Is Godzilla: Minus One the best movie of 2023?

Image from author.

Nowadays, it’s much too common to see movies that have insanely large budgets, but still leave much to be desired. Many Disney movies follow this pattern, especially films set in the MCU, such as Thor: Love and Thunder, and Antman: Quantumania. Both had budgets in the hundred of millions, but ended up being lackluster in most departments, including VFX. Godzilla, being the longest running movie franchise ever, is no stranger to big budgets; the most expensive movie in this franchise, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (2019), had a budget of $200 million. And while many fans enjoyed this film very much, a lot of people thought this movie, and the franchise as a whole, is nothing more than big monster fights with lackluster characters and story. In an interview, Elve Vegara, a freshman at Washington said, “I’m just not not that interested, I’ve never been a huge fan.” He also added, “I don’t think a movie about a giant monster could be that deep.” But is it possible for a Godzilla movie to have an amazing story and deep characters, with a budget that seems miniscule compared to most Hollywood productions, without sacrificing incredible VFX?      

Godzilla: Minus One, to the surprise of critics, has all of these things and more. In 2016, Toho, the company producing Godzilla films for 70 years, released Shin Godzilla, which was quickly regarded as one of the best films in the franchise, with a budget of only around $10 million. For the next 7 years, Toho released a few Godzilla projects, such as the animated Godzilla Earth trilogy, but no major theatrical releases. In the West however, Legendary Studios, who have had the rights to the character since 2014, have been making increasingly bigger and higher budget productions. Then, in 2023, Toho decided to remind everyone that they could do Godzilla best. For their next film, they chose Takashi Yamazaki, who is a respected director in Japan and has worked on Godzilla in the past.

Yamazaki’s take on Godzilla took him back to his roots. The first movie, released in 1954, was a dark story that warned of the destruction nuclear energy could bring, and Godzilla was presented as a metaphor for this destruction. This film, while seemingly a reimagining of the first film, tells its own story about personal trauma. The human characters in Godzilla movies have mostly been one dimensional. This movie takes its human characters to the next level. It’s one of the first times where the scenes without Godzilla weren’t uninteresting or boring; rather, they were engaging and deeply compelling. The main cast of characters feel like real human beings, instead of cardboard cutouts that simply gawk at the big monster when he finally shows up.

The main character, Koichi Shikishima, played expertly by Kamiki Ryunosuke, is a Kamikaze pilot. In the final days of the Second World War, he abandons his duty and stops at Odo island claiming that his plane needs to be repaired, when a smaller version of Godzilla attacks. Koichi makes it to his fighter plane, where he has a clear shot of Godzilla, but he freezes with fear. Godzilla proceeds to massacre the mechanics who were stationed on the island, leaving only Koichi and one other mechanic. When he returns to his home, he finds that it has been completely destroyed by the air raids, and his parents have died. He runs into Noriko, played by Minami Hamabe, who carries an orphaned child with her. They end up living together. Koichi gets a job disarming mines in the ocean, where he meets new friends, and he earns enough money to buy a new house. But he is haunted by nightmares of what happened on Odo island, and is plagued with guilt. Eventually Godzilla returns, now even bigger, stronger, and seemingly indestructible. While smaller than most iterations of Godzilla we’ve seen in the past few years, he is still able to wreak havoc, and bring terror with him wherever he goes. Fans of Godzilla will not be disappointed by the little time Godzilla has on screen, because when he is on screen, the action can be classified as the best in any Godzilla film, and the effects that were used rival Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. The amount of destruction Godzilla brings is diabolically marvelous. After Godzilla returns to the depths, the humans devise a plan to defeat him, and Koichi is finally able to resolve his inner turmoil. After an incredible and suspenseful climax, the movie ends on a seemingly high note, but Godzilla is not gone forever.

In an interview, Talon Vargas, another freshman here at Washington explained his thoughts on the movie. He enjoyed it quite a lot, as he said, “I thought it was better than most of the movies that came out this year.” While not a diehard fan of the series, he finds Godzilla movies appealing because he likes “how the different movies portray him as good or bad, and how the humans interact with him.” Many people share the sentiment that this film was one of the greatest that was released in 2023. With an astonishing budget of only $15 million, Godzilla: Minus One, has earned over $85 million as of January 2024. Toho has put Hollywood to shame, proving that movies can achieve so much more with so much less.

Samuel Douglas was born and raised in the Bay Area, and is a freshman at Washington High School. This is his first year working on the Hatchet. He is eager to write about things like art and entertainment. He enjoys drawing, or just being creative in general. Sam likes making new friends, and he hopes that he can be friends with everyone he interviews. In the future, he wants to improve his art and eventually publish his own comic book series.

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