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Godzilla Minus One Review: The Blockbuster We Needed

The main character this time around is Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a pilot who backs out of a deadly kamikaze mission in the final days of World War II, hiding on an island repair station under the fake excuse of a faulty plane. He wants to live but has nonetheless internalized the belief he’s a coward for doing so — a survivor’s guilt that only grows after barely surviving a rampage by a pre-nuclear Godzilla.

When Kōichi returns home to Tokyo after the war, everything is in shambles. Japan is at its lowest point — and then a few years later, America’s bomb tests in the Bikini Atoll turn Godzilla nuclear, resulting in the title’s threat of Japan going from “zero” to “minus one.” America refuses to do anything about the monster due to Cold War tensions with the USSR, and Japan doesn’t have its own military anymore for obvious reasons, so the mission of neutralizing the threat goes to a ragtag team of civilians, mostly veterans seeking some form of purpose. Though Kōichi has formed a makeshift family with a kind woman (Minami Hamabe) and a war orphan child, he’s nonetheless preparing to lay down the life he feels he doesn’t deserve in order to defeat Godzilla.

Much of the action in the film is set at sea, and the rapport between the characters positively evokes the original “Jaws.” The nautical sequences showcase the film’s strongest action and visual effects work. Godzilla himself is well-designed as an imposing force of seemingly unstoppable destruction. The kaiju is sometimes subject to inconsistent CG-rendering quality, but perfect special effects have never been this franchise’s forte. Considering the budget for this was only $15 million – a tiny fraction of the American “Godzilla” movies’ budgets — this is some impressive work.

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