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Godzilla Minus One

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Godzilla Minus One
Photograph: ©2023 TOHO CO., LTD.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Heartfelt and often awe-inspiring, Japanese VFX wizard Takashi Yamazaki delivers the best kaiju movie in decades

This Godzilla is one scary bastard. With a Bully XL jawline, the scale and intricate design of a Gaudi cathedral and the rage of a grumpy old codger, the subsea icon emerges from the cracks of modern blockbuster-making to remind the world that there is a much better way to make a monster flick.

After US studio Legendary delivered a pair of murky and drab Godzilla flicks, not to mention Roland Emmerich’s 1998 monstrosity, it’s a joy to see the scaly icon back on home soil at Toho Studios and handled with such visual panache. Japanese VFX wizard Takashi Yamazaki (Lupin III: The First) unleashes his beast – a vast, terrifying creation capable of attacking a Ginza commuter train like a kid munching on a hotdog – via a series of superbly choreographed action sequences.

Facing off against this threat is Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a disgraced (ie: alive) kamikaze pilot. He’s searching for redemption in the rubble of a bombed-out Tokyo, raising an orphaned baby in a platonic relationship with another young war orphan (Minami Hamabe) and earning danger money sweeping sea mines off the coast of Tokyo. Enter Godzilla and the chance to be a hero, with some help from a top weapons boffin and a few dozen courageous war veterans ready for a final do-or-die mission.

Refreshingly, Goldzilla Minus One plays out mainly in broad daylight – aside from a nocturnal opening scene set in the dying embers of World War II, in which a younger, Godzooky-sized version of the kaiju battles a squad of Japanese soldiers. Yamazaki’s confidence in his own CGI work is well-earned, too. One sequence, which has Godzilla in pursuit of Kōichi’s rickety old minesweeper, is up there with the very best of the year – a riff on Jaws’s Orca vs shark scene that Spielberg would surely appreciate.

One action sequence riffs on Jaws with a flair that Spielberg would surely appreciate

His screenplay returns to the themes and fears that birthed the beast in the first place: post-war regeneration and the looming threat of nuclear catastrophe. Anyone objecting to Oppenheimer’s lack of a Japanese perspective on the A-bombs will find plenty of that here. Yamazaki’s kaiju is a nuclear weapon with a colossal payload, the Stegosaurus plates on its back glowing cobalt blue as it charges up to unleash its atomic breath across Toyko. 

Occasionally, there’s a narrative disconnect as domestic scenes involving Kōichi’s surrogate family deliver faint post-war neorealist energy, while the King of Monsters lurks off screen, keen to get stuck in again. But even that pays off in a final act that earns its cheesy payoff. Here’s proof that an action movie can have an effects-heavy climax that doesn’t feel boringly generic. Hollywood, take note.

In US theaters now and UK cinemas Dec 15.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Takashi Yamazaki
  • Screenwriter:Takashi Yamazaki
  • Cast:
    • Ryûnosuke Kamiki
    • Minami Hamabe
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