How ‘Godzilla Minus One’ Overcomes the Franchise’s Biggest Weakness

Dustin Waters
Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

Few things are better than Godzilla. I say this with no irony. Of course, Godzilla can be silly, campy, and downright cheesy, but as a piece of entertainment, the franchise has unlimited potential. 

But that’s not to say the Godzilla franchise is without its faults. Perhaps the largest among them being the struggle to get viewers to connect with the human protagonists. 

Almost 70 years removed from Godzilla’s big screen debut and even longer from the nuclear bombings that inspired its creation, it’s difficult — especially for Western audiences — to recognize the level of destruction and death that Godzilla once represented. Couple that with the incredible amount of affection that has developed among the monster’s fanbase, and it is easy to see why most moviegoers are going to root for Godzilla.

With this comes the challenge of getting fans to develop meaningful connections with the human characters. Often these protagonists are scientists tasked with inventing a superweapon or some high-ranking official leading an anti-kaiju task force. There are lots of scenes with folks in lab coats and boardroom debates. Beyond the general desire to prevent catastrophic disaster, human characters often lack a strong connection with Godzilla as it relates to their motivation. 

But here’s how the franchise’s newest installment, the remarkable Godzilla Minus One overcomes this weakness without diminishing its titular beast.

In its opening act, Minus One focuses on World War II kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima. Shikishima has landed on a small Pacific island with a complaint of a plane malfunction. Finding none, air force mechanic Sosaku Tachibana realizes that Shikishima made up the malfunction and is abandoning his kamikaze mission. 

That evening the island is attacked by a noticeably smaller and less-mutated version of the Godzilla that we’ve come to know and love. With he and his fellow mechanics pinned back, Tachibana orders Shikishima to use his plane’s machine gun to take down the monster. 

Shikishima reaches the seat of his cockpit, but fear overcomes him before he can fire a single round. Tachibana’s men are decimated. Godzilla escapes. 

Shikishima and Tachibana are the only survivors of the attack. On the ship back to the mainland, Tachibana hands Shikishima an envelope. Inside are all the personal family photos that Tachibana collected from his dead men. They are to serve as a reminder of the lives lost and families devastated by Shikishima’s failure to act. 

Upon his return home, Shikishima is treated as a pariah for failing to carry out his military mission. He’s branded a coward and lives with the festering shame of failing to raise a finger to save those men during Godzilla’s attack.

In the years that follow the attack, U.S. nuclear testing transforms Godzilla into an even more hulking, unstoppable beast. Likely the best opportunity to bring Godzilla down was that night on the island. 

Shikishima begins to put back the pieces of his life, but he’s unable to forgive himself. He’s also unable to put the war behind him and let go of the photos of the men he watched die. And as this new, more deadly version of Godzilla returns to threaten Shikishima’s life and the lives of those he loves, he is forced to decide if he is destined to finally carry out the kamikaze mission. 

Godzilla Minus One pulls off the incredible challenge of developing the human protagonist’s motivation and evolution as a character in a way that binds the story to Godzilla. And it does so without diminishing the King of All Monsters. It shows that the damage inflicted by Godzilla goes beyond just the crumbling city skyline. It’s personal. And it’s devastating.

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