Shin Godzilla (2016)

aka Shin Gojira / Godzilla Resurgence

2017 #108
Hideaki Anno | 120 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Japan / Japanese, English & German | 12A

Shin Godzilla

To the best of my knowledge, the Godzilla movies have never been particularly well treated in the UK. With the obvious exceptions of the two US studio movies and the revered 1954 original (which, similar to its inclusion in the Criterion Collection in the US, has been released by the BFI over here), I think the only Godzilla movie to make it to UK DVD is King Kong vs. Godzilla, and that’s clearly thanks to the Kong connection. Contrast that with the US, or Australia, or Germany, or I expect others, where numerous individual and box set releases exist, not only on DVD but also Blu-ray. There were some put out on VHS back in the ’90s (I owned one, though I can’t remember which), but other than that… Well, maybe we’ll be lucky and the tide will now change, because the most recent Japanese Godzilla movie — the first produced by the monster’s homeland in over a decade — is getting a one-night release in UK cinemas this evening. It’s well worth checking out.

Firstly, don’t worry about it being the 29th Japanese Godzilla film, because it’s also the first full reboot in the series’ 62-year history (previous reboots in 1984 and 1999 still took the ’54 original as canon). The movie opens with some kind of natural disaster taking place in Tokyo Bay, to which the Japanese government struggle to formulate a response. But it quickly becomes clear the event is actually caused by a giant creature, which then moves on to land, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Ambitious government secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is put in charge of a special task force to research the creature. Soon, the Americans are muscling in, contributing a dossier they’d previously covered up, which gives the creature its name: Dave.

Alright Dave?

No, it’s Godzilla, obv.

Written and directed by Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame (and fans of that franchise will recognise many music cues throughout the film), Shin Godzilla is not just a film about a giant beastie stomping on things. Most obviously, it pitches itself as a kind of political thriller, as an intrepid gang of semi-outsiders battle establishment red tape to get anything done. In this respect it’s something of a satire, though not an overtly comedic one. It also seems to be taking on Japanese society, with the in-built deference to age or rank being an obstacle to problem-solving when it’s the young who have the outside-the-box ideas to tackle such an unforeseen occurrence. There’s also the problem of the Americans sticking their oar in, being both a help and a hindrance. Clearly the Japanese feel broadly the same way towards the U.S. of A. as do… well, all the rest of us.

Anno takes a montage-driven, almost portmanteau approach to the storytelling, flitting about to different locations, organisations, departments, and characters as they come into play. This lends a veracity to the “as if it happened for real” feel of the film: rather than take the usual movie route of having a handful of characters represent what would be the roles of many people in real life, Anno just throws dozens of people at us — the film has 328 credited actors, in fact. It means there’s something of an information overload when watching it as a non-Japanese-speaker: as well as the subtitled dialogue, there are constant surtitles describing locations, names, job titles, types of tech being deployed, etc, etc. In the end I wound up having to ignore them, which is a shame because I think there was some worthwhile stuff slipped in there (possibly including more satire about people’s promotions throughout the film).

We can defeat Godzilla with maths!

I’d be amazed if anyone can follow both, to be honest, because the dialogue flies at a rate of knots. Anno reportedly instructed the actors to speak faster than normal, aiming for their performances to resemble how actual politicians and bureaucrats speak. Apparently he cited The Social Network as the kind of vibe he was after, though a more appropriate comparison might be that other famous work from the same screenwriter, The West Wing. Either way, I think he achieved his goal, further contributing to the film’s “real” feel and the (geo)political thriller atmosphere — even if it’s a nightmare to follow in subtitled form.

Letting the side down, sadly, is actress Satomi Ishihara, who plays an American diplomat of Japanese descent. Apparently she found out she was playing an American after being cast, and was shocked to see how much English dialogue she had to speak. It shows. There’s nothing wrong with her performance on the whole, but casting a Japanese actress as a supposed American is a really obvious mistake to English-speaking ears. All of the English speech in the film is subtitled, which isn’t necessary for American generals and the like, but for her… well, I didn’t always realise she was no longer speaking Japanese. Poor lass, it’s not her fault, but it does take you out of the film occasionally.

