James Moore looks towards the new Japanese remake of Godzilla, Shin Gojira.
Godzilla is the greatest movie monster of all time. He’s gotten a bad rap recently; Godzilla 1999 tried too hard to ape Jurassic Park, and the 2014 film didn’t give him enough screen time, instead focusing on the more uninspired human characters (and killed off Brian Cranston and Juliette Binoche too soon, damn it).
And then you hear that there’s a new Japanese Godzilla film. And then you hear it’s going to use practical effects. And then it’s being directed by Hideaki Anno.
And as the information keeps feeding in slowly, it all comes together. There’s not a single name I haven’t heard that will be working on this film that doesn’t make me scream internally with joy. So I’ll go over some of the people working on this film, and what makes them so good, then I’ll go over what makes Godzilla such a great place for them to all come together.
First of all: Hideaki Anno.
Anno’s baby, Neon Genesis Evangelion (pronounced Eh- [as in deck] -van-geh-lee-onn), is a cultural phenomenon. Eva is credited with dramatically expanding the popularity of Japanese animation, reaching new heights of maturity. The New York Times called it ‘superior’, ‘of unusual depth, feeling and detail’ and the show is widely regarded as the greatest anime ever made. Eva started out as a television series in 1995 which concluded with two films. The first, Death and Rebirth retold the story, and the other, End of Evangelion, concluded the story. Since EoE, there have been three more movies, called Rebuilds of Evangelion.
It’s so hard to even begin to explain what makes Evangelion so good. It’s not just its realistic human characters. It’s not just the incredible animation. It’s not just Eva’s uncanny sense of foreboding threat, or its total refusal to hold the viewer’s hand. Eva took everyone’s expectations, set them up and tore them down. It leads you one place but takes you another. Eva is different for everyone, and every single viewer walks away with their own experience. Some walk away feeling like it was the greatest thing they had ever seen. Some walk away confused and upset. Some didn’t know what they were getting into. Actually: scratch that. No one knows what they’re getting into with Eva.
But it’s not that Eva was some fluke, though it is definitely Anno’s magnum opus. His directoral debut, Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster has some of the best mecha action of all time, and the greatest single final episode of an OVA. Gunbuster is one of only pieces of media to make me tear up a little.
Everything Anno is involved in is a masterpiece: Nadia the Secret of Blue Water, Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise, FLCL (pronounced either as fooly-cooly or furi-kuri). Anno uses extremes of filmography; in Eva there are cuts with no movement a minute in length and sequences of fast paced high motion cuts only 2 or 3 frames long.
Hideaki Anno is a byword for brilliance.
Co-Directing with Anno, is fellow founder of studio Gainax and specialist in SFX, Shinji Higuchi. He’s worked with Godzilla before, as special effects director on the 2001 Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, called ‘one of the most exciting entries in Godzilla’s long cinematic history’ by DVD Verdict, though Higuchi first worked as an uncredited assistant on Return of Godzilla in 1984. Most recently, he has directed the live-action film of anime giant Attack on Titan, and most of the actors from that are making their way over to this. It was Higuchi who convinced Anno to get on board the Shin Gojira project, and he happens to be the namesake of Evangelion’s protagonist, Shinji Ikari.
In this most recent Godzilla incarnation, the king of monsters will be brought to life by both practical effects and CGI, and designing Godzilla is Mahiro Maeda. If you want any proof of Maeda’s genius in this department: he was character designer for Mad Max: Fury Road. Maeda also has roots in the anime industry, designing two of the angels from Evangelion (Israfel and Sahaquiel), directing the utterly gorgeous Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, and creating the mech design for the awe inspiring Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster.
He was also a key animator for the animated insert in Tarantino’s homage to the kung-fu epic Kill Bill and action comedy sensation One Punch Man. As well as this, Maeda has experience in kaiju films, having designed the rebooted Gamera, directed by Higuchi. The suit design for the new Godzilla leaked online in photos of questionable quality, and it certainly looks menacing enough.
But why does it matter so much that this film is using practical effects?
There’s more to practical effects than just film nerds going on about them. There’s a reason we love them. All you have to do is look at one of the biggest franchises out there: Star Wars. The original trilogy used practical effects for everything, because that was all they had: when Leia starts strangling Jabba you can see the hatred in her face, and whenever Vader strides into shot you can feel the tension rocket. The prequels, by contrast, used computer graphics whenever they could, and so nothing really feels like it’s there. Recently, Episode VII has shown what a return to practical effects can do, and that’s because practical doesn’t just stop at ‘looking better’. When an actor has to act alongside a blue screen, talk to a steel ball and fight invisible foes, they just can’t act properly. How can an actor react to something which isn’t happening? Can you imagine in Force Awakens how awful that moment would have been if it bad been a CG General Grievous instead of Kylo Ren?
So when we get a Godzilla film with Godzilla made from practical effects, you know the people running from Godzilla can actually see him – it’s in their faces.
And finally: the thing that I am most looking forward to about this film. The best films are made by people who understand each other; when you get a team of people cobbled together, it shows. When you get a team of people that have been working together producing great material for decades, you just know it’s going to be amazing. If Gojira can pull off Maeda’s designs, Higuchi’s effects and Anno’s visionary directing, it might just be one of the best things ever made.