Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color is a brilliant black & white conversion of the sensational film that evokes the essence of the 1954 original Gojira and plays extremely well with the WWII era. Rather than simply throwing a black & white filter over the color version, the visual effects artists painstakingly edited each shot to maintain both the quality of the shot and ensure that details were perhaps even more obvious to the audience. Having watched several black & white or monochrome versions of films, what stands out the most to me is how much cleaner certain visual effects look, from CGI to questionable costume colors. On what’s been confirmed to be a $10,000,000 budget, Godzilla Minus One shines even brighter in the black & white edition and manages to look even better and becomes even more horrifying in some moments.
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 the attack of a massive sea creature known as Godzilla by the natives. Nearly surviving Godzilla’s attack, Shikishima returns home to Tokyo only 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, he also finds unlikely companions in Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and the orphaned child Akiko (Sae Nagatani). When Godzilla appears once more to wreak havoc on a nation that finds itself rebuilding, it’s up to Shikishima and the citizens of Japan to find a way to destroy it.
After having seen this film four times now, each repeat viewing brings me more to rave about and appreciate in Takashi Yamazaki’s masterpiece. Yamazaki is the director, writer, and visual effects lead of Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color and from the beginning his goal was to a deeply human story that happens to be set in a world with the creature Godzilla. Bringing together multiple characters who’ve lost their entire families in the war and uniting ex-naval veterans provide many unique perspectives towards the Japanese government and their treatment of those serving. In a culture that’s deeply rooted in respect as well as shame, competing opinions of duty and survival weave their way through the story and create moral quandaries for Shikishima that affect the guilt he still carries with him. There’s a harmonious balance between the condemnation of a country that cared little for military lives and a duty to serve regardless knowing the reality is that the government won’t protect its citizens.
I’ve grown more and more impressed with Ryunosuke Kamiki’s performance as Shikishima the more I’ve seen the film and sat with the level of intensity he brings to the role. Kamiki completely bears the shame and guilt of abandoning duty and failing to save lives wherever he goes in the film. The way he painfully shows Shikishima’s survivor’s guilt and how he’s troubled by the ghosts of his past is haunting and often quite emotional. When Godzilla unleashes his true power and devastation, Kamiki lets out a primal scream of terror and helplessness which completely captivated the theater in a moment that left everyone breathless and in complete awe. This wouldn’t be the only breathless moment in the film, as the climactic ending is the rousing stuff that movies are made of. I may or may not watch clips of it on TikTok daily because it’s just that perfect.
Boasting an eclectic cast of sensational supporting characters, Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color contains so much strength in the performances surrounding Shikishima. Kuranosuke Sasaki and Hidetaka Yoshioka (as Cpt. Akitsu and “Doc” respectively) bring so much genuine emotion to the story, both with their own quirks and line delivery that make them immediate standouts. Yoshioka brings the scientific mind and edge needed to compete with Godzilla, while Sasaki’s distrust of government and disdain for orders brings the kind of paradoxical leader a situation like defeating Godzilla requires. Mizushima, their younger protégé on their boat played by Yuki Yamada, rounds out the crew as a young man eager to fight for his country as he was unable to serve during the war. His restless enthusiasm and want to help however he can is countered well by Doc and the Captain who try to remind him that you should never want to find yourself at war.
Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color will end its reign as the second highest grossing foreign language film in the United States and is an unbelievable tribute to 70 years of Godzilla. It’s incredibly hard to imagine a world where Hollywood courses correct and begins to focus on strong characters and stories, so until then Godzilla Minus One will remain atop the mountain of all that is incredible. I cannot recommend this film enough and for those with hesitation because this is a Japanese language monster film, please take my word and the word of so many others that this is one if, if not the greatest movies of 2023. It deserves to be seen in the largest format possible and with terrific speakers to really drive home the magnificent soundtrack!
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