Godzilla Minus One (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
The “gigantic monsters smashing a bunch of stuff” genre falls right in the center of my personal movie tastes. Having seen my fair share of them, I can say that not all monster movies are created equal. Several recent monster flicks—including other iterations of Godzilla—have tested my love of the genre. Thus, I went into this movie with cautious optimism, but I left the theater fully satisfied. Godzilla Minus One is exceptional. It is a monster movie done right, perfectly balancing exciting spectacle with emotional stakes and human drama. Not only is this one of the best monster movies in a long time but it may be one of the better movies this year.
Important to note, Godzilla Minus One is a Japanese-made film with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles. There may be an adjustment period for viewers unaccustomed to foreign-language films. But personally, I was surprised at how quickly I fell into a rhythm and soon forgot I was reading. It is certainly worth the extra effort. With the healthy restrictions of a limited budget and some inspired creative decisions, Godzilla Minus One is a reminder of why monster movies can be so effective.
In contrast to the recent mainstream Hollywood monster flicks that have devolved into empty CGI spectacle, Godzilla Minus One understands that there are two key components to any successful monster movie: the monster has to be exciting, but the characters must also be compelling. This film succeeds on both counts.
Being a Godzilla movie, let’s start with the King of Monsters. The creature design features an enjoyable throwback aesthetic. Its movements are a bit clunky, and its facial expressions are stiff. But rather than coming across as campy, Godzilla is consistently exciting. The movie doesn’t “hide” the monster (viewers almost immediately see the creature in full view during a thrilling opening scene), but it doesn’t overuse its iconic character. Whether due to creative choices or the limited budget, Godzilla is used sparingly enough that it never loses its menacing presence.
Ground-level POV camera angles and clever sound design are utilized effectively to establish the immense scope of the creature. In an interview, director Takashi Yamazaki expressed his desired to create a film in which “Godzilla looks as if fear itself is walking toward us, and where despair is piled on top of despair.” Bucking the recent trend of “humanizing” the monster, Godzilla remains a destructive force of nature, both mysterious and terrifying.
Since the creature itself has relatively limited screen time, the human drama must be as compelling as the monster-driven spectacle, maintaining interest and momentum in the intervals between Godzilla’s appearances. Godzilla Minus One strikes a perfect blend of levity and gravitas. The filmmakers are clearly aware that they are creating a B-movie and infuse the story with some crowd-pleasing moments and humor. At the same time, the film isn’t ashamed to explore weighty themes. Despite the fantastical elements, Godzilla Minus One remains grounded in its human drama. The people who populate the story are more than mere monster fodder; they are believable characters with nuanced emotional journeys.
There are two types of monster movies: those that glorify death by using human suffering as entertainment and those that elevate life. You can discern between the two by whether the audience is actively rooting for the monster or cheering for the human characters to overcome the threat. Godzilla Minus One falls into the latter category. Despite being a film with a staggeringly high death count (little of which is shown on screen), this is a wholesome film that elevates the value of life in the face of atrocities and hardships. The deaths never feel flippant; they have weight and meaning.
If the movie can be faulted, it’s that there are not a lot of surprises. Early on, the audience can guess how the story will unfold, and the various twists along the way are easily anticipated and rarely surprising. At the same time, the goal of the film isn’t to offer cheap thrills or shock value. Rather, it is striving for something a bit deeper. The notion of a subtitled movie may keep some viewers away, but Godzilla Minus One has set a new lofty standard for monster movies.
Engage The Film
The Value of Life in a Painful World
On the surface, the movie has historical significance, with Godzilla representing the fears and anxieties of the age. Set in postwar Japan, Godzilla (and his devastating atomic breath) is a striking metaphor for the atomic bomb, with some visceral images used to establish that clear connection. Additionally, Godzilla has a personal meaning to Shikishima (the protagonist) as symbolic of his PTSD. He experiences a nightmare about Godzilla. Afterward, he is asked what torments him, and it is not Godzilla that he shares first but his wartime experience and inability to protect people.
Beyond the historical setting, however, the film explores the universal themes of grief and guilt. In the movie, all the characters are challenged to persevere and embrace the life they have despite the hardships and tragedies they have experienced. The “minus one” in the movie’s title captures the idea that even when they have seemingly lost everything, somehow more hardships and pain find them. How can one live when surrounded by so much death and pain?
Shikishima states several times that “his war isn’t over.” The WWII conflict may have come to an end, but an internal fight continues inside. He is haunted by his past. As a result, he is unable to move on with his life. In the end, it is a simple drawing from the child that acts as the catalyst for healing. It is a reminder of the beauty that can still be found in life, even when surrounded by devastation and pain.
In a speech at the end of the film, a character declares that throughout the war, lives had been spent far too freely. In contrast, the fight against Godzilla was not people volunteering to die but a fight for life. The Bible speaks often about suffering, but also about living well in the moment (Matthew 6:34, James 4:14). Even amid pain and suffering, Christians can find joy in the beautiful gift of life.