Combustible Celluloid Review - Godzilla Minus One (2023), Takashi Yamazaki, Takashi Yamazaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Munetaka Aoki, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Yuki Yamada, Sakura Ando
Combustible Celluloid
With: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Munetaka Aoki, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Yuki Yamada, Sakura Ando
Written by: Takashi Yamazaki
Directed by: Takashi Yamazaki
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for creature violence and action
Running Time: 125
Date: 12/01/2023

Godzilla Minus One (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stomp and Circumstance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This great-looking, exciting, and surprisingly emotional Godzilla movie gets its power by moving events back in time to post-WWII Japan, tapping into heart-rending despair and newfound hope.

Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a kamikaze pilot. It's the final days of WWII, and he lands his plane on Odo Island, pretending to need repairs. While there, a huge creature the locals call "Godzilla" attacks. Shikishima climbs into his fighter to shoot the beast, but freezes up. Everyone is killed, except for mechanic Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki), who blames Shikishima for the deaths. Branded a coward, a guilt-ridden Shikishima returns to a decimated Tokyo, where he meets Noriko (Minami Hamabe), who has rescued an orphaned baby, Akiko. Due to his good heart, he lets them stay in his humble hovel.

Time passes, and he finds work salvaging mines from the ocean floor. He becomes fast friends with his fellow crew members, captain Akitsu (Kuranosuke Sasaki), scientist Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka), and rookie Mizushima (Yuki Yamada). Godzilla, now much bigger, attacks again, and the foursome manage to hold him off. After the monster destroys a portion of Tokyo with an atomic blast, Noda cooks up a plan to defeat the beast for good. Shikishima realizes he must take to the air again, to act as bait, and to clear his conscience.

Most of the 36 Godzilla movies made before this were either somewhat cheesy, or, in the case of the American versions, overly bombastic, but Godzilla Minus One manages to find an appealing new tone. Director Takashi Yamazaki's handling of the kaiju action is skillful and smooth, and sometimes deeply affecting; Godzilla's leveling of the city with his atomic blast is truly shocking.

The movie has startlingly good visual FX — Godzilla's first appearance on a dark beach, suddenly illuminated by a spotlight, is a heart-stopper — but the focus is squarely on characters. It's a simple distinction, given that, historically, these movies' main goal has been to deliver an ecological message, but in settling on themes of guilt and cowardice, as well as friendship and kindness, we subsequently become more invested in the action.

Director Takashi Yamazaki handles things with an open-hearted quality, but never letting things get too soapy or hysterical. Even Sumiko (Sakura Ando), the neighbor in Tokyo who initially comes on strong, attacking Shikishima for his failures, settles into a more nuanced character. This sense of compassion makes Godzilla Minus One easily one of the best of the series, and on par with the original classic Godzilla (1954).

Movies Unlimtied