I know it doesn’t feel like it but we’re just three months away from March again.
It’s been almost a year now since the beginning of quarantine, when the world had to be shut down due to the escalating nature of COVID-19 and things have…largely only gotten worse.
In the US specifically.
On March 13th we had 2,204 cases of COVID in the United States and a total of 49 deaths. Today we have 14 MILLION cases across the country and currently 274,000 plus deaths. To put that in perspective we have nearly as many cases of COVID in the US alone as there are people in the cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago combined and we’re experiencing a 9/11’s worth of new deaths every day.
This is not even to mention the economic strain the pandemic has put the country under. Lockdowns and quarantines, without supplemental income to bolster those losses have led to closures, massive unemployment, people running deeply behind on their rent, and crushing debt for many if not buried in medical costs from being infected. Common people are trying their best to navigate a year unlike any other and are largely floundering with little to no help in sight.
And all this can be chalked up to one culprit in particular: our government’s incompetence.
From the beginning when this virus first reared its ugly head in 2020, not enough was done to prepare the country for what would come next. Call it hubris or American Exceptionalism, but our government just was not taking it seriously as the President boasted cases would just “disappear” after late February and our leaders largely pretended it either was a) not a big deal or b) would never be a big deal.
Nearly nine months later senate Republicans still think another massive bailout for the nation’s richest coporations is the way to go, all while giving us $1,200 band aid for our troubles.
As we see other countries largely find ways to navigate around COVID and create a safe environment where some normalcy can be maintained it becomes increasingly clear to anyone who isn’t a psychopath that the US has grossly mishandled this threat from the beginning. It’s a slow moving disaster that could’ve largely been avoided if our leaders gave a damn and it feels increasingly like we’re all just going to get the virus at some point because there’s virtually no structural safeguard in place to protect us.
This lamenting of the futility of our government’s response to crises is the central theme of one of my favorite monster movies of all-time; “Shin Gojira” (or “Godzilla Resurgence” for American audiences). Directed by “Neon Genesis Evangelion’s” own Hideaki Anno, “Shin Gojira” tells a similar story of a literal slow-moving disaster in the form of titular atomic fire-lizard rising from the Pacific Ocean to decimate Japan once again and how the government poorly responds to it.
For most Americans, Godzilla is something of a joke as a movie character.
He’s Japan’s version of King Kong, a great fire-breathing reptile for thousands of random Japanese to scream “AAAAHHH! GODZILLA!!!” at while a man in a rubber suit knocks down model buildings for two hours. For several decades, he was even a bit of a superhero for children; the good monster who fought bad monsters like King Ghidorah, Gigan, and Hedorah.
The newer American remakes by Legendary Studios have not done much to change this perception. In these films, Godzilla is again depicted as a “titan” for the people doing battle with the bad titans set with people in mo-cap suits duking it out in front of greenscreens that create elaborate cities for the monsters to stampede through.
It is just not that deep to most people and who could blame them? Godzilla is cheap popcorn escapism for most audiences and most of his films see him as such.
But Godzilla has a much darker origin, however. 1954’s original “Gojira” isn’t some cheap monster flick; it’s an allegory for the atomic bomb and the terror it brought upon the people of Japan. At the time of its release the Japanese hadn’t really reckoned with what happened in WWII, it was a source of deep shame and horror and it broke the spirits of many back then. After an atomic bomb test accidentally radiated the crew of a Japanese fishing boat in 1954, director Ishiro Honda became inspired to create the King of the Monsters after Japan’s own government largely mishandled the fallout. The film was a huge hit and Japanese audiences were moved by the dark allegorical nature of the story.
With “Shin Gojira” Anno brings Godzilla back to this grimmer tone. He was inspired by the events of 2014’s Fukushima nuclear plant disaster and how the Japanese government once again failed to act in a major crisis. Through his 2016 film, Anno aimed to depict the slow-moving nature of a developing disaster quite literally with the character of Godzilla and how a crisis can only get worse and worse if left largely unchecked by those tasked to protect us.
Godzilla begins in “Shin Gojira” as a small, destructive, but ultimately killable lifeform as he appears in the waters off Tokyo Bay. His beady, soulless eyes, tadpole-like form, oozing putrid toxic blood everywhere through his malformed gills are pretty gross and Anno directly references Fukushima as the beast creates a tidal wave as he makes his way toward land in the opening sequence.
