***½/**** Image C+ Sound A+ Extras B-
starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
screenplay by Max Borenstein
directed by Gareth Edwards
by Walter Chaw Gareth Edwards's Godzilla, the 32nd Godzilla film just including the Toho series and the three previous American contributions, manages somehow to walk the line between nostalgia for the guy-in-a-suit heroism of the earlier installments and the demands and expectations of the modern CGI wonderland. It has Japanese actor Ken Watanabe be the mournful, grave centre of the piece, allowed at one point to utter "Gojira" (later, on a radar, we see it spelled out in obeisance to the movie's origins) and given the film's most crowd-pleasing line, right before shit gets real in San Francisco. It cares deeply about the monster's place in Japanese culture as a simultaneous reminder of what happened to the country during the war, its humiliation afterwards, and its ambiguous place in the world as Japan reconstructed its image. What confused me most when I watched the Toho flicks on Saturday afternoons on a 9" b&w television was that Godzilla seemed heroic--every bit as nuanced, as conflicted, as ronin as a Mifune samurai; a hero who would return, like Arthur did for England, when the nation needed him. The Godzilla legend is a fable of reconstruction and self-sufficiency--a Leda and the Swan story, where power is drawn from the very source of victimization. He's a complex national symbol, perhaps the definitive cross-cultural Japanese signifier, and the movies that get that (my favorite is Destroy All Monsters, with its dabbling in female hive minds) are brilliant bits of sociology and history. Edwards's Godzilla gets it.