Shin Godzilla vs. Red Tape

Much has been said about how political 2016’s Shin Godzilla was. It was as much a disaster/monster movie as a skewering of the Japanese government, as well as that of the United States, and their relationship.

And it’s all true, of course – it’s a beautifully-written film, and a hell of an addition to the series.

Something that’s always stood out to me on my viewings of that film, however, is how the film handles the endless bureaucracy that’s the Japanese government.

Many films bring in the – usually evil, sometimes neutral – high-up, government “operative” who stands in for the machine. Think Graves in Sicario – he or she has knowledge nobody else does. They take mysterious phone calls, rally resources, tell the good guys what they can or can’t do, and are generally smug and condescending. Everything the government has, everything it’s capable of – good and bad – and all its secrets are distilled into that one character.

Shin Godzilla has that, too, of course. But what the film also does is give those departments, ministries, offices, bureaus, etc., their own faces – individual people, who appear, often, for a single line, their long titles flashed across the screen as they speak, giving their input as per the policy of their little slice of the government. And then? We never see them again.

They get a name, a title (long ones, deputy ministers and such), and a line or two, and poof – they’re gone, never to be shown or spoken of again.

And it works, because, really, it’s all nonsense. None of what they’re saying in their endless meetings matters. They’re doing it because it’s what they – as government officials – do. They hold meetings. They talk. The consider the PR implications, or the budget, or the policies and procedures they must follow, and maybe, eventually, they act.

In the case of Shin Godzilla, of course, they’re forced to act much more quickly than normal. That’s what makes the satirical side of the film work so well.

How do you challenge a government so steeped in bureaucracy that simply making a decision is multi-part process of countless meetings with dozens of nameless officials? You make it deal with an ongoing disaster, one that can change at the drop of a hat.

The new Godzilla, other words, is the perfect bad guy, designed to test the bureaucrats that make up this version of the Japanese government. The new Godzilla can evolve, quickly, and it does that, several times over the course of the film, often in reaction to what the government (eventually) throws at it.

The film opens with a flood, an abandoned yacht, and strange activity on the water. The Japanese prime minster calls a meeting to discuss it.

Then, giant tail emerges from the sea. It’s a living creature – that means more meetings, with different people. Calling in experts.

As Godzilla continues to evolve and change – arriving on land, growing in size, gaining new abilities – the government is always a step behind. Every change has to be discussed at a meeting. More experts need to be brought in and consulted. Logistics worked out. Policies and procedures reviewed.

When any sort of decision is made, and steps are taken to try to stop Godzilla, it evolves again, and they have to start from scratch. More meetings. More discussion.

It all happens far too fast for the government to handle, and it takes a small group of people tucked away in a basement, frustrated government workers unhappy with how the government works to figure out how to stop the monster.

They’re a parallel of Godzilla itself – they’re mobile, and can work much more quickly than the government itself can, adjusting to the monster’s changes as they come up, and coming up with some sort of solution. But all of this happens far away from the prime minister and his cabinet.

It’s a great take. The new Godzilla is a memorable one, and the film is definitely worth a watch for fans of the series, as well as those who may have dismissed it in the past as guys-in-rubber-suits stuff.

Toho has, of course, recently said a sequel is unlikely. But – as much as I’ve always appreciated the Godzilla series’ willingness to take risks, rebooting to allow for different takes on things – I’m okay with leaving the Shin series where it is if it means a return to a shared Godzilla universe.

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