Assume there is a technology available that would provide unparalleled benefit to mankind. Permanently resolving our growing energy needs for example. Elimination of hunger, or a perfect technological solution to poverty or inequality. Whatever it is, it provides the perfect solution and the perfect benefit. If something goes wrong, however, mankind is destroyed. Should this technology be used? Whatever you choose, you’re going to have to live with the consequences.
In the end, that is what the movie is about. Nuclear technology is perhaps the best currently available technology for mankind’s global energy needs, but if something goes wrong the suffering can be profound. Shin Godzilla, in a way, explores just how profound that suffering can be.
In 1954, the original Godzilla film was released and the intent was clear: Godzilla was a symbolic stand-in for the devastation of nuclear attack. Shin Godzilla‘s modern interpretation follows through on this concept with more ambition. It not only uses the Fukushima nuclear disaster as a foundation, Shin Godzilla is also an indictment on mankind’s use of nuclear technology in general. In the end, the film delivers a powerful message. We will never be able to ignore the constant threat of a nuclear disaster.
Much of the film focuses on the political maneuvering and bureaucratic hurdles that prevent an effective response to an impending threat. Excessive bureaucracy is, of course, is an easy target and pops up in films from multiple countries. There’s always a point to be made about red tape. In Shin Godzilla, however, this takes on a special meaning. The Fukushima disaster was caused by general inaction from the government in addition to political friendships between the government and TEPCO, the company that ran the Fukushima reactor. In addition, general inaction and political friendships prevent a proper defense against the catastrophic damage that occurs when Godzilla comes ashore.
America is also indicted to a degree in the film as well. There are moments when America is portrayed as helpful, such as in delivering critical biological information on Godzilla. The rest of the time, however, Japanese politicians are slamming tables in anger or making references to how they are treated as underlings to the Americans. There is even some suggestion that America bears responsibility for Godzilla. This comes in the form of the discovery of illegal dumping of nuclear waste. No country is specifically labeled as the culprit, but America is guilty by inference thanks to repeated suggestions of a coverup.
Godzilla is not a character in this film so much as a walking disaster everyone has to deal with. The real story is about how people experience that disaster and how they deal with the aftermath.
As a symbol rather than an actual character, there is little information on Godzilla’s nature. Most of it comes from characters that are more or less guessing. In the previous films, Godzilla has always been portrayed as living off of nuclear power. In Godzilla 1984, he actually lifted up a reactor and absorbed the radioactive energy through its containment walls before leaving. In the 2014 American film, Godzilla was a descendant of creatures who became aquatic to get nearer to the Earth’s radioactive core.
In Shin Godzilla, there is no absorption of energy. Godzilla has DNA that is several times more complex than human DNA. This DNA enables Godzilla to absorb oxygen and hydrogen and metabolize them into a nuclear reaction that provides limitless energy. He doesn’t eat and only rests by going into a catatonic state once he’s used up too much energy to continue. Godzilla’s complex DNA also empowers him to self-evolve; it’s established in the film that there are four distinct forms Godzilla has taken.
The first unseen form is as one or more marine creatures that adapt to the illegally dumped radioactive waste mentioned earlier. These come together to form the tadpole version of Godzilla which makes its way onto Japan’s shores. Here, it mutates into a two-legged form. This causes a spike in power generation, however and Godzilla must return to the sea to cool off. While hidden in the ocean, Godzilla reaches his final form, that of the two-legged beast we’ve all come to know and love.
When you think about it, coming ashore makes no sense. Godzilla can’t have been looking for food. Further, there didn’t seem anything that pushed or pulled him ashore. He arrives of his own free will.
The key to this mystery may lie with Goro Maki. Although never seen, his presence is felt throughout the film. The film opens with the Japanese coast guard discovering his boat floating into the harbor. It’s empty, except for some of his work and a cryptic note. The main characters in the film discover he was a scientist who became disgusted with the nuclear research community after his wife died. At some point, he began research on the effects of an illegal nuclear waste site which was then covered up by the American government. He subsequently disappeared until his boat showed up. Maki himself is never found. What happened to him? It is my theory that Goro Maki is in fact Godzilla in whole or in part.
As mentioned earlier, Godzilla’s DNA is many times more complex than human DNA. It’s so complex, in fact, that Maki’s map of Godzilla’s DNA has to be folded like origami in order to understand how all the parts interrelate. Maki’s notes also indicate an “ancient form of marine life” had adapted to the nuclear waste and learned to feed off it. That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes multiple generations to develop that ability. This can happen quickly with bacteria, but is more difficult with more complex lifeforms. Maki must have surmised that the new creature that was developing was absorbing DNA. He had no way of knowing for sure, but with nothing else to live for, he threw himself into the ocean to be consumed and absorbed into this new form of life.
This is why Godzilla makes landfall to begin with and why Godzilla grows arms and legs. There’s no reason for an aquatic creature to have such appendages. Further, most land animals are four-legged. Bipeds are in fact, relatively unusual. It only makes sense for Godzilla to come ashore and grow into a giant biped if he was compelled through human DNA “donated” through Maki himself.
The most compelling evidence for our theory is the very end in which we see that Godzilla was defeated in the nick of time. He was about to “give birth” to a series of animals that look suspiciously humanoid. Inhuman, certainly, but with human size and human shape. These were to be the children of Goro Maki.
Throughout the film, references are made to the idea that Godzilla is truly a god. His DNA gives him supreme adaptability. His ability to emit beams of radiation and his general resistance to damage make him nigh-unstoppable. The film presents Godzilla as a symbol of nuclear disaster, but if the Maki theory holds he is more than that. He is the spirit of rage and punishment. One that has been summoned by the will of those ruined by the human inability to control the power of nuclear technology. At the end of the film, it is mentioned that the world will have to find a way to live with Godzilla. This is a metaphor for living with the human cost of nuclear disaster.
That cost includes vengeance, for his wife, for himself, and for the victims of a nuclear world.