Being two of Japan’s biggest pop-cultural exports, it’s a small wonder Godzilla and anime haven’t been brought together before now.
But better late than ever. Hot off the heels of last year’s hit “Shin Godzilla,” which reintroduced the Big G after an absence of 12 years (OK, there was a Hollywood film in there somewhere too), Toho has brought us this anime-fied version of everyone’s favorite kaijū (monster).
Not unlike “Planet of the Apes,” the “Planet of the Monsters” of the title is none other than Earth itself. The sudden appearance of Godzilla and his fellow kaijū at the end of the 20th century, the film’s title sequence explains, caused the near-extinction of the human race. Only thanks to the timely appearance of friendly extra-terrestrials called the Exiles were a small number of humans able to escape, taking refuge at an off-world space station.
Two decades later, these exiled humans, unable to find a substitute home and running out of resources, decide to head back to Earth. The plan to return is bolstered by a fresh strategy to combat Godzilla, concocted by Haruo Sakaki (Mamoru Miyano), a hot-headed young man with a personal vendetta against the beast for killing his parents. If Haruo’s plan works, it may mean humans have a shot at retaking their planet — but due to the time dilation associated with interstellar travel, what was two decades for the space-bound humans was 20,000 years back home, and in that time Earth truly has become the planet of the monsters.
To create this new “Godzilla,” rather than employing traditional hand-drawn animation, Toho looked to Polygon Pictures. Perhaps Japan’s premier 3-D CG animation studio, Polygon is best-known for its series “Knights of Sidonia” and “Ajin,” which were streamed on Netflix (where this film will also find itself following the theatrical release). This means your mileage may vary depending on how much of an anime traditionalist you are. That said, CG enables a lot of fast-paced, well-choreographed action sequences that would be difficult in either live-action or hand-drawn anime — and even skeptics will admit the 3-D version of the king of the monsters looks pretty darn cool.
In last year’s “Shin Godzilla,” co-director and screenwriter Hideaki Anno used the iconic monster to comment on the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Japan-U.S. security treaty and other issues now facing the country. By contrast, “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters” directors Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita take a more workman-like approach, delivering a film that delivers solid action but isn’t nearly as thematically ambitious as its predecessor. Despite a script by respected anime screenwriter Gen Urobuchi, the film’s technobabble-heavy dialogue serves largely as a way to move from one action scene to the next. Compared to Anno’s masterpiece, “Planet of the Monsters” seems content to be a more conventional action film.
Or, more accurately, the first third of one. In a trend that continues to plague the industry (hey, why sell one ticket when you can sell three?), “Planet of the Monsters” is the first film in a trilogy, and it definitely feels like the prologue to a larger story rather than a self-contained work.
Still, with its impressive 3-D animation and action sequences, “Planet of the Monsters” has the makings of something interesting — and it’s nice to see Toho trying new things with its signature beast.