“It’s a scene that defies belief!” cries the first reporter to lay eyes on Godzilla in Ginza, Tokyo, in 1946. It’s a wild scene in Godzilla: Minus One, the latest in the powerhouse monster movie franchise. As the holidays approach and many are seeking a chance to peel out from their seasonal duties for a few hours, catching this World War II-era rendition of the spiny fire-spitting lizard at the Kabuki Theater is as excellent an excuse as any.
But, weirdly enough, this movie is for food lovers. In this Godzilla, food is a tool to find new life after terrible devastation. Spanning from the final days of World War II to a few years after, the characters are, by and large, trying to rebuild their lives — not from a monster attack, but from the evisceration of Japan due to the United States’s bombing campaign and the Japanese government’s wartime strategies and failures. For everyone from the protagonist to the side characters, the simple act of grilling meat and cooking rice allows them to step into a timid, optimistic new life. By the end, it seems the only character who doesn’t partake in this ritual is the enormous monster.
Warning: Major spoilers ahead.
The moment the movie’s main character Koichi Shikishima returns from Odo Island, where he abandons his kamikaze assignment and first witnesses a young Godzilla, he finds his former Tokyo neighborhood in devastated ruins. His neighbor Sumiko scolds the hell out of him for what she deems cowardice. But, once she learns Koichi has taken in a young woman, Noriko, and her infant child, Akiko, she begrudgingly gives him her best rice. “What a nuisance,” she mutters as she hands over what little she has. Even in her annoyance and despair, she realizes food will bring the city — and this mother and daughter — back to life; this is the first time food is used as symbolism in the film, which echoes throughout the rest of the piece.
After picking up a mine-clearing job, Koichi brings his new colleagues to his house for dinner. It’s only over hot pot and slurps of sake that Koichi reveals he’s not married to Noriko — they’re just roommates, refugees in a desecrated landscape. Food and drink allow him and the other characters a chance to get real and, arguably, it’s the only mechanism that does so throughout the entire movie. Take for instance the end of the second act when Koichi finally tells Noriko about his traumatic kamikaze defection: In that scene, he wakes up to Noriko giving the young Akiko her favorite snack by the stove, a bit of radish. He decides he wants to try to “live again” — a lesson learned through the simple joy of nourishing this little girl who has effectually become his daughter.
In the third act, a makeshift izakaya of sorts becomes a regular setting for our heroes. After detailing how the community wants to take down Godzilla, Koichi and his friends down sake and snacks to chat through possible holes in their plan. It’s the same izakaya where Koichi meets with his compatriots throughout the last chapter of the film, and all the passersby and fellow customers — a new element at this juncture in the movie — double as a sign that Tokyo itself is rebuilding.
The last significant feature of food and drink as a plot device arrives in the war room, where everyone listens closely as former Navy scientist Kenji says that, this time, everyone should try to live. A tea kettle sits in plain view amongst the charts and maps, and numerous onigiri lay scattered amongst the stalwart servicemen; in one particularly dramatic panoramic, a man is mid-chomp of his onigiri as he ponders his mortality. (It might be a bit too cheeky and lowkey for some, but the last nod, intentional or not, would actually be the proud Hibiki battleship in the final fight, a name also famous from Hibiki Whisky.)
It’s obvious to anyone, even a non-food obsessive, that director Takashi Yamazaki wants to make the point that food and drink are more than just physical sustenance. They’re vehicles for personal, communal, and social growth. Maybe the movie is just escapism, maybe it’s striking commentary. But even ship captain Yoji — who mutters on the rich blue seascape earlier in the movie that “this country never changes, maybe it can’t” — has a change of heart by the end of the film, finding strength in his neighbors and new friends. Every step of the way, he and the rest of the cast find new life and hope by noshing on onigiri and downing booze.