On another level from the politics, Shin Godzilla is also about wider issues of humanity and the planet. The ’54 film was famously an analogy about nuclear weapons, and Anno updates that theme to be about nuclear waste and its effect on the environment, inevitably calling to mind the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima power plant disaster. This is less front-and-centre than the thriller stuff — the actions of the humans are what drives the film’s plot, whereas the nuclear/environmental stuff is more thematic subtext. Put another way, I wouldn’t say the film gets too bogged down by this — it’s still about a giant monster blowing shit up with his laser breath.

Either that or the purple goo he ate earlier really disagreed with him

Said giant monster is realised in CGI, some of it derived from motion capture, presumably as a tribute and/or reference to the old man-in-a-suit way of creating him. This is not a Hollywood budgeted movie and consequently anyone after slavishly photo-real CGI will be disappointed, but that’s not really the point. It still creates mightily effective imagery, and for every shot that’s less than ideal there’s another that gives the titular creature impressive heft and scale. He’s also the largest Godzilla there’s ever been, incidentally.

If you come to Shin Godzilla expecting to see a skyscraper-sized monster destroy stuff and be shot at and whatnot for two hours straight, you’re going to leave dissatisfied. There are scenes of that, to be sure, but it’s not the whole movie. If a thriller about a bunch of tech guys and gals fighting bureaucracy while analysing data that will eventually lead to a way to effectively shoot (and whatnot) the monster, this is the film for you. It was for me. I have to mark it down for some of the niggles I’ve mentioned, but I enjoyed it immensely. (You can make you own size-of-Godzilla pun there.)

4 out of 5

Shin Godzilla is in UK cinemas tonight only. For a list of screenings, visit

Evangelion: 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo. (2012/2013)

aka Evangelion shin gekijôban: Kyū / Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: Q

2016 #42
Hideaki Anno, Masayuki, Mahiro Maeda & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 97 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Japan / English | 15

Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) RedoWell now, hasn’t this been a long time coming? Just over two years since its western disc release was first announced, just over three years since it debuted in Japanese cinemas, and just over four-and-a-half years since the previous instalment’s English-language release, those of us in the UK who don’t attend anime conventions (where it’s had a few screenings in that time) are finally able to see the penultimate part of creator Hideaki Anno’s Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy. As to whether it’s worth the wait… well, your mileage will vary.

The “rebuild” movies started out with a literal interpretation of that moniker: the first movie is a faithful (though condensed and sometimes slightly rearranged) retelling of the series’ early episodes, even using the original art from the show. The second movie deviated much further: familiar characters were introduced in completely different ways, wholly original characters appeared, and some subplots became more prominent. It culminated in a climax that was a drastic departure from the series, and now this third movie forges into entirely new territory — so new that I’m not going to give any kind of plot summary, for the sake of readers avoiding any spoilers. Good luck to you if so: not only do most reviews divulge the first major divergence, but so does the film’s own blurb.

Maybe that’s for the best — I’ve read more than one review bemoaning the confusion at the opening of the film, which stems from not knowing that thing I’m not telling you that the blurb does tell you. It’s surely deliberate, though: hero Shinji is in a similarly confused position, and we’re clearly being aligned with him in this strange new situation. Besides, for me this was the most engaging and exciting segment of the movie. As well as a couple of thrilling action scenes, it juggles character relationships in interesting ways, establishing a new status quo unlike that we’ve seen before in the franchise. It culminates in a fantastic stand-off between former allies — indeed, former friends. How times change.

Sad ShinjiChange, and the embracing or rejection of it, is surely one of the major themes of Evangelion. This is more explicitly debated as 3.33 moves into its middle section, where we get an extended dose of Shinji’s traditional insecurities. Hey, it wouldn’t be Evangelion without Shinji having a self-pitying whinge, right? Fortunately there’s more going on than that, but this is a section light on action and heavy on the series’ more thoughtful elements. There are answers to some of the mysteries, but it again wouldn’t be Evangelion if it all made easy sense. At the same time, Shinji bonds with new Eva pilot Kaworu. A controversial character, apparently, and not just because of the homosexual overtones (which some reviewers claim to miss, presumably because they’re blind), but the scenes where they harmonise by playing piano together are quite fantastically animated.

