Godzilla Minus One

70 years king of the monsters

Can’t say I’ve kept up with all the Godzilla movies since the big lizard first strode out of Tokyo Bay in 1954 and entertainingly leveled the city. There are reportedly 37 of them by now, spin-offs, remakes, battling other monsters, ad nauseam. And I wrote off the four US efforts when the clueless Yankee filmmakers had the poor monster RUNNING though New York City! Godzilla doesn’t run, fer crissake, he lumbers menacingly. 

So I wasn’t planning on including this one until one day last week when I had a few hours to kill and noticed that my neighborhood theater was showing it with English subtitles. So I went. And had a ball!

First off, forget all the past Godzilla lore. Out the window. He’s not a kind, misunderstood lizard making a statement for the no-nukes crowd.  He’s not there to save miserable mankind from a worse creature. He is, quite simply, a bad-ass, extremely destructive and zero-shits-given mo-fo.  

The whole movie takes place in postwar Tokyo between 1945 and 1948, so it’s a prequel of sorts. The character-driven story centers on a surviving kamikaze pilot (the best kind, you’d think, save for that lifetime of shame thing) eking out a living in the rubble of a firebombed Tokyo and taking dangerous jobs to assuage his survivor’s guilt. Like working on a minesweeper. At sea. Where giant lizards have been seen. He gradually and almost unwittingly forms a family of unrelated fellow survivors. Make no mistake; this is a Japanese movie, built on Japanese sentiments and unabashed melodrama. But it translates. It translates. 

This is not just a good Godzilla movie, but one of the year’s best films, period, and the reason is because its appeal is universal. When the monster appears, Japan’s military has been decimated by war, the Americans are busy dealing with the encroaching Soviets, and the cops are disorganized. So it falls to a plucky group of veterans and common citizens to mount a defense against a big bully that appears invulnerable. 

Writer/director Takashi Yamazaki has blended SFX, drama, an anti-war message, humor and some truly scary action bits to fashion a perfectly paced crowd-pleaser. Bravo! And he did it all on a reported budget of just $15 million.

I’ll not tell you any more, but do try to catch this rousing spectacle. English subtitles at selected screenings only. And it will undoubtedly be streaming soon. It also quite obviously sets up a sequel. (125 min)