Shikishima: From Zero to Hero

From Zero to Hero

The Transformation of Shikishima


Godzilla Minus One is a resounding undeniable box-office success both domestically and internationally. In the U.S. Minus One opened in third place racking in $11.03 million in its opening weekend while taking in more than any previous release of a Japanese live-action film. On November 4th, Minus One topped the box office coming in at no# 1 earning $1,225,396. Rotten Tomatoes has officially declared Minus One Certified Fresh with 97% on the Tomatometer and an audience score of 98%. Fans and general audiences love Godzilla Minus One. Director Yamazaki, the movie cast and even Japanese moviegoers and fans have expressed their pride and joy over Godzilla’s international success. Minus One has been so well received that its stay in U.S. theaters has been extended from December 7 to the 14.

Godzilla CERTIFIED FRESH at 97% on
Godzilla CERTIFIED FRESH at 97% on

Fans and general audiences love Godzilla Minus One. Some are comparing Yamazaki’s masterpiece with the 1954 original. There are many reasons for the film’s success and broad appeal. Moviegoers are surprised and caught off guard by Minus One, encountering a Godzilla they had not expected. They find themselves engaged in unexpected ways, expressing elation, relief and sorrow in emotional cathartic movie experiences. Few walk away without tearing up having connected with Minus One in very personal ways. For some, it has conjured up very suppressed memories and difficult life experiences. For one, the characters and their story draw in audiences unlike any other Godzilla film. The story is strong enough to stand on its own with Godzilla. Storytelling is what Yamazaki does so well. The director has created many compelling human dramas, particularly in the challenging postwar years. Even his Godzilla has a very human story that unfolds in an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki)
敷島浩一 / 神木隆之介
Koichi Shikishima / Ryunosuke Kamiki
Kenji Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka)
野田健治 / 吉岡秀隆
Kenji Noda / Hidetaka Yoshioka
Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe)
大石典子 / 浜边美波
Noriko Oishi / Minami Hamabe
Sumiko Ota (Sakura Ando)
太田澄子 / 安藤サクラ
Sumiko Ota / Sakura Ando
Shiro Mizushima (Hiroki Yamada)
水島四郎 / 山田裕貴
Shiro Mizushima / Hiroki Yamada
Yoji Akitsu (Kuranosuke Sasaki)
秋津淸治 / 佐々木蔵之介
Yoji Akitsu / Kuranosuke Sasaki
Sosaku Tachibana (Takataka Aoki)
橘宗作 / 青木崇高
Sosaku Tachibana / Takataka Aoki
Tatsuo Hotta (Miou Tanaka)
堀田辰雄 / 田中美央
Hotta Tatsuo / Miou Tanaka

From start to finish, Godzilla Minus One is a compelling drama of human transformation, redemption, resilience and determination playing out in the lives of Japanese civilians facing an existential threat in Godzilla. Each character is challenged to meet the moment with courage and personal sacrifice for the good of the other. Though they have survived the war, the war is not over. To survive they must fight Godzilla who has taken down to minus one. This story unfolds in the lives of seven main characters, of whom the kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima is the main character. In his story arc, Shikishiuma goes from “Zero” to Hero. The story begins with his landing on Odo Island in 1945 when he decides to live rather than die.

Godzilla Minus One: Shikishima staring at Godzilla in Ginza
Shikishima staring at Godzilla in Ginza

Koichi Shikishima reneges on his mission and duty as kamikaze pilot in order to obey his mother’s order that he return home alive. His sudden appearance and landing with his payload still intact aboard his undamaged Zero fighter on Odo Island is met with suspicion and skepticism by the team of mechanics stationed there. But when GOJIRA appears, Shikishima is ordered by lead mechanic Tachibana to return his Zero fighter and fire upon it. But shaking in fear, his failure to fire leads to the slaughter of all but one of his fellow soldiers, Sosaku Tachibana, who will not let him forget leaving him with their family photos. Burdened by shame and haunted in his dreams Shikishima is determined to live but then realizes his war is not over. When Godzilla ravages recovering Japan killing his partner Noriko Oishi while saving him, he is determined to atone for his sin and avenge their deaths by carrying out his last mission to slam his armed fighter, restored by Tachibana, into Godzilla’s mouth. Seeing his transformation, Tachibana prepares his fighter, the prototype Shinden, also including an ejection seat so he might be spared and live.

Godzilla Minus One: Noriko see Godzilla approaching in Ginza
Noriko see Godzilla approaching in Ginza

Noriko Oishi survives the war but lost her parents in the air raids as Shikishima, only to become a surrogate mother for the adorable toddler Akiko as requested by her mother upon her death in the air raids. The fate of this new mother and child fall into the hands of Shikishima when she places Akiko into his arms as she evades a group of angry men in a Tokyo black market. She begins to thrive as Japan’s recovery gains speed. She wants Shikishima to open up to her about his secrets and trauma on Odo Island. But it is too late, she will encounter Godzilla for herself while riding the Yamanote line through Ginza. She would survive Godzilla in a harrowing death-defying scene dangling from the train only moments later to sacrifice her life to save Shikishima pushing him out of the blast wave from Godzilla’s atomic ray.

Godzilla Minus One: Sumiko comforts Akiko
Sumiko comforts Akiko

Sumiko Ota, neighbor of the parents of Shikishima, survives the U.S. air raids on Tokyo but suffers the great loss of her three children. Upon Shikishima’s return she berates and blames him for Japan’s defeat and her great loss. Yet she will become a grandmother/aunt figure supporting the lives of the three that the war has brought together. She provides nourishment, care, comfort, support and stability when Shikishima, Noriko and Akiko need it the most. She says to Akiko, “When we’re in trouble, we’re there for each other. Akiko-chan, when your father isn’t at work, you come to your aunt’s house.”「困ってる時はお互い様さね。明子ちゃん、お父ちゃんが仕事でいない時はおばちゃんのとこに来るんだよね」Her personal sacrifice and resilience creates the space and time needed for the three to grow and to evolve into a family. By the movie’s end, her angry slap upon Shikishima’s chest turned into punches of joy and relief when she greets Shikishima with the good news that Noriko is alive immediately after his returns from successfully defeating Godzilla.

Godzilla Minus One: Shikishima meets the crew of the Shinsei Maru
Shikishima meets the crew of the Shinsei Maru

To support Noriko and Akiko, Shikishima finds work with the crew of the minesweeper Shinsei Maru, lead by captain Yoji Akitsu, the scientist Kenji Noda, former military weapons developer, and the young Shiro Mizushima. As time passes they develop a sense of camaraderie and become like family to Shinkishima and Noriko. When ordered by the Japanese government to stop Godzilla, they barely escaped with their lives. Without the Japanese military and support of the U.S., Noda, being a weapons expert reminiscent of Dr Serizawa in Godzilla (1954), develops a plan to sink Godzilla in the sea. Although they had drawn the short end of the stick「俺達だけがなぜ貧乏くじをひかねばならんのですか?」, the crew of the Shinsei Maru along with former military sailors now civilians with their decommissioned ships took to the sea to carry out Noda’s plan under the strong leadership of Hotta Tatsuo (Miou Tanaka), former captain of the destroyer Yukikaze, to defeat Godzilla before he returns to Tokyo.

Godzilla Minus One: Godzilla pursues the Shinsei Maru
Godzilla pursues the Shinsei Maru

Godzilla’s anger and vengeance is not without explanation. He was infuriated when shot upon on Odo Island and while passing through the Bikini Atoll he was exposed to the U.S. nuclear test during Operation Crossfire, that turned GOJIRA into Godzilla. Very much like the human protagonist, Godzilla is a victim. The novelization of Godzilla Minus One (p 186) states: “If you think about it, you could say that this beast is a victim whose appearance has been transformed into an ugly one, burned by human stupidity.”「思えば、この獣は人間の愚かさによって焼かれ、その姿形を醜く変容させられた被害者ともいえる。」This is evidenced by the salute Godzilla receives upon his disintegration.

Godzilla Minus One: Godzilla at sea
Godzilla at sea

The success of Godzilla Minus One is driven by Director Yamazaki’s characters as much as the visual spectacle of uniquely terrifying Godzilla unlike any since 1954. Everything comes together, the screenplay, actors, score and visual effects, to make a nearly flawless Godzilla movie. Check out Minus One for the first time and see it again in the format of choice (IMAX, Dolby Cinema, 4DX, MX4D, and ScreenX) before it leaves theaters.