He finds a job helping to clear naval mines He finds a job helping to clear naval mines along with Yōji Akitsu (Kuranosuke Sasaki, One Night, We Are Little Zombies), Kenji Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka, Winny, Grasshopper) and Shirō Mizushima (Yuki Yamada, Tokyo Revengers, Kingdom 3) and his life begins to stabilize itself. But Godzilla has survived the war and being caught in an American atomic bomb test. The two are fated to cross paths again.
After his initial appearance, Godzilla Minus One moves the titular creature into the background. This film becomes a character study of a man trapped by his past, even though it’s questionable if his plane could have killed the creature. He’s unable to move past the shame and guilt he feels, and that affects not only himself, but those around him., especially Noriko.
Koichi and his coworkers quickly find themselves in the creature’s path in a scene that’s somewhat reminiscent of Jaws. Once it comes ashore, Yamazaki gives the viewer what is probably the most powerful and terrifying incarnation of Godzilla yet. It’s much bigger in size and has heat breath that causes seemingly atomic bomb scaled destruction.
The film’s effects are almost universally excellent, with only a couple of green screen shots and a brief CGI sequence near the end looking off. Yamazaki has said in an interview the water effects alone took 500 terabytes of data. With that kind of undertaking it’s no wonder scenes of destruction in Godzilla Minus One, are amazing, especially for a film that only cost $15,000,000. The recreation of the original’s train sequence alone would probably have cost that in Hollywood.
The film’s climax is the kind of weird science plan we’re used to in films like this. It involves a force of volunteers, Freon gas, explosive decompression, disarmed warships, a prototype jet fighter. And before it’s over, a fleet of tugboats. It’s great to watch but don’t think too hard about the science, or political commentary that comes with it. Because while it’s a great way to say that, like Koichi, the Japanese people themselves would have to face their past and rebuild their country and their lives, I doubt the West would refuse to help for fear of angering the Soviets, who weren’t a nuclear power yet.
With its focus on the film’s human characters and long monster free stretches, Godzilla Minus One may disappoint fans of the American Godzilla franchise or those who remember Toho’s various kaiju battle royales. Others should be satisfied by what is one of the best films in the franchise.
Godzilla Minus One is currently in North American theatres via Toho International. You can check Toho’s official Godzilla Facebook page for more details.