Indeed, whatever else you can say about 3.33, it looks glorious. The choice of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time helps emphasise the story’s epic qualities, but that’s incidental to the fantastic images conjured up by the animators. Various techniques are hurled at the screen — there’s a lot of CGI as well as traditional hand-drawn art, and they even used motion-captured stuntmen for one scene — but it marries perfectly, allowing camera angles and moves that are incredibly filmic and more dynamic than you normally find in 2D animation. The makers of the Rebuild have always talked about wanting to create innovative, memorable imagery, and they’ve once again succeeded here.

Pia-pia-piano3.33 divides quite neatly into three half-hour sections. I guess that should be expected, as the whole tetralogy has been based in traditional Japanese ideas of narrative/musical structure, hence the films’ Japanese titles incorporating the names for the three movements: jo, ha, and kyū (序破急), which roughly equate to “beginning”, “middle”, and “end”. As discussed, the first is fantastic, some of the best material in the entire series, in my estimation. Also as discussed, the second is a lot slower, but has its plus points too. The third… ah, the third. Here we get some more action, which will please anyone who thrills to Eva combat, but it is also utterly mind-boggling. I’ve been reading up on a few fan sites since watching, and I’m still not absolutely sure what was going on or what it signified. You won’t find any enlightenment in the disc’s special features, which present a long list of extras at first glance, but turn out to be 19 repetitive trailers, TV spots, and promo reels. Yes, nineteen.

After all that, it ends on a rather low-key cliffhanger, making it feel like one of those two-part finales that Hollywood YA adaptations are so fond of at the moment (cf. Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc). In some respects that’s actually true: it was originally said that films 3 and 4 would be half-length movies released together. Obviously that plan disappeared a long time ago. Still, it does make you wonder if that confusing third act will play better when paired up with the tetralogy’s concluding instalment. In the meantime, it’s hard to call 3.33 a completely effectual film in its own right. It quite successfully introduces us to an entirely new era for Evangelion, and teases that various groups’ plans are entering their final stages, but a possibly-indecipherable climax and a “we’ll just have to pause here”-level “to be continued” leave you wanting the next part more than feeling that was a fulfilling, finite experience.

Double plugSo when will that conclusion come? Well, a few years ago Anno ‘joked’ that the finale might be released “four to six years” after 3.33. As we’re already almost at four years with no sign of a release date, I guess it wasn’t so much of a ‘joke’ after all. An English-friendly DVD/Blu-ray will inevitably take an additional couple of years, too. So an indefinite, but undoubtedly lengthy, wait begins…

4 out of 5

Evangelion: 3.33 is out today on DVD, Blu-ray, and dual format Collector’s Edition.

Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance. (2009/2010)

aka Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha / Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: Break

2011 #65
Hideaki Anno, Masayuki & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 112 mins | Blu-ray | 15

Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) AdvanceJust over a year since the preceding film made it to UK DVD and Blu-ray, and two years since this was theatrically released in Japan, the second part of creator Hideaki Anno’s Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy reaches British DVD/BD today. Continuing to re-tell the story originally visualised in the exceptional, and exceptionally popular, TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, You Can (Not) Advance throws in more changes to the original tale than its predecessor, including at least one significant new character.

This is very clearly a second part. It hits the ground running, with no thought for those not up to speed on the characters and events so far. Indeed, there’s perhaps little regard for those who may be familiar with it anyway: certain significant events rattle past, the storyline spewing mysteries via dialogue we barely understand, so dense is it with references and allusions. In some respects that’s realistic, of course — why would characters explain, for instance, the Vatican Treaty to each other when they all know about it — but it might leave the viewer struggling to keep up. It’s not all like that, but there’s plenty of it; and when there’s few answers forthcoming within the film itself, the mysterious references feel even more opaque.

