Godzilla Minus One (2023) A Recommendation
It’s the end of World War 2. A kamikaze pilot (Kamiki Ryunosuke) lands on an island claiming that his plane is faulty. The onsite mechanics give it the once over and don’t find anything wrong with it. The reticent pilot wanders off in silence to one side brooding. Later that day, an oversized reptile with dinosaur antecedents known to the locals as “gojira” turns up and decimates the place indiscriminately, leaving only two survivors — the pilot, Shikishima Koichi and Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki) the chief mechanic. As the men head back to Japan, a grief-stricken Tachibana blames the death of his crew on Shikishima’s failure to act at the crucial moment. Shikishima returns to Tokyo to find the family home reduced to rubble and his wrathful neighbour delivers him the bad news about his parents.
Since its release at the beginning of the month, the film has been met with near universal praise. It’s been hailed as one of the best Godzilla films if not the best and it’s not hard to see why. There’s no doubt Minus One is a monster movie on some level but its charm lies in the fact that it is also a redemption story complete with an old-fashioned hero’s journey. Even without the monster tearing through Tokyo with its horrifying “dragon’s breath", this would still be a very decent historical film in its own right.
Godzilla has always been a symbol and/or metaphor for a particular social malaise. Here the monster represents a festering wound of a country reeling from a war that has taken a terrible toll on families. Scepticism of the Japanese government is at an all-time high. In fact, it behooves a group of ex-servicemen to take matters into their own hands against the radioactive beast because the government can’t be relied on to act in the best interest of the people. For Shikishima, the monster is a thorn in his flesh, a gaping wound that cannot heal, inflicting guilt and shame for his failures in the war. Gojira is his demon/dragon to slay.
Of course Shikishima can’t do it alone. Post-war Japan reconstruction brings together disparate individuals in unexpected ways. The living must live. Life must and does go on. Noriko and Akiko inadvertently intrude upon his life and the trio form a new family out necessity. He soon gets a job in mine disposal (it pays well) and find camaraderie with Noda, Akitsu (Kuranosuke Sasaki) and Mizushima. Soon Gojira rears its ugly head again bigger and badder than before. Shikishima burdened with an overabundance of survivor’s guilt is reminded that the war is not over for him.
The only real weakness that I see is when the show slows down for the Big Plan explanation. I’m no stranger to J dramas (especially detective ones) so I understand the impulse for details. For me when a show with supposedly high stakes comes to a grinding halt for exposition, I get a bit antsy. I don’t know if it was necessary even in the scheme of things but apparently no one else seems to mind. For me it diminishes the urgency.
The performances are top-notch especially by lead actor Kamiki Ryunosuke who does a superb job of bringing together all the aspects of Shikishima’s personality. For much of the show he exudes a dark persona in contrast to the more optimistic upbeat companions that surrounds him. He’s a man trapped in the past despite the urgings of those around him to move on and “live”.
What I think audiences worldwide are responding to is the sincerity of the performances and the emotions. The characters feel real and their predicament believable. Even with the monster haunting the landscape with unpredictable glee, it’s the human characters that make this tale of second chances truly compelling viewing.