GODZILLA RESURGENCE: Backlash? Really?
One of the last facebook posts I wrote before loosing internet access was a reply to a post by Japanese filmmaker Shinji Higuchi. One of the rare times that he will actually post about his professional life, he had posted a picture of himself in front of a Godzilla Committee banner with text claiming that he was nervous about this new endeavor. Not that he needs it from me, a person who just befriended him because of his profession, but I wished him luck. A little over a year latter, with my friend's computer at my disposal, I revel news about GODZILLA RESURGENCE, Shinji's Godzilla film (co-directed by Gainax buddy Hideaki Anno). I was surprised to hear that of the leaked photos, two trailers, revealed toys, and other bits of media that personally feed my imagination and has me excited, that there was actually a sizeable portion of the fandom that was totally against the film.
In pure editorial form, I have to ask, what the hell? Is it another case of a Godzilla film, in aesthetic and in substance, being too Japanese for my English speaking compatriots? Is the impression of Godzilla in some older fans minds so solid that additions to the iconography of a certain extreme are seen negatively? Has Legendary's American Godzilla film jaded people? Are fans not used to dueling franchise entries like the James Bond franchise was in the 80's?
I do not get the backlash really. I do however need to make sure that the critical work that I see myself doing (and have done since PACIFIC RIM was released in 2013) continues - putting individual films in a proper context as far as genre aesthetics and their evolution and their social significance is concerned. It is through this lens that I hope that maybe I could sway the opinion of some fans against this new Godzilla film (which, regardless of what Toho says, is the 30th Godzilla film - Legendary's film counts).
When Toho first announced that there was going to be another Godzilla film in the works by their hand, it was an odd moment. I wasn't a fan when the first American Godzilla film was released, I am a GODZILLA 2000 baby. I couldn't compare and contrast Toho's decision to make GODZILLA 2000 with their decision to make GODZILLA RESURGENCE, but the logic was (and I remember fandom luminaries like August Ragone saying this, then again human memory is only 60% accurate and this was two years and a lot of life events for me ago) that Toho was striking while the metal was hot. By time GODZILLA FINAL WARS had come out, people had been talking about how the Japanese marketplace was over-saturated with Godzilla. Legendary's film has made Godzilla popular again, and if Toho is going to make the most money they can, then this was the way to go.
Though part of what I have coined to be the Neo-Kaiju genre (a review of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is needed on this blog), Legendary's GODZILLA plays into the franchise's longevity. While playing into the tried and true themes of Godzilla, it added to the iconography and substance by providing a proper American take on an anti-nuclear theme. It presented us with a realistic Godzilla that didn't deviate too much from the basic design elements. It was also a well crafted film. It was also a film that came out after Fukushima Daiichi, an important dynamic to remember. It was timely and fleshed out the character in ways that definitely connected to an audience. It also reached audiences who wouldn't see a subtitled man-in-suit Godzilla to save their lives.
GODZILLA RESURGENCE's role is to continue on that work. More of the Godzilla franchise's longevity hinges on GODZILLA RESURGENCE than say the sequel to Legendary's GODZILLA 2 or their end goal, GODZILLA VS. KING KONG. What's the Japanese take on Godzilla after Fukushima Daiichi? Considering the kinds of drama that Hideaki Anno caters to in his narratives, what can he bring to the Godzilla table? How will Japan aesthetically compliment or compete with it's American contemporary? Will tokusatsu SFX come around full circle, surpassing digital images?
If we refer back to the hour and a half long interview Shinji Higuchi participated in on the Heisei Gamera DVDs, we can recall that one of his goals with his films is to produce a distinctly Japanese kaiju film. Because it is one of the only elements that we can talk about at any depth, let's talk about Godzilla's design.
Godzilla's design is very new and very unorthodox. Almost impractical (ironic, considering that tokusatsu is Japanese practical effects). There is a lot in it that harken back to previous designs. The red glowing of Godzilla, most likely a detail of Godzilla's biology that will be newly divulged in this film, reminds a lot of people of Godzilla's design from GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH. The shape of the head from a side profile angle looks like the mushroom cloud head design that was originally scrapped when the original Godzilla film was in pre-production in 1954. Godzilla's feet have a much more interesting arc in them - digitgrade legs not unlike Stan Winston's maqette for the unmade 1994 American Godzilla attempt. Small arms, like Noriyoshi Ohrai's advance poster for THE RETURN OF GODZILLA but also posed not unlike the original Godzilla's. Five rows of dorsal fins, like the Mire-Goji design of GODZILLA 2000. Small teeth, small eyes, all of these should be familiar. The dorsal fins even resemble to one extent or another fossilized plants or even tatebanko. A lot subtleties in detail as well. It's a design that is at once extreme, transposing nicely with Legendary's more realistic design for Godzilla, but also really Japanese in aesthetic. And it is a scary design. Unnerving, unnatural, but if executed well enough will be scary - because this living creature on screen doesn't look natural, doesn't look like its existence comes without inherent pain or suffering. And it will kill you, directly or indirectly.