Eva vs AngelFor my money, the first 40 minutes or so of the film are (by and large) the best bits. It opens with a barnstorming action sequence, a great scene for newbies and fans alike as we’re introduced to Eva pilot Mari, who didn’t appear in the TV series. That she then disappears for most of the film, only to make a thoroughly mysterious return later, is one of those explanation-lacking flaws. I’m sure it won’t look so bad once the next two films provide us with answers. Well, I hope not.

After that the film seems to trade one-for-one on character scenes and action sequences: ostensible lead character Shinji and his father have what amounts to a heart-to-heart, for them, in a vast cemetery; Eva pilot Asuka is introduced in another action sequence — different to her intro in the TV series, and I’d say not as memorable, though it’s still visually exciting. This is followed by some of the film’s best sequences: an “everyday morning in Tokyo III” montage is a beautifully realised piece of animation, depicting the commute to work/school under the backdrop of a megacity that can sink and rise as needed, moving into the school lives of our band of awkward misfit ‘heroes’. It’s not readily describable on the page, which is arguably the definition of properly filmic entertainment.

AsukaThen the gang take a trip to a scientific installation which is trying to preserve the oceans and their wildlife. It feels like animation shouldn’t be as effective for such a sequence as, say, the footage in a David Attenborough documentary, but nonetheless it feels extraordinary, in its own way. It also marks itself out with the interaction of the characters on a fun day out rather than their usual high-pressure monster-fighting world. And then it’s back to that world for another impressive three-on-one Angel attack.

I’m loath to say it’s after this that Evangelion 2.22 begins to slip off the rails, because flicking back through it after (the distinct advantage of watching something on DVD rather than in a cinema!) I struggled to find any point where I felt it lost its way or dragged with an interminable or pointless sequence. That said, this is where it begins to get more complicated. Much is made of the international situation, something I don’t recall from the TV series. It’s a neat addition — the world bickering over who has the Evas and how many — but it takes some following at times and the relevance isn’t always clear.

Rei vs AsukaBut it’s all building somewhere. For one, there’s another of the film’s best sequences — certainly, its most shocking, which readily earns the 15 certificate. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone yet to see the film, because it’s one of the plot points that differs from the TV series, but it involves the death of a main character in a brutal, deranged way. I say “death” — they pop up in the third film trailer that runs after the end credits, so there’s more to this yet…

Other than that, it sometimes feels like the story is meandering through thematic points that don’t engage as well as the character and action ones earlier in the film. Again, flicking back through, I couldn’t spot what I felt had slowed it, so maybe it functions better on a second viewing, knowing what ending it’s headed towards — at least one apparently minor subplot is, in its own way, vital to the climax, and the climax is certainly vital: unlike the first film’s ending, which was suitably climactic but clearly with story left to tell, this is a major turning point, a proper cliffhanger. Indeed, after a long stretch of confusion, it’s something of a gut-punch to reach such a dramatic point. I loved it, even if I felt I was missing some of the significance of the five minutes that led up to it.

Watching Third ImpactAnd then, after the end credits, there’s a brief scene that throws another spanner in the works! Double-cliffhanger-tastic… one might say…

Oh, and we get an explanation for why Shinji’s still using a tape player in the near-future (which, you may remember, was a (minor) complaint I had about the last film).

The second new Evangelion film isn’t as straight-up enjoyable as the first. It starts incredibly well, but then it feels like its getting too bogged down in the politics of a world that hasn’t been properly established for us and in the intricacies of some thematic considerations — the latter is especially worrying as it was this that made the ending of the TV series so unsatisfactory, which in turn led to a pair of movies that, frankly, didn’t do that much better. But the ending did cause me to rethink my position a little, and perhaps a second viewing would find the whole film a better structured and more understandable experience.

Tokyo III sunsetIn short, if you’ve always liked Evangelion then you won’t be waiting for me to tell you this is a must-see reimagining; if You Are (Not) Alone was your first experience and you enjoyed it, this is an essential continuation of the story — but be prepared that it’s not as simplistically entertaining. I didn’t enjoy it as much on this first viewing, but it may in retrospect pan out as the better of the two.

