The 33rd Toho Godzilla movie “Godzilla Minus One” is everything I didn’t know I wanted in a Godzilla movie.
As a fan of the large lizard since my childhood in the 1970s, I thought I had seen just about everything that could be done with the monster, which is characterized in this film by writer/director Takashi Yamazaki as more of a force of nature than just a savage creature of epic proportions.
Godzilla is more like a tornado, earthquake, or a hurricane in this picture, an act of God that can merely be endured and survived rather than be countered, contained, or defeated. This isn’t your friendly Godzilla who fights off other giant-sized monsters for the good of mankind. He’s a nasty beast, seemingly created for destruction.
He romps and stomps, swims and chomps his way through this film like Japan is his own personal hunting ground with destruction and mayhem being his only ambitions. The old man-in-a-suit Godzilla from the 20th century is gone. This atomic-powered titan is a CGI creation that bears a resemblance to Kaiju of old but is much more gruesome, which makes his wanton and capricious acts of destruction even more devastating.
While this retelling of the monster’s origin gives us good Godzilla, Yamazki’s film endeavors to be more than just an action romp for kids that the Godzilla movies morphed into during the 1960s and ‘70s.
Just like the 1954 original, this 2023 version is a morality play steeped in the trauma Japan faced after the outcome of World War II, and the devastation and later the psychological impact the two atomic bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Japan following its surrender.
However, as subtext this film places a target on the Japanese government for dragging its people into a war with the United States in which it could not win.
The film opens with kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) faking an engine malfunction with his plane to avoid the suicide mission and lands on Odo Island, which is soon after attacked by Godzilla. The monster’s attack kills everyone on the island except Koichi and mechanic Sosaku, who points the finger of blame at the cowardly pilot.
Two years later, Koichi, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, and his companion Noriko (Miami Hambe) have adopted a child who lost his parents in the war. He’s taken a job on a minesweeper ship, and when Godzilla reemerges mutated and enlarged by U.S. nuclear testing, the crew that Koichi works with are charged with releasing a mine into the monster’s mouth to kill it, which of course only makes the giant mad.
As the film rushes forward, Koichi continues to survive attacks by Godzilla until a fateful showdown during the film’s climax that goes well beyond most of what monster fans have come to expect in previous Toho films in terms of violence, gore, and trauma.
Though updated in every way, this film feels like a Godzilla movie in a way that the recent American-made Godzilla films just do not. I personally enjoyed this film more than any of the American attempts at the character dating back to the 1998 big-budget flop.
Yamazaki’s script and direction made me actually care about the characters, which is something neither the old Toho nor the newer American versions actually managed to do.
I had a great time with the movie that packs plenty of pathos along with an enormous amount of Kaiju carnage.
The movie is in Japanese, but has English subtitles.
(PG-13) 2 hr. 5 min.
Classic Corner – Fitzwilly
As the calendar turns to December, it’s time for the annual internet argument over what is and isn’t a “Christmas movie.”
While the fuss usually is over movies like 1980s action flicks “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Beverly Hills Cop” — “The Police Navidad Trinity” — there are other films that are set around Christmas, but really have little to do with the holiday.
There are many examples, but the one I’d like to consider today is the 1967 romantic comedy “Fitzwilly,” starring Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon, who are more known for their TV work than film.
Van Dyke, of course, starred with Mary Tyler Moore from 1961-66 in the landmark “Dick Van Dyke Show,” which is considered by many to be one of the two or three best sit-coms from the 1960s.
Feldon made her film debut in the movie, but she is better known as Agent 99 from the TV parody “Get Smart,” in which she co-starred with Don Adams from 1965-70.
Van Dyke and Feldon play a couple brought together, in an around about way, by crime in this slow-paced but fun caper film.
Van Dyke plays Claude Fitzwilliamm a Williams College honor graduate, seemingly slumming it as a butler for Miss Victoria Woodworth (Edith Evans), an elderly heiress, who secretly doesn’t have a dollar to her name.
Fitzwilliam or Fitzwilly, as he is called by his compatriots in crime, runs a gang of crooks, shysters, confidence men, grifters, and other nefariously skilled contractors through the Woodworth estate. They commit elaborate crimes from mail fraud to major theft to lavishly support themselves, Woodworth, and her often outlandish charitable donations.
The scheme is too good to be true until it isn’t. The operation begins to stumble around the time Woodworth hires Feldon’s Juliet Nowell to help her write a book on synonyms.
At first Nowell and Fitzwilly are at odds, but being forced to spend time together, they eventually fall for each other. Fitzwilly and crew plan one final job involving robbing Gimbels Department Store in New York on Christmas Eve to get them off the hook for another of Woodworth’s all-too generous donations and a scam involving Florida real estate.
I won’t give anything else away other than pointing out the climax of the movie is that Christmas Eve heist job.
So, back to the original question: is “Fitzwilly” a Christmas movie?
The answer to this question for this movie and films like the aforementioned cop action comedies is that it is subjective.
The theft on Christmas Eve is key to the plot of “Fitzwilly,” but not foundational unlike the Christmas-season setting for a movie like “Miracle on 34th Street,” which features Kris Kringle as key character and the impending holiday as a key plot point.
You could reimagine “Fitzwilly” being set around a Labor Day or Memorial Day sale, and not really change the heart of the movie. To me, “Fitzwilly” is not what I’d consider a Christmas movie. Christmas is incidental to the movie. You could make basically the same film if it were set at a different time of year with a minor rewrite.
However, no one has made me “The King of Christmas Movies,” so I’m not going to argue with anyone who labels it or any other film as a Xmas flick. On this subject, there is room for much latitude and many varied opinions.
If you are interested in making a decision for yourself, “Fitzwilly” airs at 5 p.m. Saturday on Turner Classic Movies.
The 1938 MGM version of “A Christmas Carol” plays just before “Fitzwilly” at 3:30 p.m. There’s no doubt that it’s a Christmas movie, and a very good one, too.