LACES Untied

LACES Untied

LACES Untied

Review: “Godzilla Minus One”

Post-war nationalism and the atomic scare
Toho Pictures
The seafaring titular monster chases down a tugboat.

The two-legged Japanese symbol for atomic destruction returns in Godzilla Minus One, released in American theaters on December 1, 2023. It follows Koichi Shikishima, who grasps for a chance to redeem himself as a failed kamikaze pilot when Godzilla terrorizes a rebuilding postwar Japan. The newest installment in the legendary franchise returns to its historic roots while pushing the narrative potential of a monster film with reinvigorated humanity.

The film starts strong with a compelling performance by Sakura Ando, the protagonist Shikishima’s neighbor. The actress is more famous for her cheerful housewife roles in Japanese family dramas. However, her anguished face is contorted beyond recognition when Shikishima returns from war to their devastated neighborhood. The intensity with which Ando’s character derides Shikishima for abandoning his kamikaze duty cements the former pilot’s isolation for both the audience and Shikishima himself. 

Japanese Godzilla films are undeniably nationalistic. The original 1954 film set Godzilla’s radioactive origins at the Bikini Atoll nuclear testing site. At the core of every Japanese Godzilla film is the country’s fear of unstoppable nuclear terror and its ultimate commitment to protecting itself in selfless patriotism. Understandably, American adaptations focus more on the spectacle of an urban human-monster clash. They also introduce characters to act out a more personal melodrama but often fail to make them impressionable, as is the case for Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019).

Godzilla Minus One’s writing succeeds in meshing these two styles. It riles up a patriotic spirit in the audience with sequences of a postwar community coming together, while maintaining a personal plotline with Shikishima’s inner turmoil over his aversion to self-sacrifice. The film’s writing is also an improvement from Shin Godzilla (2016), which was the previous Japanese Godzilla installation. Shin Godzilla felt like a documentary depicting the nation’s political and military response to the supernatural threat. However, Godzilla Minus One capitalizes on the humanity of its characters, keeping the audience engaged with each contributor’s subplot.

Contrary to expectations, the iconic Godzilla theme characterized by the motif of three descending notes only appears as the characters make their final stand against the monster in the third act. (A note about the motif: in the Japanese pronunciation of the do-re-mi musical scale (or “Solfège syllables”), the C-B-A motif is pronounced “do-shi-ra,” bearing a strikingly similar syllabic structure to “Go-ji-ra.”) This theme has been a part of Godzilla’s identity since the very first Godzilla film’s score in 1954, and composer Naoki Sato saves the nostalgia-inducing tune for the story’s climax.

Godzilla Minus One returns to familiar territory in many ways. It remains faithful to the franchise’s origins in depicting Japan’s collective response to a national crisis laced with radioactivity after the devastation of World War II. Perhaps with Japan’s steady decline in both currency exchange rates and the prime minister’s approval ratings, Godzilla films are what its citizens need to believe in the country again. 

Leave a Comment
Donate to LACES Untied

Your donation will support the student journalists of LACES Magnet. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Taizo Nakayama
Taizo Nakayama, Deputy Online Manager | Entertainment Editor
Taizo Nakayama is a senior with a passion for astrobiology, a field where people look for little green people in space. He enjoys critiquing sci-fi films in lengthy blog posts and writing flash fiction; the lack of required commitment to worldbuilding appeals to him.  
Donate to LACES Untied

Comments (0)

All Laces Untied Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *