Godzilla Minus One is hands down one of the greatest Godzilla films of all time, comprised of a phenomenal story and fantastic characters who work together to defeat the monster. After what seems like a lifetime of watching new and old Godzilla films, it feels refreshing to return to the start of the creature’s origins and a look at Japan at the end of World War II. A Japanese language film with English subtitles, Godzilla Minus One is one of the best foreign films of the year and one of the best films of the year period.
Set near the end of World War II in Japan, Kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) finds himself unable to fulfill his military duty and lands on a remote island that falls under attack to a massive sea creature known as Godzilla by the natives. Nearly surviving Godzilla’s attack, Shikishima returns home to Tokyo to find his parents and home destroyed in the air raids while the city lies in ruin. As Shikishima works with retired Naval veterans to disarm mines in the ocean, Godzilla appears once more to wreak havoc on a nation that finds itself rebuilding.
From the beginning of this film Godzilla Minus One is layered with tons of political and military messaging, touching on both the U.S. and Japanese sides and the ways the Japanese citizens viewed each government. From the moment anyone else in the story learns that Shikishima was a kamikaze pilot, they immediately view him as a soldier who abandoned his duty to his country and view it as a very shameful act. This alone causes an immense amount of grief within him, constantly battling his own demons while trying to live a worthy life after feeling he deserted others who died.
Minami Hamabe plays the character of Noriko, a woman Shikishima meets after returning to the war-torn Tokyo. She carriers with her the baby girl of a woman who had since passed, taking on the guardianship of this child and doing what she can to keep them both alive. Shikishima takes pity on the woman at first, but eventually invites them to stay as they create a different family model than most were used to seeing. While not being quite romantic with one another, Hamabe and Kamiki play off one another so well and bring so many emotional layers to this story, creating characters we feel genuinely concerned for.
Godzilla Minus One has two fantastic leading performances that are only strengthened by a terrific supporting cast of scientists and former sailors whom all step up to fight Godzilla when the U.S. and Japanese governments drag their feet. Godzilla is certainly more of a reptilian creature here with an atomic breath that utilizes an incredible charging method and ends in complete devastation for anything close to the beam’s radius. For once, it feels like Godzilla is the enemy again and his destructive power truly feels impossible to battle, yet Minus One applies some incredible science to combat Godzilla’s might. I’m not joking when I say this movie blew me away on every level imaginable and I hope that we get more like this when it comes to taking these creatures and stories seriously.
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