Jamie Skinner reviews Godzilla Minus One: Kamikaze pilot Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki) finds himself leading a battle against a regenerating Godzilla, alongside other World War II survivors.

Cert - 12, Run-time - 2 hours 4 minutes, Director - Takashi Yamazaki

With 2016’s Shin Godzilla Japan successfully took the iconic monster back to its war-inspired roots. A modern day take on human characters responding to tragedy, and a constantly evolving destructive force. It was one of the best Godzilla films in years, still standing as such, making sure that we engaged with the human characters so that their actions and responses had an impact. With Godzilla Minus One these feelings are continued, alongside taking things back to post-war Japan in a more upfront way, via a late-1940s setting.

Kamikaze pilot Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is recovering from World War II. Grieving his family, shunned by his neighbours who claim that he didn’t properly do his bit; he takes in homeless Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and orphaned child Akiko. Koichi’s external emotions prevent him from properly creating a family unit over the years, however these are conflicted with when the towering form of Godzilla, which he only just survived an encounter with during the war, resurfaces to destroy the country.

Minus One’s Godzilla design ramps up the fear created by the creature. Made to feel like a threat; particularly with up-close encounters involving sea-mine clearing boats with crews knowing they’re viewed as disposable trying their best to survive the impossible, his attacks have an effect on the human characters. One which is shown with strong impact during the traditional city attack sequence. As panic rushes through the streets of rushing citizens running away from flying debris and radioactive powers a tail-swipe effect of tension rises. This is a truly scary take on Godzilla.

The monster fits perfectly into a story about the response to him. The plans to tackle the tragedy have clear stages which you can see form over the course of the quick 2-hour run-time. There’s a natural and engaging course thanks to the way in which ideas come together, and indeed characters collaborate, and sometimes leave the attempt, to combat Godzilla. The supporting cast get a good deal to do, particularly in the second half as the need for a team effort is quickly realised, asking war-survivors to get back into action, and balance well with Koichi’s emotional arc.

Match that with the titular monster, put in clear sight but never centre stage - this is a story about responding to tragedy, not Godzilla being a threat to people for two hours - and overall there’s a good balance to the film’s characters. Striking plenty of seat-gripping suspense into the grand scale action sequences. Moments which capture a grand scale and make the most of the big screen while also capturing the post-war roots of the nearly-70-year-old lizard which are allowed to regrow into the modern day, with a good deal of blockbuster style.

Jamie Skinner, four stars ****