1 of 5 | Godzilla takes a bite out of a train in "Godzilla Minus One." Photo courtesy of Toho
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Godzilla Minus One, in theaters Friday, is faithful to the 1954 original while updating the franchise for 2023. That goes for updating the thematic content as well as the visual effects.
In 1945, kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) lands on Odo Airfield for repairs. Overnight, he witnesses firsthand the Godzilla about whom locals speak.
Returning to Tokyo, Shikishima raises an orphaned baby with Noriko (Minami Hamabe). Shikishima gets a job on a boat locating and detonating mines left over from World War II.
By 1947, Godzilla resurfaces and the crew which Shikishima is a part of is in a position to help the military battle the monster. Ultimately, scientist Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka) devises a plan that the citizens of Japan can enact on their own.
From the moment Godzilla first appears in Oda, one can tell this is a new Godzilla. He is faster and more fluid than a lumbering man wearing a rubber suit, though retains the shape of Godzilla which American remakes revised at their peril.
A man could still wear a suit in the shape of this Godzilla if so inclined, but with computer effects that is no longer necessary. Godzilla Minus Zero is already 25 years worth of technology past the first American Godzilla remake, and has advanced accordingly.
Godzilla bites people at the waist and stomps on others. This film's realization of Godzilla's atomic breath captures his nuclear power as tangibly as Oppenheimer conveyed the bomb that theoretically caused the evolution of Godzilla.
This sort of mega destruction of cities is no longer the sole domain of Godzilla. Yet in a cinema full of Marvel superhero battles and natural disaster movies, Godzilla Minus One retains the unique destructive qualities of its title monster.
Just taking a step causes damage. Everything Godzilla knocks over creates a ripple effect of further destruction and injury.
So it's clear that this Godzilla is a problem for the people of Japan to deal with. He has not yet become a hero they need to fight even deadlier monsters.
The 1954 film was a response to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It speculated that nuclear radiation created Godzilla.
Godzilla Minus One remains a vehicle for post-war issues, now from the hindsight of 2023. The film attempts to reconcile the ways in which Japan disregarded the lives of its people during and even before WWII.
The notion of a citizen-led Godzilla task force denotes a chance of pace from the usual reliance on government and military in this franchise. Furthermore, every Godzilla attack that Shikishima survives only increases his guilt at having survived his tour as a kamikaze pilot.
The first half of the film from 1945 - 1947 effectively builds up characters while still checking in with Godzilla frequently. By the time main characters start to fall, they have been established as more than just Godzilla fodder.
As such, the Godzilla destruction that fans came to see is not gratuitous. One sequence of metropolitan chaos establishes the power of Godzilla, but every other monster sequence is plot focused.
The action in Godzilla Minus One consists of attempts to address the problem of Godzilla. As all this focus builds up to the climax, the classic Godzilla theme kicks in to confirm this is simply a new approach to a decades-old dilemma.
Godzilla Minus One succeeds in using new visual effects to capture traditional monster mayhem. Writer/director Takashi Yamazaki also skillfully weaves in thoughtful commentary worthy of the classic original.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.