The original Godzilla, released in 1954, is widely recognized as part of the Japanese people’s attempts to process their anguish at the destruction caused by atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the effects WWII had on their nation. The film has a storied history, especially upon release in the United States, where it was edited to remove direct mentions of American usage of atomic bombs.
The franchise maintained its subtle (and not-so-subtle) political commentary through the Cold War and continues to be a medium for social commentary up to the present day, including a horrifically re-imagined Shin Godzilla (2016) to represent the nation’s feelings about the Fukushima nuclear accident.
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Release Date: 12/03/2023
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Where to Watch: Anticipated to stream on Amazon Prime
The latest installment and re-imagining is this year’s Godzilla Minus One which, for the first time in franchise history, rejects a present-day setting and returns its narrative to the time of WWII
In this way, it serves as a retroactive look back at the nation’s legacy from today, showing how Japan has processed its role in the war over 70 years later. This is perhaps best captured in a line delivered by a veteran in the film, as he admonishes a young man complaining of being too young to participate in the war: “Having never been to war is something to be proud of.”
The film tells the story of a kamikaze pilot Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) who, in the final days of the conflict, feigned mechanical issues on his airplane to avoid dying for what he knew was a losing fight. The film follows his journey home to a destroyed Tokyo, wrestling with survivor’s guilt and fears of being found out by his new community. His memories of the final days of the war are also marked by the initial appearance of a familiar, terrifying, dinosaur-like creature.
This is easily one of the most compelling, narrative-driven instalments in the Godzilla franchise, taking inspiration from a host of other films to create a taught thriller with immense weight behind its intimate and personal drama
Taking up work as a minesweeper clearing Japanese waterways of munitions, Kōichi and his boat crew are tasked by the Japanese government with stalling Godzilla’s approach to the mainland, in a sequence inspired by the hunt for the shark from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.
In the original 1954 film, Godzilla was defeated by a fictional weapon known as the “Oxygen Destroyer”, a doomsday device implied to be the next atomic bomb. But Godzilla Minus One chooses to stick to its historical setting, showing the many attempts made by the Japanese people to destroy Godzilla with the limited post-war technology available at the time.
This culminates in a third-act showdown that is memorable and believable, tying together the thematic elements of how individuals and a nation reconcile with their past as a warlike nation that was once willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve victory. Godzilla Minus One is already by every metric the most successful Godzilla film to date, and well worth a viewing even if you haven’t been a fan of the franchise until now.
For an abridged viewing of some of the most politically-interesting films in the Godzilla franchise, this reviewer recommends, in release order: Godzilla (1954), The Return of Godzilla (1984), Shin Godzilla (2016) and the film reviewed here.
About our Admit One Author
Isaac Frankel is a freelance writer and content creator specializing in reviews and analysis of cinema, interactive media, and mythological storytelling. He was raised in Prescott, AZ, wrote his first non-fiction book in 2013 after graduating from Tribeca Flashpoint College with a degree in Game & Interactive Media Design and currently produces content for the YouTube channel: Off Screen.
More of his work and current projects can be found at www.isaacafrankel.com