How Shin Godzilla Jumpstarted the Monster-Movie Genre
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How Shin Godzilla Jumpstarted the Monster-Movie Genre

By Elizabeth Gibson for The J-Pop Exchange

How did “just another monster movie” win best picture, best director, and a number of technical awards at the Japanese Academy Awards in 2017? Well, let’s dig into it.

We’ll start all the way back at the beginning. Godzilla is the longest running film franchise at 36 (32 Japanese and 4 American) movies since its inception in 1954. Shin Godzilla was the beginning of the fourth era of Godzilla movies.

In 2016, Shin Godzilla was released in Japan. The kaiju film was directed by Hideaki Anno -- a notable Japanese animator and filmmaker most known for the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion -- and Shinji Higuchi -- an anime storyboard artist best known for his work on the Gamera trilogy in the 1990s.

Similar to how the original Godzilla movie was influenced by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Shin Godzilla draws direct inspiration from the 2011 earthquake, resulting tsunami, and the Fukashima nuclear disaster -- the deadly and severely catastrophic nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Just as the original Godzilla was seen as a metaphor for nuclear weapons after the atomic bombings, in turn, Shin Godzilla directly mirrors the wreckage and total destruction of 2011’s post-nuclear disaster Japan, whose people are still dealing with the fallout of the disaster to this day. These historical inspirations have served as a prominent cultural metaphor for the unpredictability and danger of nuclear power for Japanese people.

Additionally, in Shin Godzilla, the film follows politicians and the overwhelming bureaucratic red tape they feel they must follow through and overcome in order to deal with the sudden appearance of a giant, ever-evolving monster roaming the streets of Tokyo. Only after several top politicians are killed in a Godzilla attack do they start to work quicker to stop the monster. Some critics say this mirrors the real-life Japanese government and how they operate. William Tsutsui, author of Godzilla on My Mind, wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “Shin Godzilla leaves no doubt that the greatest threat to Japan comes not from without but from within, from a geriatric, fossilized government bureaucracy unable to act decisively or to stand up resolutely to foreign pressure.”

For the first time since the original, Japan as a collective could be proud of a Godzilla movie. Shin Godzilla earned 625 million yen ($6.1 million in USD) during its opening weekend, which was more than triple the first weekend's gross of 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars, the previous Toho film in the series, which in the end grossed $12.3 million in USD. It was the highest-grossing live-action Japanese film of 2016 and became the highest-grossing Japanese-produced Godzilla film in the franchise. It received 11 Japan Academy Prize nominations and won seven, including Picture of the Year and Director of the Year. Many Japanese critics praised the return to the original Godzilla’s roots and noted that this wasn’t “just another monster movie,” but a film to be taken seriously.

Despite the uncanny side-by-side comparisons of the film to real-life Japan, there are some differences, notably involving the conclusion of the film. Even though the end of Shin Godzilla paints a hopeful picture of Tokyo’s future after Godzilla’s destruction spree, in real life, many Tohoku residents are still fearful of radiation levels and aren’t able to move elsewhere due to financial constraints. The lives of Tohoku citizens remain unstable, even a decade after the disaster.

Even so, five years after it was released, the film remains a cornerstone in Japanese filmmaking. No sequels will be made, however, in May 2018, Toho Pictures -- the Japanese film giant that owns the rights to the Godzilla franchise among many other popular franchises -- announced they would instead establish a shared universe model similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


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