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The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

“Godzilla Minus One”: Almost a Masterpiece

Godzilla Minus One: Almost a Masterpiece
Paelun Bissonnette

“Godzilla Minus One” is improbably and unreasonably good for what it is, but its ending is very disappointing. While it is easy to recommend the film to anyone who is interested in the franchise, enjoys World War II media or just likes good movies, I can’t help but feel let down.

“Godzilla Minus One” is a true return to form for the Godzilla franchise, and it is the first movie which really sold me on how terrifying and earth-shattering this monster is. That’s because this movie is firmly anchored in the human world, in many ways more of a tragic historical drama than a monster movie.

Most Godzilla movies have boring, one-dimensional human characters who exist to set up a reason for two giant monsters to beat each other up. In this movie, Godzilla is not the main character; instead, Koichi steals the spotlight, and the story centers around him working through trauma and grief. 

*Spoilers ahead*

The movie is incredibly depressing, and the consistent theme is that Koichi runs away from his fears, feeling guilty for the blood he believes is on his hands. By refusing to sacrifice his life in war, he continually spits in the face of those he wishes to protect, and this destroys him on the inside. While kamikaze and the Japanese military in general are criticized pretty harshly throughout the film, and the film is obviously anti-war, the narrative still does not present Koichi’s abstention from sacrifice as a good thing. Koichi is stuck in a no-win scenario where he cannot overcome his mental issues without finally taking a stand, but he cannot take a stand in any way other than suicide, which the movie argues is pointless. 

Perhaps the greatest failure of Koichi’s, and the scene which I think was the movie’s master stroke, is the death of his wife Noriko. Throughout the movie, this relationship blossoms, and while it only starts to feel somewhat romantic at the end, it has amazing and natural chemistry. Koichi, who is mentally destroyed by the war, finally begins to heal in the arms of Noriko, and the story is set up for a very compelling arc of Koichi finally learning to let go of what happened and move on. Noriko breaks the tragedy of Koichi’s life by presenting him with a third way out, to face his fears in a healthy way and come to terms with what he has witnessed.

However, when Godzilla attacks the city of Ginza, in a massive twist, Noriko is killed saving Koichi. This entire scene is masterful, and because the earlier parts of the movie are so brutally depressing, the stakes feel very high. Watching in the theaters, this scene genuinely shocked me because I didn’t think the writers would actually kill her. I frankly didn’t even consider the possibility as Noriko seemed so central to the plot and to Koichi’s development. 

One scene, while not as important to the plot, is perhaps the most tense scene in any Godzilla movie. In it, Godzilla chases Koichi and his friends through the water. This scene made me fully grasp the absolute power and majesty of Godzilla, and it is agonizing watching Koichi’s pathetic boat sputter and its crew desperately try to devise a way to survive. The moment exemplifies the movie’s treatment of Godzilla, and I think the concept is truly done justice throughout. 

As I said previously, after Noriko’s death, I was totally unsure how Koichi’s internal conflict could possibly resolve itself; I thought that if the filmmakers were not going to have a tragic ending they would have to do something spectacular. The final battle between Godzilla and a team of disgruntled veterans from the navy works fine as an action scene; I might even hazard to say it’s a good scene. If it were some kind of “Top Gun”-style action movie, perhaps I would say it was a good finale. But the first half of this movie was legitimate art, and the resolution to all of this tragedy and bloodshed feels way too much like a corporate executive walked in and told the writing team they had to make the story less dark and give everyone a happy ending. 

In the finale, Koichi is given the job of flying a plane to distract Godzilla, but instead plans to fly it into Godzilla’s mouth and kill the monster. This is great, pushing the moral dilemma to the forefront. But then, the movie is resolved when Koichi simply ejects from the plane as it soars into Godzilla’s maw. The monster blows up, but Koichi’s monsters inside are never fully addressed. It feels like an unearned and contrived ending which exists only so the movie does not have to actually choose between the two possible tragic endings it has set up. However, while in the theater, I still had some hope, as I thought that maybe the epilogue would put in more work to fully expound upon the theme of the movie, and make clear what the meaning behind this ending was. 

Then it is revealed that Noriko is actually alive! The moment the movie cut to a shot that looked like a hospital, my dread began to grow. One of the best moments in the movie was the killing of Noriko, and I thought there was no way they could bring her back. Then as the camera begins to pan over to her, I tried to rationalize, “Okay, sure, she’s still alive, but she’s got to be absolutely mangled, like she’ll have bandages all over her. She’ll be paralyzed from being flung through the air by building shrapnel.” Then it pans over and she is totally fine! I really don’t feel like I need to explain why this is bad, but I seriously cannot believe that they had so much amazing buildup just to pull the rug out from under the audience at the last moment. All the stakes vanish in an instant, and instead of Koichi learning to let go of the past or avenge it, the past just comes back to him, totally defeating the point of his arc. 

In summary, while I genuinely like what this movie was trying to do, I feel that it stabbed itself in the back with the ending. “Godzilla Minus One” works fine as an action movie, but if it had really committed to the bit I honestly think it would have gone down as a masterpiece and perhaps the best Godzilla movie of all time.

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