Satoshi Miki has always delivered narratives with an interesting premise, but has not always been able to transform this premise into a fully satisfying whole. What To Do With Dead Kaiju is not any different. Setting out from the question of how Japan would deal with a dead kaiju, he aims to deliver a kaiju film like no other. Yet, does he succeed to, once again, deliver a satisfying whole?
One day, the monstrous Kaiju that was terrorizing mankind dies due to a mysterious light. His death causes a burst of happiness and relief that soon dissipates with the realization that society has undergone a radical alteration and the confrontation with the fact that the huge dead carcass of the kaiju needs to cleaned up.
Prime minister Kan Nishiotachime (Toshiyuki Nishida) calls the cabinet together to decide what to do the dead Kaiju. After a heated discussion, the prime minister gently forces the defence minister to take on the responsibility of disposing the carcass while the ambitious environment minister Renbutsu (Eri Fuse) volunteers to analyse whether the kaiju is safe to be preserved for future generations.
Masahiko Amane (Gaku Hamada), the aid of the prime minister, decides to assign JSF’s first lieutenant Arata Obinata (Ryosuke Yamada) to take charge of the waste disposal mission. