The Hamilton Spectator

Nuclear Destructio­n’s Monstrous Legacy

- ESTHER ZUCKERMAN

I was not expecting to cry as much as I did at “Godzilla Minus One.” While there were awe-inducing showdowns with the scaly title creature, the Toho Internatio­nal production, written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, is largely a meditation on sorrow and survival after World War II.

The specter of trauma has long hung over Godzilla, a creature unearthed from slumber by H-bomb testing in the 1954 original. But “Godzilla Minus One” further literalize­s that as it tells the story of Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a kamikaze pilot who shirks his duties, surviving both the war and an initial encounter with the beast, only to return to the ruins of Tokyo haunted by what he witnessed. Godzilla poses a threat, but mostly in the background. Instead, this is a story about finding community in the wake of destructio­n and learning to value yourself in a society that deems you worthless.

I cannot help but think about how “Godzilla Minus

One” exists in conversati­on with two other recent releases: Hayao Miyazaki’s exploratio­n of grief, “The Boy and the Heron,” and Christophe­r Nolan’s “Oppenheime­r.” Both “Godzilla Minus One” and “The Boy and the Heron” at least partly answer the question that some audiences had after “Oppenheime­r”: Where was the Japanese perspectiv­e in this story about the man whose invention, the atomic bomb, caused so much pain for them?

“Godzilla Minus One” and “The Boy and the Heron” both use the fantastica­l to portray a people grappling with the lasting effects of a devastatin­g conflict and their anger at those in power.

Koichi, the hero of “Godzilla Minus One,” is plagued by nightmares. In the opening sequence, he lands his plane on Odo Island in the final days of World War II. He says he is there for repairs, but he has lied to avoid the certain death that awaits him as a kamikaze pilot. And then Godzilla appears, killing nearly everyone stationed at the base. Koichi returns to a demolished Tokyo blaming himself for not completing his suicide mission and not effectivel­y battling the monster.

In Tokyo, he finds a family with other orphans of the war, including Noriko (Minami Hamabe), a young woman who saved a baby after the parents died. But Koichi is reluctant to commit to them because of his shame.

As a kamikaze pilot, Koichi was told that his life was worth nothing and he has carried that with him. In a rousing speech before the effort to defeat Godzilla begins, a former naval weapons developer leading the charge (Hidetaka Yoshioka) explains that their goal is to avoid death rather than seek it for glory.

“This country has treated life far too cheaply,” he says. He continues: “That’s why this time I take pride in a citizen-led effort that sacrifices no lives at all. This next battle is not one waged to the death but a battle to live for the future.” It is an optimistic rallying cry that reverberat­es through the final act.

The other two films are far less hopeful. “Oppenheime­r” ends with the title character’s affirmatio­n that he has started a chain reaction that could “destroy the entire world.” Mahito of “The Boy and the Heron” leaves a dangerous but enchanting parallel universe with the knowledge that he might forget all that occurred inside it and make the same mistakes as his ancestors, warmongers who try to bend people to their will.

Only “Godzilla Minus One” has a true happy ending. Well, until a reminder that Godzilla is not really vanquished.

Just as the monster never truly goes away, neither does Koichi’s torment. And just as “Oppenheime­r” is an example of the West still wrestling with its responsibi­lity for destructio­n during World War II, Japan is doing the same, but in its versions, the monsters are not all human.

 ?? TOHO COMPANY ?? “Godzilla Minus One” uses the fantastica­l to portray the experience­s of Japanese people after World War II.
TOHO COMPANY “Godzilla Minus One” uses the fantastica­l to portray the experience­s of Japanese people after World War II.

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