Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘Godzilla Minus One’ stomps back into theaters

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

A movie franchise that spans nearly seven decades and represents a point of pride in Japanese cinema returns with a fresh approach. It may surprise audiences to learn that “Godzilla Minus One” focuses on a compelling human-interest story rather than the giant rampaging beast itself. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of unimaginable destruction to satisfy the hardcore fans, but the story sets this apart from all the other “Godzilla” films.

Right after World War II, Japan was trying to dig itself out of the ruin and rubble to rebuild and bring hope back to a beleaguered people. Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) was a kamikaze pilot in the war but faked mechanical failure in his plane, neglecting his duty of an honorable death. Returning to the mainland to face the judgment and embarrassment of his cowardice, Koichi attempts to restore his home while taking in Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe) and the orphaned baby she adopted.

When a prehistoric godlike monster emerges from the depths of the ocean to destroy everything in its path, Koichi finds the inner strength to stand up and fight with like-minded citizens. Together, they formulate a series of plans with a low chance of success, but it could be their only hope to survive and prevent the all-out annihilation of their already decimated country.

Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, “Godzilla Minus One” is the first period piece in the franchise, taking place almost a decade before the original “Godzilla” was released by Japan in 1954. In fact, the movie’s title is indicative of that time with Japan starting from zero after the war, so Godzilla takes the country into the negative. Unlike most Godzilla movies, Takashi uses the kaiju as an instigator to further the main focus of the plot rather than the plot revolve around the monster. This adds a layer of depth to the mythology of the franchise and allows Takashi a sense of freedom to explore this intriguing story centered around a shameful character who is attempting to redeem his dignity and win the war that rages within himself.

Some viewers may find issue with the lack of Godzilla screen time, but when the behemoth does make an appearance it’s more impactful. The CGI and cinematography are well done with Takashi purposefully making Godzilla look like a guy in a suit as was the case in previous iterations to bring a sense of familiarity and acknowledgement of those prior films. He wanted to stay true to the spirit of Godzilla as much as possible, referencing “Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” as one of his biggest sources of inspiration.

This version of the reptilian creature seems more evil than earlier films, but not much can be discerned from the monster’s motivations, leaving the audience to guess as to why Godzilla seems hell bent on destroying mainland Japan. This represents a missed opportunity for Takashi to present a more interesting antagonist.

The weakness of the film lies in the acting. Reminiscent of old Japanese B movies, all of the actors and actresses overacted their parts to extreme levels of exaggeration and drama. While this yields unintentionally funny moments, it also degrades the quality of the story, leaving the audience less inclined to care about the characters’ well-being.

While subtitled movies and bad acting may be a turnoff for some, “Godzilla Minus One” is worth seeing for its unique storyline that sets it apart from all previous installments. It did break a box office record, scoring over $11 million in its opening weekend domestically, which is the largest ever for a live-action Japanese film in the United States.

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December 2023