Our last night in Japan coincided with the release of a new Godzilla film, titled “Shin Gojira” that may mean “new Godzilla,” “true Godzilla, ”god Godzilla,” among others, in Japanese, so we decided to see the film directed by Hideaki Anno (the creator of very popular animation series “Neon Genesis Evangelion”) in the curious new theater environment called MX4D, where not only the seats move up and down, right and left, but also other 4D effects, such as smoke, flash, wind, mist and scent, envelop the audiences sitting in special device-seats. I was initially slightly apprehensive about MX4D format because the theater advised those who are prone to sea-sickness and/or pregnant women against seeing the film in MX4D. However, I am glad that I did because such a theater experience would be possible only in Japan. At the same time, I also felt that I should have seen “Shin-Godzilla” in the IMAX rather than in the MX4D because the busy seating condition distracted me from watching the film in a more attentive manner. I thought the film, which was more serious and far better than I had expected, deserved a more attentive viewing. (The film would improve if the English-speaking part of the Japanese-American character should be dubbed by English-speaking person.)
Since I do not want to destroy the viewing experience for those who have not yet seen the film, I will not want to discuss the details or the plot of the film. But, I want to share my general impression of Anno’s new film.
I saw in this new Godzilla film the quintessence of Anno’s work and then its transcendence. It showed the existential crisis of Japan and the incompetence and/or the irresponsibility of the Japanese post-WWII political system that is unable to face in any crisis, let alone the appearance of a monstrously destructive Godzilla. In Shin Gojira, the existential crisis caused by Godzilla is evaded by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi, an initially moderately mannered but principled “young” politician/ bureaucrat (played by Hiroki Hasegawa, who, as usual, inhabited the character fully to make him totally believable). This final development in the film is, as far as I know, rather uncharacteristic of the director Anno. For instance, as it is clear from what Anno said in his interview with David Samuels in 2007, he held a rather pessimistic view of contemporary Japanese people and society.
“Japan lost the war to the Americans. Since that time, the education we received is not one that creates adults. Even for us, people in their 40s, and for the generation older than me, in their 50s and 60s, there’s no reasonable model of what an adult should be like. I don’t see any adults here in Japan. The fact that you see salarymen reading manga and pornography on the trains and being unafraid, unashamed or anything, is something you wouldn’t have seen 30 years ago, with people who grew up under a different system of government. They would have been far too embarrassed to open a book of cartoons or dirty pictures on a train. But that’s what we have now in Japan. We are a country of children.”
I wonder if the recent real existential crisis of Japan in the form of massive earthquake, tsunami, and the meltdown of Fukushima Power Plant actually changed Anno’s view of Japan because hope is something really needed when faced by real crises. Anno’s new film does show the ineffective politicians and scientists in a satirical manner in the first half of the film. But it also shows a new hope in the younger generation. Indeed, in his new Godzilla film, the Japanese led by Yaguchi are no longer childish or irresponsible. They are willing to face the problem head-on. In addition, they show a clear sign of adulthood. (You may wonder what “adult” means. Well, my definition of adulthood is the ability to take responsibility for what one does as well as the capacity to live with uncertainty and ambiguity.) They accepted the contemporary modern situation that forces the humans to co-exist with the monstrous by-products of modern technology without becoming too lackadaisical or nihilistic. The film was hopeful and uplifting.