What Shin Godzilla Can Teach Us About Good Governance

By  · Published on November 1st, 2016

It was all well and good for Godzilla, until he met the Justice League of Good Governance.

Government isn’t perfect, not by a country mile. When it fails, it is chaotically destructive to vast populations. I’m not yearning for the simpler days when only people who were allowed to share a row of urinals with me got their political opinions counted at the voting booth. I do, however, believe government has the unique ability to do necessary and amazing things and it is that very ability that makes their failures such a travesty.

In 1954, Godzilla provided an intense commentary on the devastating and lasting impact of atomic warfare. And while the invincible god monster has gone from heel to hero and back again, he is once again the physical manifestation of the folly of humanity. With Shin Godzilla, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi use him to send white hot fire at ineffective governance. But! They very specifically allow our heroes to work within the powers of government to resolve a crisis. I think that’s complicated and wonderful.

The filmmakers use Godzilla’s arrival as the catalyst to starkly showcase the ease in which bureaucracy can fail catastrophically and the difficulty it must overcome to succeed wildly. There is a powerfully gut wrenching scene where the government is lined up in blue disaster suits, somberly standing upon the wreckage of a city. It’s captured with a stunning wide-shot of the representatives, in regimented order and uniform, literally standing over chaos and sadness and loss. It’s a poignant take on scenes many of us will recall from the aftermath of the Fukushima and tsunami disasters. Some of the early destruction is so convincingly shot to look like real life footage of tsunami flooding that I honestly think it may be. It’s those framing choices that pull your emotions into the film.

They spend a lot of time showing us bureaucrats planning meetings to plan meetings and changing venues based on the political implications of the discussions. It’s fun and brutal and a home run for capturing a bureaucracy in (in)action. To be honest, it’s something that anyone who has to deal with office meetings can relate to. But, a third of the way through, Shin Godzilla pivots away from that to take on the challenge of solving these problems. Our heroes are disaffected bureaucratic misfits, but subject matter experts in their disciplines.

What’s wonderful is that they’re presented as something akin to newly minted super-heroes. It’s like we’re watching an origin story for the Justice League of Good Governance (The JLoGG). They go through great pains to collect data from the field and analyze it to the best of their abilities. Through teamwork and extensive coordination, they slowly learn about the nature of the threat they are facing and develop a plan. There are a bunch of terrific snap cuts as they identify information they need and the viewer is immediately shown the action that mobilizes on the ground as a result. It’s awesome because it directly links the ‘thinky’, analytical approach of policy makers and planners to real human movement on the ground. Rather than see them as hyper intelligent nerds in their corner, we see that they are leaders of a government response.

The distinction drawn between the JLoGG and senior government is that they define the problem by analyzing the facts rather than what is most understandable or relatable or reassuring to the public. In fact, the distinction serves to illustrate the way government can follow a path of decisions which are not individually malicious but necessarily conclude in effectively deceiving the public to prevent panic. I love it when films light up their targets. I do. But, I love it more when they do it while preserving the nuance of human interaction. None of the humans in this movie are villains. Even still, their inaction and debate leads to a loss of life which might have been preventable.

In the scene where they’re all standing on the city wreckage, Rando Yaguchi – leader of the JLoGG – shares with his boss his feeling that this loss vindicates his philosophical approach to government. And it plays like a scene you might see between Batman and Superman where they’re debating the nature of their successes and failures and learning about themselves in the process. Yaguchi’s boss tells him he shouldn’t be running a victory lap because, basically, everyone tried their best. Despite that effort, their inability to deal with the unexpected left them standing here. It’s such a Superman line. And, much like Batman would feel, we find it devastatingly true and utterly unsatisfying.

As the JLoGG works, we see their strategy sessions in these lovely true to life settings: open halls being stocked with folding tables, metal chairs and laptops. There is no high tech situation room with dozens of screens and live satellite footage being impossibly enhanced. It’s these humans in a bland room with basic equipment working together to strategize competently and then realize their vision. It’s wonderfully inspiring.

Obviously, I had a ton of fun thinking about the team of bureaucrats as a sort of Justice League. I found Shin Godzilla to be both cathartic and inspirational while also terribly sobering. I think we talk too much about all the ways government is no good or terrible or a waste. Shin Godzilla, for me, was a commentary on why it is important to think about how government can and should succeed. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you seek it out.

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Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.