Godzilla Minus One on Netflix: Japanese monster flick is a chilling warning

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Godzilla Minus One is now on Netflix
Godzilla Minus One is now on Netflix Credit: Toho Studios

Since 2014, Hollywood has made five Godzilla and King Kong movies and between them, they’ve grossed $US2.52 billion.

The latest, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, remains number two on the global office charts for this year, and there’s even a TV spin-off on streaming.

The MonsterVerse, as it’s been dubbed, is well and truly roaring.

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And there is plenty of entertainment value in the MonsterVerse movies, which can be best described as heavy metal. They’re cacophonous, they’re stimulating, they’re overkill. If you want to turn your brain off and just watch some kaiju pummel each other to death, that’s what they’re for.

But, sometimes we forget that the origin of Godzilla stories is not about how big a punch Godzilla can throw (although this is also very cool), but about the destructive forces of nuclear power in the wake of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Toho Studios, the home of Godzilla in Japan, released Godzilla Minus One last year, which won an Oscar for special effects.

It had a small cinema run in Australia over the Christmas and New Year period and ended with roughly $2 million in ticket sales. In the US, it made more than $US50 million as word-of-mouth spread. Not bad from a production budget that was reportedly less than $US15 million.

Godzilla Minus One 2023
Godzilla Minus One had a small cinema release in Australia. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

Everyone who saw it, loved it. And as much as Netflix is strangling the cinema business, it has the capacity to amplify a lesser-seen movie once it hits streaming. And you should see Godzilla Minus One, it’s the best monster flick in recent years, and you very likely missed it.

The film is set during and mostly after World War II, centred on a failed kamikaze pilot named Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki). How do you fail as a kamikaze pilot? Well, you’re not dead.

Shikishima couldn’t go through with it and bailed out on Odo Island where there is an army base. He tells the maintenance crew there that his mission was hampered by mechanical issues, but it’s clear they don’t believe him when they find none.

That night, Godzilla attacks and Shikishima barely escapes with his life. He survives along with one other man, Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki), who knows Koichi’s secret.

Returning to a devastated Tokyo, Shikishima moves into his family home, which is barely standing after bombs ripped through the capital. All around him are the detritus of war and defeat, and internally, he is struggling with the guilt of being alive as well as your “garden variety” PTSD from both the war and the Godzilla attack.

His guilt drives him to reluctantly support a woman, Noriko (Minami Hamabe), and a baby she found orphaned in the wreckage of the city. They’re an unlikely makeshift family but an uneasy one.

Godzilla Minus One is now on Netflix
The film is an exploration of Japanese war guilt and trauma. Credit: Toho Studios

That guilt also drives him to sign up for a dangerous job as a minesweeper disposing of naval bombs, and his crew are all former servicemen. That’s when another Godzilla attack happens.

Godzilla Minus One features several impressive action set-pieces as Godzilla plagues the city and the sea and war survivors rally to defeat the monster.

But threaded through it all is bracing social commentary about the trauma of war that pervades individuals and collectives. How do you reckon with a complicated national legacy of imperialism and violent conquest while acknowledging your own people are also victims?

How do you make peace with your complicity while finding a path through the pain and guilt? Shikishima comes to stand in for Japan.

Godzilla Minus One 2023
Godzilla Minus One won the Oscar for special effects. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

The Japanese Godzilla movies were always about more than just monster fights. The creature’s origins lie in the US’s nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll. Godzilla is neither villain nor hero, it’s a representation of man’s hubris in trying to control a force they cannot, and the ruinous consequences of nuclear power.

In that sense, you can put the Toho Godzilla movies on the same level as something like Oppenheimer.

To be fair to the American MonsterVerse movies, the first film in the current series, the 2014 Godzilla film, is influenced by the 2011 Fukushima power plant meltdown which resulted in 2000 related deaths.

So, when you watch a Godzilla movie and see the kaiju’s spine light up, spike-by-spike, remember the warning behind it.

Godzilla Minus One is streaming now on Netflix

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