Meanwhile as Godzilla causes horrific damage to the city in this small (comparatively to earlier films) but powerful form, the Japanese Government tries to put an end to it. But as they try to address the escalating nature of the problem, bureaucracy gets in the way at every turn. Through the use of fast cuts and dark humor, Anno creates his own “Dr. Strangelove” set of scenes as Japanese politicians scramble from one board room to another to weigh options in cold math against the very real people who are fleeing for their lives as they debate with one another. Anno, doesn’t go out of his way to depict anyone as explicitly the villain here, but he does make it very apparent that when government officials refuse to accept the reality of a crisis people die. In a scene that is played partially for laughs, that feels all too relevant and frankly on the nose now, the Prime Minister addresses Japan on TV by assuring the people that there is “no way” Godzilla can make landfall and everyone will be safe. Moments later he is interrupted on live TV as Godzilla has in fact made landfall.
Early in the film though, as Godzilla has done already immense damage in his adolescent form, Japan’s government has a chance to kill the monster once and for all by mobilizing the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) a move, that if you are not familiar with Japanese politics, is rife with concerning optics. The moment comes where Japan’s government can pull the trigger and kill the threat once and for all but in another, darkly humorous, turn of events decide not to as some nearby citizens who could be caught in the crossfire become a hazard for the JSDF. Godzilla goes back into the sea from there and Japan is left to pick up the pieces.
In the early months of the COVID lockdown, things appeared to slow down. From about April to June, those states that took the virus seriously at the start saw some plateauing of the daily cases. While hardly a victory, things at least appeared to be going in the right direction. Then inexplicably in July a bunch of states declared premature victory and began reopening back up in certain areas such as gyms, salons, and some restaurants. I wouldn’t say we had the virus on the ropes but we were trending generally in the right direction (though nothing was really being done about loss of employment and cancelling rent and evictions, of course…). So, in a moment when the government could’ve kept trying, mostly at least, to do the right thing they failed to keep going and pull the trigger.
And just like in the movie, COVID (ie: Godzilla) came back stronger and even worse than before.
After the JSDF failed to kill Godzilla in the opening act, the big guy returns later on in the movie having evolved into his more indestructible final form. Where the JSDF’s weapons may have had an effect before they find their tanks, helicopters, and other military hardware have no effect on Godzilla now. It is too late to stop what is now inevitable. Godzilla walks literally through it all, causing waves of destruction with each step and Japan’s government watches in horror as they lament their failure to stop him when they had the chance.
This failure comes to its ultimate head in the final moment of this sequence when Godzilla revs up his dorsal fins and unleashes his horrifying atomic breath. It’s more powerful than anything he has done previously and absolutely wastes Tokyo in a brilliant display of raw destruction that is honestly one of the best most terrifying sequences in Kaiju filmmaking ever.
Godzilla is best used in cinema when he is a titan-sized walking metaphor for the destruction that happens when governments fail their people. Where the recent American Godzilla depicts him as a force of nature, like a walking hurricane, Ishiro Honda and Hideaki Anno see him more as a vengeful God coming to punish the wicked for their sins or, in the case of the government, their incompetence.
If COVID is a metaphor for anything this year, it is a microcosm for a wide range of problems that go unaddressed for too long by our leaders and only given notice when it’s far too late. Climate Change continues to get worse and worse each year as I am quite literally choking on ash as I type this due to yet another wildfire in the California area. The riots that erupted over the summer and continue to go on in response to the gross militaristic, overfunded, and racist structure of law enforcement in this country are the result of decades of not doing the right thing to curb the problem. The reason we are by far the worst equipped first world country to handle this crisis right now is quite literally due to years of gutting our social safety net, slashing our wages, and privatizing our health insurance.
Though there is a wide range of Japanese-specific politics in the film, “Shin Gojira” is an unfortunately timeless film for people who have suffered from leaders who fail to act in moments like these. It shows what happens when our government drags its feet on transformative legislation and actual measures that can save lives. It criticizes our leaders for choosing to save themselves in the moment, with performative optics, over helping their own people. It argues that the results of bureaucratic red tape and bad politics will always end in disaster for its citizens. And most relevantly it states that governments have a duty to stop a crisis in its infancy before it’s too late.
“Shin Gojira” is a perfect monster film for the year of COVID and distressingly accurate to the way the US has mishandled this crisis from the beginning. Every day, more and more people suffer and die because our leaders have failed to act in an unprecedented time, whether it’s the usual suspects who think any government social service is “cOmMuNiSm” or the feckless cowards who twiddle their thumbs and shrug each time a conservative tells them “no.”
We are far past the stage where this can be solved the easy way anymore and though there are still many proven ways to help the common people right now, it unfortunately feels like 2020’s Godzilla cannot be stopped…
Yea, things will totally get better in 2021, guys…