Execution is going to be key. Except for a scene in GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK, Shinji Higuchi has been keeping his SFX work to short films. He's designed special effects for other filmmakers to use (DRAGONHEAD from 2005), but other than that, other directors have taken up directing the special effects shots in his films. When this comes to light, it puts what Shinji has been saying in NHK's series of tokusatsu-focused documentaries in a different light. It all harkens back to the work done on GIANT GOD AWAKENS IN TOKYO and GEHARHA, THE LONG AND DARK HAIRED MONSTER. It all goes back to GAMERA 3: INCOMPLETE STRUGGLE and the SFX used in that film in particular. Digital matting has progressed a lot. Such looks similar in a couple of films - from DRAGONHEAD to ATTACK ON TITAN: END OF THE WORLD. But the more time consuming digital matting of smaller details, more carefully calculated angles for matte shots, and different focuses have been mixed with CG enhanced suits and (because of all the matting) less model buildings than ever before to produce quite an effect. Let's not forget that these suits are not fully body suits anymore. The Colossal Titan was only from the waist up, as might be Godzilla in GODZILLA RESURGENCE. It allows for a better scale for the sculptors to put more detail into, more chances for individuals to puppeteer the suit, and more room for the last line of functionality - animatronics within the suit.
With the originator of these special effects at the helm, on this project, there is to be seen some truly great stuff to look forward to. If the second teaser trailer - which was great - gives those with a different opinion fuel, look no further, a recent cross promotion TV spot with PARCO that a lot of the shots used are not quite done yet - these shots are still being cleaned up and added to. Whether Higuchi and his team make the deadline is uncertain (I am still convinced that originally ATTACK ON TITAN was going to be one singular film, and that the month between the two films is what helped make END OF THE WORLD's special effects better than the first films), but here's to hoping.
Let's cut away from Shinji for a second. While it's a little disappointing to me that the dream team of the Heisei Gamera trilogy have yet to make a Godzilla film together (left with Shusuke's GMK and Shinji's SHIN GODZILLA), Shinji has someone who is also a fan of the genre and is great with very cerebral/psychological story telling, Hideki Anno. Hideki Anno is a legend. He is the dark side of anime where Hayao Miyazaki was the light side. Hideki Anno has been a colleague of Shinji's for longer than Shusuke, both finding Gainax togeather with a group of individuals who created works like YAMATO NO OROCHI'S COUNTER ATTACK. Hideki is definitely a fan of the genre, seeing his work on Evangelion (which the Rebuild films, though seeming more like another redo of those last few controversial episodes which brought END OF EVANGELION, are still damn good films). He's even gotten close to the closest thing to a scream queen modern kaiju eiga has, Ayako Fujitani, who was the subject of Anno's second film, the biographical SHIKI-JITSU from 2000. Hideki Anno has shown himself to do great work at producing narratives that, without turning the modus operani into metafiction, are deconstructions of the given genre (which is an essential point, from 2005 to 2013 the genre went through it's slasher-like metafiction phase, lets hope it has passed). He is also good at showing the mentality of his characters for the sake of the characters themselves and not the genre that their tale is in. Part of this is because Hideki Anno is a depressed person (there was once a headline in a lot of Japanese media-based publications claiming that Anno's psychiatrist pleaded fans to stop asking Anno to redo Evangelion). The man practically invented the extreme mental breakdown of a main protagonist that has become something to expect, considering its inclusion in works like ATTACK ON TITAN and TOKYO GHOUL.
Based on all of the character photos and the cast we have, and certain some of the more extreme bits of acting/directing in the second teaser trailer (shouting, that last shot of a character running with focus on his furled brow, and the including of the always extreme TETSUO THE BULLET MAN director Shinya Tsukamoto), chances are we are going to be getting depressingly well rounded characters. Godzilla is going to be scary and the characters will be faced with a certain foreboding and sense of dread that should follow a Godzilla attack, a certain foreboding and sense of dread that use to come across to me in films like THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (not anymore though). We don't know if there is room for a sequel, we do not know about the physical limitations of the story - is it simply a militaristic run through of a Godzilla attack?
There are a lot of possibilities here and seeing the source of these ideas, I am almost certain that this is going to be not only one of the best kaiju films since the likes of GAMERA 3: INCOMPLETE STRUGGLE (which had Kazunori Ito of GHOST IN THE SHELL writing for the trilogy it was a part of), but a possible gem stone of the genre as well. I cannot speak as far as an auteur theory reading of the film is concerned in Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno's filmography, but there is a lot here to expect and when the film finally reaches the likes of Kick Ass Torrents (come on, we all know the drill, scouts honor died on the internet), we'll be able to make final assessments. Until then, let's not bash this film (and in return, I won't hype it so much) and instead think about whether or not Toho and their affiliates aren't putting themselves on the fast track to over-saturating the Japanese market with Godzilla yet again right from the get go,considering that EVANGELION and CRAYON SHIN CHAN are doing what HAMTARO did a decade and some change ago.