The Most Heroic Moment in GODZILLA MINUS ONE Doesn’t Involve Godzilla

The Special Something That Helps Make a Masterpiece

Without a doubt there are numerous examples of awe-inspiring spectacle throughout Godzilla Minus One. The (Academy Award-winning!) visual effects successfully restore a grandeur and terror to the titular titan, winding the clock back on 70 years of iterations to bring Godzilla back to his original purpose as an avatar for the sins of World War II come to wreak even more havoc on an unprepared population.

Buildings are leveled! Battleships are chewed up and spit out! Whole populations are laid to waste via Godzilla’s radiation breath!

Equally spellbinding are the sequences of heroism and courage, especially an epic climax featuring a citizen-led multiprong effort to slay the monster and save Tokyo that is as rousing and triumphant as big ticket blockbuster cinema gets.

All of this is more than enough to make Godzilla Minus One, now streaming on Netflix and available to buy and rent from other services, an above-average entry in this venerable franchise. You come for big impressive spectacle, and this over-delivers on big impressive spectacle.

But in trying to articulate just why Godzilla Minus One is so affecting beyond what we might ever expect from an action-packed creature feature (never mind from a damn Godzilla movie, 70 years deep into making Godzilla movies) the scene that stands out the most, that serves as a mission statement for the whole of Minus One’s approach to reinventing/reinvigorating the Godzilla film series, does not actually involve the big green guy at all.

Minus One wastes little time getting the creature into the feature. Less than five minutes in, we get our first look at this incarnation of Godzilla (pre-radiation, so he’s just a regular…huge…dinosaur…monster…thing). Simultaneously, writer/director Takashi Yamazaki lays out the plight of protagonist Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki). A kamikaze pilot who chose to live, he’s wracked by shame and guilt over what he views as a dereliction of duty in the last days of the war. Those feelings are only compounded when he freezes up during the attack by this small(er) Godzilla and causes the death of a number of his fellow soldiers.

So Shikishima is already at a low ebb when he returns home and finds that ‘home’ is a bombed out, burned up ruin. His parents are dead, his house is destroyed, and, as if to add insult to injury, the first familiar face he sees is his neighbor Sumiko, (Sakura Ando) who promptly chews him out for having the audacity to still be alive. Having lost all three of her own children during the firebombing of Tokyo, Sumiko vents the grief and fury of a devastated nation at this young who embodies the failures and shortcomings that led to this fate.

Sumiko reappears a few scenes later, again to berate Shikishima for his failings. This time, it’s because he’s brought home a refugee, Noriko, (Minami Hamabe) and the infant that Noriko rescued from a dying woman. As Shikishima leaves his home, Sumiko is framed in the deep background of the shot, crouched among the pilings of shattered homes and lives. Her wardrobe and positioning make her easy to almost miss among the scenery. Just another piece of debris.

As the scene unfolds, Sumiko rises and moves closer so she can mock Shikishima’s efforts to ‘play hero’. “Count me out,” she sneers. “I’m done caring.”


Only, as Shikishima starts to walk away, Sumiko asks if Noriko is healthy enough to feed the baby. When Shikishima admits that Noriko is not the mother, Minus One hard cuts from Sumiko’s disbelieving face to her inside the house, tending to the child even as she chastises the young man and woman for the foolishness of taking responsibility for a life they have no idea how to care for.

Her arm moving as if it is operating without conscious thought, she thrusts a bag of rice into Shikishima’s hand to make gruel for the infant. “There goes my prized white rice,” she limps out. “What a nuisance, I swear.”

Sumiko continues to appear throughout the film as a more or less permanent nanny for the growing child while Shikishima and Noriko’s time is occupied with more pressing, Godzilla-shaped problems (Godzilla being, you know, the main one). From a strictly functional perspective, that is the role that Sumiko plays within the math of the story: the all-purpose answer anytime you might wonder who’s watching the kid while the adults are out dealing with the latest fit Godzilla is throwing. No worries, Sumiko’s back at home minding the toddler.

But with this early scene, Sumiko becomes not just a useful plot device but the hinge point of Minus One’s entire thematic concept. A grieving mother in a shattered husk of a country, utterly and totally broken beyond the limits of what any human being should have to endure… and even still, she can’t help but help. She can’t not try, even though by all rights ‘trying’ should be long past looking like so much wasted time.

Minus One dramatizes this same compulsion towards needing to do something again and again, with Godzilla serving as an ill-tempered metaphor for the seeming uselessness of giving a shit. In the face of a force that will not stop, that defies all conventional weapons and seeming limitations of resources and manpower, that keeps getting back up no matter how many times you knock it down, in the face of all of that, what chance do people have? Why even bother?

In the midst of the relentless bombard of explosive destruction, Yamazaki never loses sight of this core theme. The world, Minus One argues, will not be saved by grand gestures and super-weapons and fated heroes come down from the heavens to set all things to right. The world is saved every day by the choice we make, every day, to be there for one another. To take the moment out of our own lives to help another. To try, even when trying seems like nothing more than a shortcut to a broken heart.

We can’t all be the one who slays the monster. But we can all of us be a hero just by trusting that annoying little voice of our better natures, arguing for us to make the mistake of giving a shit when we know we shouldn’t.

A grieving mother gives her last bag of rice to a stranger’s hungry child and the world is saved. The world is saved.

Godzilla Minus One is available on Netflix, and to rent/buy on other VOD platforms.

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