Godzilla Minus One – A Critical Review

When you talk about something like Godzilla Minus One, you are treading into Shakespearean territory regarding analyzing themes and structure. It’s a brutal sweep of magnificent storytelling, ambitious and audacious, an epic masterpiece that plays havoc with the emotions.

The film is sharp, entertaining, and convincing — discursive, but with a sense of structure and control. With a period setting evoked by amber-tinted photography and a decadent score, it paints a compelling portrait. Indeed, there is something magisterially generic, classical, and old-fashioned about Godzilla Minus One: it is an apotheosis of the monster/disaster hybrid.

It is important to recognize Godzilla Minus One as a chapter in the rich and longer history of the monster/disaster hybrid films. The truth is, Godzilla now affects a strangely influential and yet isolated relation to new American films. But whatever self-commentary lurks within Godzilla Minus One is also not nearly as compelling as the sumptuous rigidity, the muscular embrace with which it demands that you honor it. Beyond its engagement with the history of the genre, it can more broadly be seen as a vital bridge between the classic Godzilla films (Japanese) and the more contemporary Hollywood sensibilities.

It conjures up the historical past with such a richness of detail and luster reminiscent of American masterpieces, restrained in ways we don’t often see in modern cinema but still full of life. Its fastidious attention to period details and evocative gestures demand our attention and pull the viewer intensely into the scene, drawing attention to the seemingly smallest detail.
The film allows scenes to burn slowly before exploding in a moment of cataclysmic violence, with both the build-up and the climax rendered as graphically and totally impactful, and memorable, as possible. This violence that arcs over the entire film compliments the dark mood and cinematography.

And yet Godzilla Minus One is at its heart an epic drama focused on characters and their relationships over long periods. The film doesn’t feel like it’s in any rush and takes its time developing its characters, letting the story unfold steadily. It’s a picture you can get lost inside of, and yet it doesn’t erase the realities of life.

With its focus on family, the film suggests that lineage has less to do with one’s origins and more to do with the choices made in conjunction with those origins. It is a consummate postwar epic, because it waxes on the material process by which “self” and “family” are articulated at once within the often cruel, unjust limitations of post-world-war Japan.

The film does a wonderful job of characterization — there are rememberable people, interactions, and changes amongst the cast over the course of the movie. The fact that no one is safe from the violence adds an additional level of intrigue, never knowing who might be next.

Without undue emphasis, it shows the closeness, the warmth of family. There is the flavor of Japanese home life that few Godzilla films have attempted. At the same time, there is also a specificity in the persona that few films have dared.

This is a curious film. Even though it frankly portrays Godzilla’s influence in the ravaged world of post-war Japan, there is the feeling that, upon the film’s conclusion, this will be a better world. Essentially, Godzilla Minus One is the projection of a myth, not a fact. But it is myths — not facts — that make a fortune.

… Anyway, that’s actually what reviewers said about The Godfather. But it really all applies better to Godzilla Minus One, don’t you think?

This article first appeared in the Duzett Gazette, the really official newsletter of Carl Duzett. Sign up here to get more content like this in your inbox, as well as some other content that isn’t quite like it, but is probably also good.

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