4 out of 5

Evangelion 2.22 is out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone. (2007/2009)

aka Evangerion shin gekijôban: Jo / Evangelion New Theatrical Version: Prelude

2010 #41
Hideaki Anno, Masayuki & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 101 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / PG-13

When I (first) reviewed Watchmen, I commented that it was hard to divorce my opinion of the graphic novel from my opinion of the movie, so faithful was the adaptation. That’s as nothing to this, though: Evangelion: 1.11 (also known as Evangelion: 1.0 and Evangelion: 1.01, slightly different versions of the same thing) is a retelling of the first six episodes of the highly-acclaimed anime TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, using the original animation and voice cast to recreate the story.

To put that another way: as a retelling of the first quarter of the original series, reconstructed from the original animation elements, some may wonder what the point of You Are (Not) Alone is — why not just re-watch the series? And how well can six episodes of a TV series work when stuck back-to-back as a film? To be frank, I’m in no position to accurately compare the content of the film and the original episodes, as I last (and first) watched them about three years ago. I can say that some of this is very familiar — one is certainly aware it’s the original elements re-appropriated — while other bits I suspect may have been drafted in from later in the series, and others I’m certain are actually all-new.

Despite some animation tweaks, other things go unchanged, occasionally making the future-set story seem already dated. A line mentioning cell phones, in an attempt to cover why Shinji is bothering to use a phone box, is a new addition I swear, while he also listens to a (digital, at least) cassette player rather than an iPod (other MP3 players are available, naturally). It’s not a major flaw — unlike, perhaps, the fact that the “covert” and top-secret Nerv organisation has great big signs plastered all over town and everyone seems to know about them — but, still, maybe a new bit of animation to replace the tape-playing close-ups would’ve been nice.

The original episodes run around 2 hours 20 minutes total (including all titles, trailers, etc) so edits have been made, but it’s intelligently done. Despite the time since I watched the series I’m aware of where some episode breaks fall, so it’s hard to accurately say how it hangs together as a film to a newbie, but it seems to me that it does rather well. It throws you in at the deep end a bit, but then so does the series. It’s a non-stop opening 25 minutes, a relentless onslaught of information and action, before the pace lets up a little. The pace is surprisingly good throughout, a well-considered balance between action, character and mysteries. Anno and co have retained some of the original’s light and shade — this isn’t just a plot recap, but includes some of the humour and character-based subplots. These elements are still the most trimmed, but there’s enough retained that they work in the context of the film. Indeed, it’s been so skilfully done that an uninformed viewer might even accept it was originally created as a film.

The pros and cons of the series remain. Shinji is alternately interesting, perhaps even complex, and a whiney little irritant. Here he has a character arc at least, suggesting he may be more sufferable next time out. His relationship with Major — sorry, Lieutenant-Colonel — Katsuragi, important in the series, seems to have an even greater focus here, providing a key emotional through-line for the characters. Some of the philosophical bits survive too, feeling as pretentious as ever, but — like the occasionally OTT humour — have been reduced by the need to hit a feature-length and still pack the story in.

As best I can tell the English voice cast is entirely the same as the TV series. Though I presume they’ve all been re-recorded for the film, your opinion of their work is unlikely to be changed. I don’t mean this specifically as either criticism or praise, just that there’s nothing to distinguish between this and the TV version vocally.

One thing that worried me was that this would feel less like a standalone film and more like Part One of a much longer story, primarily because I recalled episode six being ‘just’ another big battle — an action sequence, certainly, but no more of a climax than any of the other fights. I don’t know if I’ve misremembered or if work has been done to place a heavier emphasis on it here, but it is unquestionably a Big Climax — an all-or-nothing finale, bringing together the plot, most of the subplots, and a Threat To The Whole World. There’s still a “To be continued…” — not only literally, but quite clearly in a raft of unresolved subplots — but it fits as an End Of Act One, much as does the end of, say, Fellowship of the Ring.

