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Godzilla Minus One - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Godzilla Minus One

Japan 2024

Action, Drama

Takashi Yamazaki

Ryunosuke Kamiki
Minami Hamabe
Hidetaka Yoshioka
Yuki Yamada
Munetaka Aoki
Sakura Ando
Kuranosuke Sasaki
Mio Tanaka
Yuya Endo

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Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla Minus One - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a kamikaze pilot at the end of World War II. He pretends to have problems with his machine and lands on a small island to have the plane repaired. There, a monster suddenly emerges from the depths of the sea, though, a monster which the locals call "Godzilla". Shikishima is supposed to take out the monster with the machine gun of his plane, but he freezes. Eventually, he gets thrown around and blacks out. When he wakes up, everyone except him and Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki) has been killed by Godzilla. He goes back home, and the war is over. However, his parents were killed in an air attack, and so was almost everybody else from his town. By chance, the young woman Noriko (Minami Hamabe) runs into his arms. She has a little baby with her that has been entrusted to her care and so she is temporarily staying with Shikishima. A few years go by and the three are still living together. Shikishima has taken a job on a boat that is supposed to find offshore mines, and he is able to feed the baby and Noriko with the money he earns there. Despite that Noriko finds a job for herself, as she doesn't want to stand in Shikishima's way to start his own family. One day, though, Shikishima is on the sea with his colleagues, among them the outstanding scientist Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka), and suddenly Godzilla appears again, who is now a lot bigger and more dangerous. And the monster is heading directly towards Tokyo...

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Godzilla Minus One - Film Screenshot 4

Review: It's been a while since I've seen the last Godzilla movie - not counting the American versions - so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. For me, the last movie in the series from Japan was "Godzilla: Final Wars", and that was only because of director Ryuhei Kitamura. But at least it was clear to me that I no longer had to expect trash effects after "Minus One" won the award for best special effects at the Oscars. A real slap in the face for all the Marvel flicks and also a general novelty. And it's true: the special effects are great, but that's not what actually makes the movie so good. "Minus One" works strongly on a character level and immediately manages to warm us up to the story through its drama. Godzilla is like a natural disaster or another war that shakes Japan to its core, and the story actually revolves around its people. This perfect mix of good story-telling and breathtaking action ultimately represents what can be seen as a mockery of Hollywood, which wouldn't be able to do all that with a budget ten times as high. Some well-known Hollywood directors, such as Steven Spielberg, also acknowledged this and showered the movie with praise in this regard. So let's take a closer look at what makes the movie so good.

Godzilla Minus One - Film Screenshot 5

The movie begins with us getting to know a kamikaze pilot who is not exactly the bravest person, but therefore not the stupidest either. However, Shikishima suffers from his experiences in the war and his encounter with Godzilla. Post-traumatic stress disorder does not allow him to start a new life, especially since he is to blame for the deaths of some of his comrades. This drags on for a few years and so he has somehow built a family, but he himself does not see it that way. Noriko and little Akiko are just two people who somehow came into his life, and he feels a certain responsibility towards them. The fact that Noriko would be interested in him and that he could marry her is not a mystery anymore at a certain point, but the young man can't open up to her, and so she decides not to be a burden to him anymore and go her own way. The love story, which isn't really one, is one of the movie's supporting pillars. Especially the moments in which Shikishima eventually opens up a bit more are pretty convincing. What stands out is that those scenes have their own dynamic, as they were shot without any major cuts.

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Ryunosuke Kamiki ("Bakuman") is allowed to give his amazingly multi-layered character facet upon facet, and it's maybe only the more tear-heavy scenes that are not on the same Triple-A level. On a personal level, Minami Hamabe ("The Promised Neverland") is able get a lot out of her role and seems more three-dimensional than you would have expected given the rather short amount of time she has on screen. The supporting characters, even though they are a lot flatter, also have a few good moments thanks to the great cast. All this just makes sense, because the movie revolves around a country that has reached ground zero after the war, and then Godzilla appears and smashes Japan which is just being rebuilt. So, the country is even below its lowest point (hence the title "Minus One"), but as we all know, there's always hope. At this point, you could criticize historically that the movie turns out to be a bit pro-military and that it doesn't deal with the fact that Japan, as a colonial power and with its countless war crimes, should be a bit more self-critical - but on the other hand, you could also argue that this attitude of the Japanese also simply reflects reality... War is all the men in the movie know, and even if they never want to experience it again, they have no choice but to go to war once more against Godzilla's monstrous might.

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Japan has to deal with the monster on its own because the US is currently having problems with Russia. And Godzilla's first appearance after he has grown enormously because of atomic bomb tests is a real wow experience. Godzilla actually seems terrifying and not just overpowering. Suspense-wise, the previous scenes on the ridiculous little boat in the sea also remind us of "Jaws", which was most probably director Takashi Yamazaki's intention. The design of Godzilla is also fascinating - he has something monster-like about him, but looks more like a creature of the sea, because on land he moves quite wooden, which also allows the director to stay true to the costume of the original movies - and due to his sheer size, he is an unstoppable force of nature. The few times he uses his energy beam, it has incredibly devastating effects, and the resulting explosion inevitably has to remind you of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's hard to pinpoint why exactly the effects and explosions are able to blow you away so much. Probably because they are not just colorful accessories, but they all serve a purpose and add to the movie on a dramatic level. Director Takashi Yamazaki is not only a director and screenwriter, but also a special effects artist, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he just knows how to use these effects for most impact. That's exactly why he truly deserves the Oscar.

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With the manga movie adaptation "Parasyte" Takashi Yamazaki was already able to show what can still be done with a budget that is not that big. Here, with his 10-12 million dollars, however, he created something that is just amazing. The events on screen are also supported by a well-done soundtrack, which also incorporates the classic Godzilla motif. The pacing is great too, which is also due to the fact that the story isn't just there to give you room to catch your breath between the action scenes, but instead it is full of interesting characters who carry their own demons and try to find a new way to come to terms with the past and to look ahead into the future. At first, it is difficult to say which is working better: the epic action scenes or the tragic story about an unusual "hero". In the end, though, it becomes clear that it's the individuals and the drama that are so emotionally captivating that it's hard not to root for the heroes. "Godzilla Minus One" manages to create the perfect kaiju movie by never losing sight of its characters, while simultaneously putting great action with fantastic special effects on the screen.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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