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Loving the Monster: I’m Just …Godzilla

How toy dinosaurs drew more awareness to the bomb than ‘Oppenheimer.’

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Uy Pham

The Oscars were set to be a pink grudge match as the “Barbieheimer” feud reached a boiling point. “Barbie” was a plastic, fantastic phenomenon;“Oppenheimer” swept award after award. 

And then “Godzilla Minus One” won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and the real history makers took the stage holding tiny toy Godzillas (and even wearing Godzilla-themed shoes). The award recipients were writer, director, and visual effects supervisor Takashi Yamazaki; visual effects director Kiyoko Shibuya; 3D CG director Masaki Takahashi; and effects artist and composer Tatsuji Nojima.

“Godzilla Minus One” was the first Oscar nomination and win for the franchise that’s been knocking down cities for 70 years. 

Yamazaki accepted the Oscar. He is the first director to win the award since Stanley Kubrick won for “2001: A Space Odyssey in 1986.”

Compared to past winners, from “Jurassic Park” to “The Matrix” to “Avatar,” as well as the films they were competing against this year, “Godzilla”’s team and budget were tiny. Shirogumi is the production company behind the VFX in “Godzilla Minus One.” The film had only 35 members responsible for 610 shots over eight months. A small team with a relatively small budget of only around 15 million dollars was tasked with bringing a massive monster to life, and their work paid off.

In the Press Room, Yamazaki used a translator. When he accepted the award, he read aloud his acceptance speech in English, even when the music tried to play him off.

My career began 40 years ago after the shock of seeing ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ To someone so far from Hollywood, even the possibility of standing on this stage seemed out of reach. The moment we were nominated we felt like Rocky Balboa, welcomed into the ring as equals by our biggest rivals, which was already a miracle. But here we stand,” said Yamazaki.

Filled with references to American pop cinema, Yamazki’s words are especially poignant in relation to the rest of the 2023 to 2024 film and awards scene. There is a deep irony to the “Godzilla” franchise getting its first Oscar nomination, and this “Godzilla” movie, particularly, winning the same year that “Oppenheimer” took home Best Picture. 

“Godzilla” has always been a metaphor for the atomic bomb. “Godzilla Minus One” is set in 1945 with a former kamikaze pilot, Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) as its protagonist is coming home to Tokyo after the U.S. firebombing. He and the others he meets are dealing with the guilt of surviving and caring for those who are left after the war ends. All the while, Godzilla is mutating from post-World War II American nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll, and he is approaching Japan. 

Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” the biopic-darling of 2023, is focused on the man who made the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Pacific side of World War II. The story follows the logistics of building the bomb, but ends with his struggle in 1954 to keep his security clearance after consorting with a communist.

These two films portray connected moments in time. But one focuses on the wide scale, destruction, and trauma of war and nuclear weapons; while the other fixates on the man who created that destruction. American cinema loves a war movie. But “Godzilla Minus One” makes American audiences face the reality of the U.S.’s role in war, both during and after.  

And unfortunately, if you didn’t happen to catch “Godzilla Minus One” in theaters back in December, it’s unclear when you’ll be able to see it. Unlike other Oscar-winning films, “Godzilla Minus One” is nowhere to be found. Not in theaters. Not on any streaming service, as of yet. Not even illegally uploaded on YouTube, besides a few clips here and there.

So why can’t you watch it?

Allegedly, it’s because of the newer, bigger, more expensive, more American, “Godzilla” film coming out at the end of March. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” a film produced by Warner Bros, is set to release March 29. Though not confirmed by the Japanese studio, Toho, who owns the rights to and created Godzilla, there is a notion that a contract is in place allowing for only one “Godzilla” movie a year to be in theaters. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” gets the 2024 slot, keeping “Godzilla Minus One” from coming back to theaters.

And so “Godzilla Minus One” is caught between the rock and the hard place of two American big-budget films: “Oppenheimer” and “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.” Even though it didn’t have the splashy pink of Barbie, a small crew of five holding plastic toy dinosaurs left a mark and made us root for the “Godzilla” franchise, or at least this version of it. 

Maybe someday, we’ll all get to watch “Godzilla Minus One” from the comfort of our laptops or up on the big screen again. For now, we’ll just have to replay the clips we can find online and remember the tiny golden Godzilla Yamazaki carried around all night at the Oscars. 

Sidne K. Gard (BFAW 2025) hopes to one day understand how to make their own monsters. They are the entertainment editor at F Newsmagazine. See more of their work at sidnekgard.com.
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