‘Godzilla’s Rejection of the Notion of a ‘Noble Death’ in War’

The latest installment in the 70-year series of kaiju flicks made by the Japanese production company Toho is Godzilla Minus One. This film upends the usual formula by beginning with a smoldering wasteland in Tokyo, not caused by a monstrous mutant reptile, but by relentless firebombings carried out by the American military near the end of World War II.

The original Godzilla was a fantastical metaphor for the destruction rained down on Japan’s citizens during the war: terrifying, inescapable, and monstrous. Writer/director Takashi Yamazaki plumbs those same depths, bringing to the screen the most dreadful version of Godzilla since the franchise began.

Caught up in the horror is fighter pilot Koichi Shikishima, who returns to the bombed-out remains of Tokyo after refusing to kill himself in a kamikaze mission. Wracked by survivors’ guilt, he joins others who are rebuilding their lives brick by brick until the inevitable arrival of Godzilla blows that away.

By its final act, Godzilla Minus One delivers a compelling rumination about the value of a single life and the emptiness of the notion of a “noble death” in war.

The final showdown with Godzilla is led by an all-volunteer force of private citizens who have used their human capacity for reason to engineer a solution. Shikishima discovers that virtue lies not in being willing to die for an abstract cause but in choosing to live for your neighbors, friends, and community.