Reimagining Godzilla: Director Embraces Original’s ‘Japanese Spirituality’ for New Film

by Madison Thomas
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Godzilla spirituality

The iconic figure of Godzilla, emblematic of the horrors of nuclear devastation, has rampaged across cinema screens in numerous incarnations, from its Japanese roots to various American interpretations.

Takashi Yamazaki, the filmmaker at the helm of the newest Godzilla installment, which audiences in the United States will experience in theaters later this year, aspires to recapture the unique Japanese spiritual essence that was so integral to the 1954 prototype.

The pioneering film, helmed by Ishiro Honda, depicted the terror of a primordial titan awakened by the fallout of nuclear tests in the Pacific, with a man laboriously animating a rubber costume amidst scale models of urban destruction. In contrast, the entity in “Godzilla Minus One” comes to life through the realm of computer-generated imagery.

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Yamazaki, who penned the film’s script and spearheaded the digital effects, expressed his reverence for the initial Godzilla portrayal and his commitment to themes of militarism and atomic armament. “In our culture, there’s a belief in ‘tatarigami’, which denotes both benevolent and malevolent deities. Godzilla represents a duality, part beast, part deity,” Yamazaki elaborated.

Amid the contemporary global backdrop marked by the Ukrainian conflict and the persisting COVID-19 pandemic, Yamazaki sees the world’s mood as congruent with the ethereal and distinctly Japanese nature of his Godzilla. This sentiment was shared at the Tokyo International Film Festival, with “Godzilla Minus One” billed as the concluding feature, and its Japanese cinematic debut scheduled for this Friday.

The director posited to The Big Big News that the monstrous Godzilla could only be appeased through tranquility and prayer, as opposed to violent confrontation.

Yamazaki’s film narrative commences immediately after Japan’s capitulation in World War II, portraying a nation so ravaged that it stands defenseless against the emergent Godzilla, plunging the country back into adversity.

The film stars Ryunosuke Kamiki as the protagonist, a war veteran who, having lost his family, faces the daunting challenge of Godzilla.

The monster, brought to life by Tokyo’s Shirogumi, a leading special effects company, looms with terrifying realism, complete with a sweeping tail and a hide that glows like radioactive coals.

Some enthusiasts argue that Hollywood’s representations of Godzilla, or “Gojira” as it is known in Japan, have sometimes missed the mark by not fully addressing the nuclear narrative.

Yamazaki, who is not without a sense of humor, acknowledged his appreciation for Hollywood’s special effects, citing Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla as an inspiration. This film reignited Japan’s Godzilla productions, which had been dormant since 2004 with Toho studios’ latest creation, the 2016 “Shin Godzilla,” directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi.

Yamazaki, who has previously collaborated with distinguished director Juzo Itami and received Japan’s top film honors for works such as “Always – Sunset on Third Street” and “The Eternal Zero,” is poised to continue his journey with Godzilla. Yet, his aspirations stretch to the realms of “Star Wars.”

Intrigued by filmmaking since childhood, especially after being captivated by Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Yamazaki dreams of directing a “Star Wars” film, drawing on the series’ rich tapestry of Asian motifs.

Confident in his unique vision, he believes he could make a remarkable contribution to the “Star Wars” saga.

Yuri Kageyama is accessible on X, formerly Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Godzilla spirituality

What is the directorial approach Takashi Yamazaki is taking for the new Godzilla movie?

Takashi Yamazaki aims to recapture the ‘Japanese spirituality’ that was a hallmark of the 1954 original Godzilla film, focusing on themes of war and the repercussions of nuclear weapons. His approach involves a blend of reverence for the source material and contemporary relevance, bringing to life the titular monster with cutting-edge computer graphics while grounding the narrative in the historical context of post-World War II Japan.

How does ‘Godzilla Minus One’ differ from previous Godzilla films?

‘Godzilla Minus One’ sets itself apart by being a prequel to the original 1954 movie, exploring Japan’s vulnerabilities right after World War II. Unlike previous iterations that often utilized a person in a suit for the monster, this film features a Godzilla fully realized through digital special effects, seeking to maintain the spiritual and thematic essence of its origin story.

Who stars in ‘Godzilla Minus One’ and what is the character’s background?

Ryunosuke Kamiki stars as the hero of ‘Godzilla Minus One’, playing a soldier who survives the atrocities of World War II only to lose his family, confronting Godzilla amidst a nation stripped of its capacity to defend itself.

What inspired Takashi Yamazaki to become a filmmaker?

Takashi Yamazaki’s passion for filmmaking was ignited by Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. As a child, the movie left such an impact on him that he enthusiastically recounted its story to his mother for hours, marking the beginning of his journey into cinema.

Does Takashi Yamazaki have aspirations beyond the Godzilla franchise?

Yes, beyond Godzilla, Takashi Yamazaki harbors the ambition to direct a ‘Star Wars’ film. He cites the franchise’s Asian influences as a natural fit for his directorial style and expresses confidence in his ability to offer a unique and special addition to the ‘Star Wars’ saga.

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