Godzilla Minus One (2023) poster

Godzilla Minus One (2023)


(Gojira -1.0)

Japan. 2023.


Director/Screenplay – Takashi Yamazaki, Producers – Go Abe, Kazuaki Kishida, Keiichiro Moriya & Kenji Yamada, Photography – Kozo Shibasaki, Music – Naoki Sato, Visual Effects Supervisors – Kiyoko Shibuya & Takashi Yamazaki, Production Design – Anri Jojo. Production Company – Toho/Robot Communications.


Ryunosuke Kamiki (Koichi Shikishima), Minami Hamabe (Noriko Oishi), Hidetaka Yoshioka (Kenji Noda), Munetaka Aoki (Sosaku Tachibana), Sakura Ando (Sumiko Ota), Yuki Yamada (Shiro Mizushima), Kuranosuke Sasaki (Captain Yoji Akitsu), Miou Tanaka (Captain Tatsuo Hotta), Yuya Endo (Tadamasa Saito)


1945, towards the end of World War II. Kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima lands his plane at a repair airfield on Odo Island, claiming that it is damaged. Lead mechanic Sosaku Tachibana can find nothing wrong with the plane and realises that Koichi cannot go through with his suicide mission. That night, Koichi is witness as the island is attacked by a monster that the locals call Godzilla. He is urged to use the plane’s guns against it but cannot and is witness as all the mechanics except Tachibana are killed. Koichi returns to his parents’ home in the bombed-out ruins of Tokyo. He reluctantly allows Noriko Oishi to move into the house, bringing with her the infant Akiko, a child she has been left to care for after its parents were killed. To support them, Koichi ends up taking a job aboard a ship that is sweeping the coast for mines. During this, they witness Godzilla as it rises, now mutated to giant size and breathing atomic fire. As Godzilla marches on Tokyo and proves invincible with its ability to regenerate from damage inflicted on it, Koichi becomes wound into a civilian plan to stop it.

The Japanese Godzilla films are one of the longest running series of all time – Godzilla Minus One is the 33rd Japanese film and comes out just short of the seventieth anniversary of the first film Godzilla (1954). The original Godzilla was a rampaging atomic monster movie but as Toho began making sequels, they came up with the idea of pitting Godzilla against other in-house monsters and the series became one based around often entertainingly ridiculous monster bashes, while the focus became more juvenile and Godzilla went from a monster to a superheroic defender of Japan from other monsters. There have been various attempts throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to go back to a serious Godzilla but this always flip-flops between Godzilla as an aggressor or defender. (See below for the other Godzilla films). Other Japanese companies jumped aboard the fad, most notedly Daiei with the Gamera series that is almost as long running, while the 1990s and 2010s brought a series of US Godzilla films – Godzilla Minus One comes out a mere five months before the latest US entry Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire (2024). (See Japanese Monster Movies).

Godzilla Minus One comes after a seven year gap between it and the previous entry Shin Godzilla (2016). Although that is not counting the Godzilla anime films – Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018) and Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018). Part of the reason could be that Warner Brothers launched its own Monsterverse series during the interim with Godzilla (2014), Godzilla, King of the Monsters (2019), Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, and there may have been a no-compete clause.

The film comes from Takashi Yamazaki who had previously made the science-fiction film Juvenile (2000); the time travel action film Returner (2002); the live-action film remake of Space Battleship Yamato (2010); Stand By Me Doraemon (2014), an animated spinoff from the popular anime series; had a series of hits with the non-genre family films Always – Sunset on Chrome Street; the manga adapted Parasyte Part 1 (2014) and Parasyte Part 2 (2015) about body snatching parasites; the manga adaptation Destiny: The Tale of Kamakure (2017); the animated films Dragon Quest: Your Story (2019) and Lupin III: The First (2019); and the live-action Ghost Book (2022).

Godzilla rises in the bay in Godzilla Minus One (2023)
Godzilla rises in the bay

Godzilla Minus One opened in US release to best reviews of any Japanese monster movie. This was consolidated by the film winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year. The title Godzilla Minus One makes one think of DC Comics’ Batman: Year One (1987) and then various Superman and other titles, followed by a spate of Year Zero titles, that went back to the early days of the respective superheroes and showed key aspects of the mythos as they were in the process of forming. Though various years are cited on screen, the exact date the film takes place is left unclear (somewhere in the late 1940s) where you are left wondering if this is an alternate telling of Godzilla’s first attack on Tokyo in the 1954 film or antecedent to it. Takashi Yamazaki does homage some elements of the 1954 film – the iconic image of Godzilla with train carriages in his teeth – while the employment of the freon to stop Godzilla is not dissimilar to the use of the oxygen destroyer at the end of the 1954 film.