Another factor thrown up by the TV-series-to-feature conversion is the image quality. An HD big screen is a mixed blessing here. On one hand, it looks great on Blu-ray, with crisp lines and solid colours, the result of re-filming, colouring and CGI-ing the original animation elements rather than using the finished TV shots. On the other, such clarity sometimes shows up a lack of detail in the original animation — these elements were created for 4:3 mid-’90s TV, not a hi-def (home) cinema — and the solid colours and money-saving techniques (for example, showing something static rather than a lip-synched (ish) mouth during conversations) can remind the viewer of cheaper TV roots. Perhaps I’m being overly critical though, because much of it does look fabulous; at the very least, the thorough ground-up rebuild means it looks better than the TV series ever will, never mind has.

Ultimately, You Are (Not) Alone works satisfyingly as a film. Arguably it has a slightly unusual narrative structure or slightly unsophisticated animation, but it works much better than you’d expect from six TV episodes stuck together. With introductions, character arcs and a suitably important climax, it even functions as a standalone film, in a similar way to Fellowship or other trilogy/tetralogy/etc first instalments.

Plenty of mysteries remain at the end: who are Seele? What is the Human Instrumentality Project? Why does Shinji’s father hate his son but smile whenever he sees Rei? To mention just a few. They’re not allowed to over-dominate this story, but they let the viewer know that, while You Are (Not) Alone functions as an entertaining standalone tale, there’s a lot left to be revealed and investigated. It’s enough to make one scurry back to the series for answers, though the three movies still to come promise whole new characters, plots and a — frankly, much-needed — brand-new ending. After two misfires (one in the series, one in a film), hopefully Anno can provide something truly satisfying this time.

4 out of 5

Evangelion 1.11 is out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)

aka Shin seiki Evangelion Gekijô-ban: Air/Magokoro wo, kimi ni

2007 #107
Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 90 mins | DVD | 15

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of EvangelionEight weeks and sixteen films later than I’d’ve liked, I can finally complete the Evangelion story! (For my review of the first film, look here.)

First off, don’t even attempt this if you haven’t seen all of the (excellent) TV series — it won’t even vaguelly make sense. Sadly, if you have seen the series, it’s a disappointing climax. Promising a clearer ending than the original arty philosophical one, it winds up delivering something that’s almost as bad. It’s somewhat redeemed by what leads up to this final confusing half hour: some proper story, resolutions for some outstanding plot threads, and a few instances of decent action too. As a conclusion it’s far from satisfying, though.

One can only hope the new four-film remake of the whole story (the first of which was recently released in Japan), which promises another fresh conclusion, can come up with something more comprehensible. I wouldn’t count on it.

3 out of 5

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth (1997)

aka Shin seiki Evangelion Gekijô-ban: Shito shinsei

2007 #91
Hideaki Anno, Masayuki & Tsurumaki Kazuya | 107 mins | DVD | 15

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death &a RebirthThe genesis of this film is a long story (at least, longer than I’d like for this review!) The anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion ends with bizarre theme-centric episodes that fail to conclude the story; a film was produced to re-tell the end from a story-centric position and/or to provide an alternate ending (depending who you believe). This is not that film, but something that was released a bit before that.

The first 69 minutes (titled Death) are an intriguing reorganisation/summary of the series in a somewhat impressionistic way, including a few new scenes. It’s either quite clever or just a jumble. The final 27 minutes (titled Rebirth) are an all-new continuation of the story.

There are answers, revelations, some great sequences, and a great cliffhanger! Unfortunately this is also the start of the concluding film, which ultimately renders this as just one thing: a fan-only curio. Its main value, in my opinion, is the neat cliffhanger, which makes for a tantalising ending (instead of the first act plot point it must be in the next film).

If you’re curious about Evangelion and think a filmic summary sounds a good idea, don’t watch! Get hold of the series, it’s worth the time. (I’ll undoubtedly share my thoughts on the conclusion, The End of Evangelion, as soon as get it back in stock.)

2 out of 5