At this point, we’ve got nearly 70 years of kaiju and giant monster movies baked into the fiber of our cinematic brains to know the basic order of events. A giant beast attacks, a group of humans from different government organizations come together to fight it, they succeed, end of movie. Sometimes you can throw in a good kaiju to battle it; also a space giant named Ultraman if ya nasty. But ultimately, you know what you get. But what about what happens after? This monster just destroyed half of a city, what is the cleanup effort? What about the corpse? That question lies at the center of Satoshi Miki’s new film What to Do with the Dead Kaiju?, which played Fantasia Film Fest 2022.
If you liked the disaster movie vibe and bureaucratic red tape of Shin Godzilla, then you’ll love the same bit with a satirical edge of What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? When the movie begins, the giant reptilian monster lies dead. Who knows why it died. All the Japanese government knows is it’s dead and lying there. Every department thinks it’s a different department’s job. The military doesn’t really know what to do. It’s up to a small group of young, smart underlings at various positions throughout the cabinet.
What makes Miki’s film so engaging is the way it deftly straddles the line between satire/parody and legitimate disaster film. A million people are in the cast but they each manage to stand out, and even if you forget character names, you get their characters completely. The Prime Minister seems like a genuinely noble dude who wants to do right by his people. The problem is, all the other ministers look at the kaiju’s rotting corpse as something to garner tourism dollars. Or, once that seems less likely, as a way to make other department heads look bad.
The closest we have to main characters in the movie constitute a love triangle. Yukino (Tao Tsuchiya) works for the health minister. She’s married to Ame (Gaku Hamada), a former military guy who moved into the government. Their marriage isn’t all that strong, however; especially not when Arata (Ryôsuke Yamada), a former colleague of theirs and suitor for Yukino, reappears. The movie very much leaves it to the younger generation to do anything useful, but even they feel the weight of government inefficacy and spin.
Essentially, What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? escalates its problems in the environmental and governmental. After they decide to strip the meat from the rotting corpse because it’s starting to smell, a blister begins to grow on the body. The blister, they learn, has a noxious gas within it. (The government needs to decide the official smell of the gas, either puke or poop, or perhaps a mixture.) So do you pop the blister? What will happen to the surrounding area if the gas proves to be toxic? Or, as happens, the gas is actually spores for enormous fungi? The issues are both granular and ridiculous.
I will say, for as entertaining as I found the movie, I think it maybe overstays its welcome ever so slightly. By the middle of the second act, it seems like the escalation had reached its natural end, and yet we still had a ways to go. As fun as new characters popping in are—like Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) as a badass government operative and Joe Odagiri ( Kamen Rider Kuuga) as a rockstar munitions expert—they eventually run the risk of dragging rather than heightening.
Still, I enjoyed What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? a lot. It has a lot to enjoy for people for whom Godzilla movies are second nature. The jokes on the genre land super hard, but they land just as well if you mistrust government red tape. Would you trust the US to effectively clean up a natural disaster, kaiju or otherwise?