Japanese monster movie are not exactly known for their character development – usually the actors are just faces to carry the drama in between the mass destruction and monster bash scenes. After the opening scenes on the island, we get nothing of Godzilla for the next 40 odd minutes and against expectation the film diverts off to tell an often tender story about Ryunosuke Kamiki returning home to the ruins of his parents’ home, meeting homeless ragamuffin Minami Hamabe and reluctantly allowing her to move in with the infant she has been left to care for. This ends up being more of a character arc than all of the characters in all of the other Godzilla films put together.

In addition, the film comes with a striking anti-war element. The protagonist is a kamikaze pilot who is unable to go through with his mission who returns home to face shame. Even aside from that, there is quite a strong element that runs throughout about those who were in the war seeking some honour. The young wet behind the ears kid on the minesweeper is reprimanded several times for his regret about not being old enough to enlist in the war. This reflects back to the one other Japanese monster movie that had a strong character arc – Atragon (1963), directed by original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda, where the central character was a submarine commander who had to learn to back down from his pre-WWII nationalistic, militaristic ways in order to defeat the menace of the show. Godzilla is also tied even more directly to atomic testing than was the case in 1954 with a cutaway to the American tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946 and an atomic mushroom cloud being seen whenever it uses its radioactive breath.

Godzilla attacks Ginza in Godzilla Minus One (2023)
Godzilla attacks Ginza

The special effects are expectedly next level. The surprise, especially in watching Godzilla Minus One after its Academy Award win and the acclaim surrounding the film, is that Takashi Yamazaki is sparing with these. After the introduction of a moderate size Godzilla in the prologue on Odo Island – which is initially only as big as an average dinosaur – the film drops into the slow lane and it is forty minutes before we get more Godzilla action.

Certainly, when he returns to the action, Yamazaki delivers a rippingly good sequence with Godzilla pursuing the sweeper as they drops mines after it and it then erupts to attack the destroyer, including fabulous shots where Godzilla fires its radioactive breath up at the ship from directly beneath. The most spectacular set-piece is the attack on Ginza where we get stunning images of Minami Hamabe on a train first seeing train carriages being tossed through the air, Godzilla picking the train she is in in its jaws and she left hanging from the end of the carriage as the other connected cars tear away, and then a vast wave of debris blasting everything in its path aside, leading to a particularly shocking and tragic end to the scene. In comparison, the climactic scenes with Godzilla surrounded by destroyers and Ryunosuke Kamiki in a Shinden fighter with its unique design of a rear-mounted propeller, are much quieter in comparison.

Godzilla Minus One has received a great deal of acclaim and been called “the best Godzilla film ever.” I may be the dissenter in the pack here. I enjoyed it a great deal but the best Godzilla film ever is still the 1954 film. Even the much vaunted effects are good, even incredibly spectacular but I also felt that Shin Godzilla and will even heretically suggest that the 2014 US-made Godzilla both did a far better job at least in terms of creating a sense of genuine awe about a monstrosity on the rampage and trampling whole city blocks every time it turns around. The other quibble you could make is the ending, which does let the central characters off the hook – Ryunosuke gets to conduct his kamikaze run but survive, while the film’s jolt death gets overturned in a “not really dead after all” happy ending.

The other Godzilla films are:– Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954), Gigantis the Fire Monster/Godzilla Raids Again/The Return of Godzilla (1955), King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs the Thing/Mothra vs Godzilla (1964), Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Monster Zero/Invasion of the Astro Monster (1965), Godzilla Vs the Sea Monster/Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), Son of Godzilla (1968), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), Godzilla vs the Smog Monster/Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971), Godzilla vs Gigan/Godzilla on Monster Island (1972), Godzilla vs Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs the Cosmic Monster/Godzilla vs the Bionic Monster/Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974), Terror of Mechagodzilla/Monsters from an Unknown Planet (1976), Godzilla 1985 (1984), Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992), Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1993), Godzilla vs Space Godzilla (1994), Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995), Godzilla 2000 (1999), Godzilla vs Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and Shin Godzilla/Godzilla: Resurgence (2016), plus the anime Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018) and Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018). Both Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) are big-budget, English-language remakes, while the latter launched three sequels with Godzilla, King of the Monsters (2019), Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024).

(Winner for Best Special Effects at this site’s Best of 2023 Awards).

Trailer here

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