On Monsters and Music: The Music for Shin Godzilla

By Michael W. Harris

shin_godzilla_posterLet me just get this out of the way: Shin Godzilla is great. It is a worthy successor to the Godzilla mantle in every way, and most importantly makes Godzilla relevant again for modern Japan. If you read any number of reviews or essays, you’ll inevitably see people compare the events of the film to Japan’s response to the triple disasters of March 11, 2011, when Japan was rocked by an earthquake, the resultant tsunami, and then the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant caused by the coinciding of both. The government’s slow response, conflicting reports, and the general chaos that followed was certainly touched upon in the 2014 US helmed Godzilla film, but in this newest, entirely Japanese produced film, it takes center stage.

Godzilla, as a character, has always been a reflection of Japanese culture, and especially its feelings towards nuclear science (be they bombs or energy) and, vis-à-vis that, Japan’s feelings towards the United States (both as ally and as the country whose dominating and controlling political rhetoric goes all the way back to dropping the bomb and continues to this day with its military presence in Okinawa).

These are also topics that Shin Godzilla director Hideaki Anno explored in his most well known work, the anime series/franchise Neon Genesis Evangelion. While the nuclear element is not as prominent in Evangelion, technology, and technological and body horror, are very much a part of that show, as is the theme of America trying to dominant domestic Japanese policy—either on its own or via the United Nations (this part has always struck me as amusing since America so often simply ignores that the UN even exists).

But it is the Evangelion connections that I would like to discuss in this post, and how the use of Eva composer Shiro Sagisu strengthens these connections.

First, a few words on the overall look and aesthetic of the film. From the framing of scenes, to views of the city and technology, to the use of text to introduce people, job titles, and places—and using the same font as Evangelion at that—this film is classic Anno, and will be instantly familiar to any fan of Eva.

Secondly, the plot. While there is not a young child who has to save a world (the classic anime standby for audience surrogate), you do have a young bureaucrat who is clearly an outsider and very low in the government bureaucracy, though he has big aspirations. But much like Evangelion, the army and the traditional approach of “shoot it and blow stuff up until it dies” problem solving does not work against the existential threat of the show/film—the angels of Evangelion and their challenges to humanity and their gods’ place in the universe, or Godzilla and his embodiment of fears of nuclear power, environmental destruction, or sheer governmental incompetence in response to the above—and it falls to the scientists to come up with a solution before the spineless bureaucrats and diplomats literally use the nuclear option even though it has a low chance of success.

Warning: some spoilers for Evangelion lie ahead, though I will be fairly vague, mainly because to actually describe the plot of Eva in its entirety is way to confusing to go into here.

There are a few episodes that have plots similar to Shin Godzilla, especially its second half and the race against the clock trope of trying to find a way to defeat Godzilla—which is temporarily in hibernation after expending all of its energy in an all-out attack after being wounded by bunker busting bombs dropped from US B-2 bombers—before the US, with the UN’s backing, drops a nuclear bomb on it.

In Evangelion episode 9, “”Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!,” an angel is temporarily frozen after a bomb attack and NERV, the organization that is coordinating the fight against the angels, has six days to come up with and execute a plan to defeat it. Even more similar is episode 6, “Rei II,” in which an angel is drilling down into the subterranean city that is the headquarters of NERV underneath Tokyo-3. The plan to defeat this angel is much like the plan to defeat Godzilla in that it is risky, experimental, and it takes a huge coordination of all of Japan’s resources to succeed against the ticking clock of the drill slowly boring into the earth.

This is all to say that in both Evangelion and Shin Godzilla, humanity/Tokyo is saved not by brute force, but by brains. The Nerds. The outcasts and the weirdos.

And this is interesting because it is for the scenes with the Nerds and Outcasts doing their science thing, and implementing that plan, in Shin Godzlilla that the music that Shiro Sagisu lovingly reuses from Evangelion, that show’s battle music, plays.

First, let’s break down that first part, how the music it is reused and remixed from Evangelion. This music is heard many times in the Shin Godzilla score and in many guises, but here is one example.

Now, without access to the film on video, I can’t tell you exactly what scene this particular version is from. However, most of these scenes were either of the scientists and the one bureaucrat who has a plan, actually work on the plan, collecting the material for implementing that plan, and other similar scenes.

Here is the original music from the Evangelion series that it was remixed/reused from. It is the stock battle music for the show and can be heard many different times.

And just for fun, here is a cue from John Barry’s score to the Bond film From Russia with Love that Sagisu was seemingly borrowing from originally.

So the John Barry lift aside, Sagisu was knowingly borrowing from himself and repurposing his music for a very different type of battle scene: the battle of brains against threat. This really underscores the fact that in Shin Godzilla, just as with the original 1954 Gojira film, it is science and brains that defeat the monster, not the army or brute force alone.

The other scene and music that I want to discuss, which is straight up Evangelion, is a cue called on the soundtrack release “Who Will Know (24_Biglsow),” and plays towards the end of Godzilla’s second attack. After the US drops its big bombs on Godzilla, finally injuring the monster, the creature unleashes radiation beam attacks, which destroys the bombers along with surrounding buildings. It also uses its atomic/radioactive breath which causes fires and massive radiation fallout in the area (truly a representation of the aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown). This truly chilling sequence is set to the slow, emotional musical cue, creating a counterpoint (as Akira Kurosawa and Fumio Hayasaka called it) of visual and music.

I wish I had the original scene with this music because it is truly epic and shocking. The entire time Godzilla is destroying everything around it and we hear this music, my jaw was on the floor in awe of the scene. It was emotionally powerful, amazingly shot and framed, and the music was the perfect choice to bring home the helplessness that the characters felt as everything they tried failed and, indeed, made it worse.

But this scene also was reminiscent of many from Evangelion. While I cannot recall one exactly, I know that this music and scene, along with the cue “Under a Burning Sky,” would fit quite well within the musical soundscape of Evangelion.

And this is to say nothing of the rest of the score which has other cues that are also well within the family of Eva music.

Before I wrap things up, I want to muse on another aspect of the score for Shin Godzilla: its reuse of numerous cues from Akira Ifukube’s score to the classic Godzilla franchise films. I have not seen an actual reason for Anno’s decision to use Ifukube’s classic music except that he said that from early on he knew that he wanted to use it (sadly, the link to the article where he says this is in Japanese, so I must rely on Wikipedia for this and hope it is right).

In many ways, this is not unlike Quentin Tarentino’s use of Ennio Morricone in Inglourious Basterds, but I wonder if something else is not at work. I cannot help but think back to Anno’s use of Beethoven, Verdi, and Bach in Neon Genesis Evangelion and wonder. I have never been quite clear on why Anno decided to use these pieces in the show, though they were effectively used. It could simply be a Stanley Kubrick-esque case of a director falling in love with a piece of music while temping the score or thinking it would be perfect, but whatever the case, it happens.

With Ifukube’s music, though, it is interesting that instead of letting Sagisu establish a new musical identity for Godzilla, Anno decided to use the already established themes. Furthermore, he simply reused to original tracks and didn’t even let Sagisu re-orchestrate and rerecord them. This would be like if 30 years from now directors of new Star Wars movies still used the original 1977 recordings of the themes.

The bottom line is this, though: Shin Godzilla is fantastic, and if you missed it during its very limited US release, then make sure to track down the home video release when it happens.

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