Shin-Godzilla (シンゴジラ, Shin-Gojira) also known as Godzilla: Resurgence, is a science fiction/kaiju film, originally released in Japan on July 29, 2016. The 31st film in the overall franchise, it was directed by Anno Hideaki (Neon Genesis: Evangelion) and Higuchi Shinji (Gamera). Anno and Higuchi also served as the screenwriter and special effects supervisor, respectively.
In a slight departure from the usual kaiju (怪獣; monster) fare, Shin-Godzilla serves as both a compelling action film and political drama. The political aspect brought critical acclaim from Japanese audiences – and a mixed response from Western audiences. This disparity in reactions could be from the West’s lack of familiarity with the red tape that exists within Japanese bureaucracy.
At first watch, the film can seem overwhelming and long-winded. Yet, this is Shin-Godzilla’s modus operandi: to satirize the bumbling bureaucracy as imminent danger looms beyond its walls. In this piece, we will look at four examples in particular that highlight the main grievances with how the Japanese government acts during a public emergency.
Note: Spoilers for the movie follow.
Maintain the Lie
At the beginning of the movie, the only sign of trouble we see is strong waves rising and whipping across Tokyo Bay. Rescuers search an abandoned yacht in search of life. Instead, they find a convoluted datasheet left behind by Maki Goro–the protagonist from the first Godzilla movie (1954).
Back in Tokyo, where the first of many meetings take place, the Prime Minister and his team are trying to figure out what the trouble is. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yaguchi Rando, who is one of the more plot-relevant characters, suggests that this is not a natural disaster, but a living creature.
His colleagues briefly deride him for this, claiming that he is “making a mockery” of their meeting. But sure enough, when a massive tail slithers its way out of the water and causes additional boats to careen on the shore, their tune changes. Now, their top priority is damage control.
The Prime Minister then calls a press conference, in order to keep the public calm. His handlers encourage him to stick to the script–but he insists on telling the public that there is absolutely no way that the creature will emerge ashore. Immediately after he says that, an aide approaches him with bad news.
Smash cut to the PM leaving with his entourage in a huff, claiming his reputation is now ruined.
Too Many Cooks
The movie wastes no time in deliberately overwhelming the audience with information–the first being the names and positions of all the characters that appear on screen. Seriously. Because every character has a name, rank and is assigned to a specific department, it’s hard to tell which person has a say in how this disaster should be handled.
This makes it difficult for the audience to develop an attachment to any specific character. But that’s entirely the point. Bureaucracy is impersonal by design, and ideally prioritizes strategy over improvisation.
There’s also the presence of multiple meetings and conferences within the first 20 minutes of the movie. Instead of simply sending a message to the next higher-up in the chain of command, the civil servants reserve a whole room for a roughly 15-minute meeting. Meanwhile, Tokyo is terrorized by a childlike stage two Godzilla, with many residents dying in the process.
Playing Telephone with the Prime Minister
While there is a chain of command present, the consultation process takes an extended amount of time. This is most evident with the first military assault on Godzilla. At this point in the movie, he has evolved to his third form, and Shinagawa Ward has been evacuated. Kita-Shinagawa Station is eviscerated.
A Self Defense Force (SDF) chopper squadron takes to the skies, ready to battle with the terrifying behemoth. But because Godzilla’s appearance is different from what was originally reported, they must await instructions from the Crisis Management, where many officials are present, including multiple SDF officials, the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister.
It’s important to note that even in a time of crisis, no one speaks to the Prime Minister directly. A simple question of “Civilians near the line of fire! Can we proceed?” goes through at least five people in the line of succession before getting an answer from him–even if they’re sitting at the table with him.
Of course, the Prime Minister aborts the attack, since “civilians must not receive fire!” The operation is aborted and the squadron must return to base. Godzilla is still free to attack the city, and a solution has yet to be found.
By the time Godzilla has reached his fourth and final form, most of Tokyo’s Chuo Ward (including the neighborhoods, Toranomon, Shimbashi and Ginza) has succumbed to his nuclear attacks. The 23 wards are in a fiery blaze and the Prime Minister, along with eight other senior officials, are killed during their escape to Tachikawa.
Therefore, Satomi Yusuke, Agriculture Minister, is named as the new Prime Minister.
The role was “foisted upon him by the party secretary” and he only received the role due to party loyalty. To make matters worse, he fell into the role at the most inopportune time, during a nuclear fallout. Still, he manages to get an acting cabinet together, and executes a seemingly short meeting about the matters at hand.
Unfortunately, in the midst of this meeting, PM Satomi’s ramen noodles get soggy.
“I knew this job wouldn’t be easy,” he laments after the acting Cabinet members take their leave.
The scene with the Acting Prime Minister really stuck out to me because it reflected a major issue within Japanese government–esteemed positions being handed to people who might not even be passionate about their job, let alone possess any expertise within their role. A real-life example of this is Sakurada Yoshitaka, former Olympics minister and deputy chief and cyber-security–who admitted in 2018 that he had never used a computer in his life.
However, the overarching theme of this movie is the government’s response to the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Fallout. Many survivors of the disaster felt that the bureaucracy was inefficient in their recovery programs–the Reconstruction Agency, which is responsible for rebuilding towns and villages, did not open until 11 months after the disaster.
It is important to note that Shin-Godzilla isn’t entirely cynical. One of the main narratives is Yaguchi’s team, who use cross-communication and networking to develop their plan–to administer a blood coagulant that will freeze Godzilla from the inside. Their answer doesn’t come easy of course. It involves research, coordinating with outside teams such as the SDF and US government, and yes, approval from the acting PM himself.
Some people have argued that due to the overwhelming presence of the military in the movie, and an additional narrative of “scrap-and-build”–Japan rising from the ashes as it did after World War II–that Shin-Godzilla is a nationalist movie. But I strongly disagree. If anything, it’s more patriotic than nationalistic. It believes that Japan’s greatness comes from purposeful cooperation amongst its people, rather than the symbolism of its leadership.
EDIT 5/16/2020: An earlier draft of this article stated that the first Godzilla movie was released in 1967, when in fact that was the release date for “Son of Godzilla”. The article has been updated accordingly and we apologize for the error.
Want to watch Shin Godzilla after reading this? The full movie is available for rent or purchase on YouTube.