Review: ‘Godzilla Minus One’ reveals a tragic past through fact and fiction

“Godzilla Minus One” unexpectedly presents itself as a piece of Japan’s history retold. The story follows a man named Kōichi Shikishima (played by Ryunosuke Kamiki), an ex-kamikaze pilot, as he navigates life in post-World War II Japan. After having survived an attack by Godzilla on Odo Island, which took the lives of many of his squadron, he continues to live on with the survivor’s guilt that hovered over much of Japan by the end of the war.  

As Godzilla, the iconic megaton monster, barrels its way toward Tokyo, the audience and Shikishima are left in suspense. They have seen Godzilla to have grown since the gargantuan beast first appeared due to nuclear bomb testing done by the U. S.  

Moreover, Shikishima is also trying to raise an orphan daughter, an orphan due to the bombing of Tokyo, which took place from April 18, 1942, to March 10, 1945. In a war-torn community in the district of Ginza alongside a woman named Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe), who drives much of Shikishima’s actions as family is not always guaranteed and valued to a kamikaze pilot who risks his life flying. Shikishima is left a scarred individual after the attack on Odo Island, stating that his life “is just a dream,” something that many of those living with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by war can relate. 

A Japanese History 

Being set in 1945, the film provides audiences with a rare opportunity to connect with Japan’s history and culture more deeply. The film features an airplane prototype known as the Kyushu J7W Shinden. It was engineered by the Japanese Imperial Navy beginning in 1944 and was discontinued in 1945 due to the end of the war. Only two prototypes were created to combat the American B-29 Superfortress formations and its numerous bomb raids on Japan. Only one Shinden remains in existence. Its forward fuselage is currently on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center annex of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The Japanese navy boats depicted in the film are all battleships that the Imperial Japanese Navy deployed in World War II. Several battleships were highlighted in the film, including the Takao-class cruiser, a Yukikaze (Kagerou-class) destroyer, an Akatsuki-class destroyer, Yuukaze (Minekaze-class), and a Matsu-class destroyer. All warships as pieces of Japan’s history, were shown in glorious and blood-pumping action. This blockbuster resurrected the forlorn atmosphere of the mid-1940s, which was characterized by the scars and innovations left by the war. 

For those who lived in Japan during the 1940s, the film is a welcome trip back to the past. The film goes to great lengths to display the horrors surrounding war and its effect on the youth of Japan. Unarmored tanks and planes being built without ejection seats were characteristics of the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II that led one member of the Japanese Imperial Navy to explain to Shikishima that his country Japan, “In the past has treated life far too cheaply.” This resonates with the more than two million people who have lost their lives in Japan due to World War II.  

“Godzilla Minus One” inspires awe with its compelling story, soundtrack, and visuals. The film also brings us closer to understanding the history of Japan. (Photo by Godzilla Official Website)

The portrayal of the Kaiju, or “strange beast,” known as Godzilla in the film, retained its distinct look from the original film “Godzilla,” which was released in 1954 in Japan and later in 1956 in America. Noticeably standing thousands of feet tall, with pointed ears, and a heat ray to boot, that will bring back the nostalgia for those who began a strange fascination with these “strange beasts” in their childhood. The days of stop-motion animation that defined the original movie are gone, and we are left with astounding computer-generated visuals that form the basis of the movie, or at least, all the scenes where the reptilian behemoth is featured wreaking havoc. 

A window into Japan’s people’s history, the film gives the audience a chance to sympathize and learn from a culture that is all too often not given a voice. This film is a tribute to all of those who have lost their lives in or participated in war. “Godzilla Minus One,” an English subtitled movie about the culture of Japan and its history, has officially surpassed “Oppenheimer” (a movie that retells the origins of the atomic bomb) as the highest-rated blockbuster of 2023 in Japan, signifying a victory for the country at the box office. 

Produced with a budget of $15 million, “Godzilla Minus One” grossed $64 million worldwide and has been hailed by critics as a storytelling and visual masterpiece. (Photo by Godzilla Official Website)

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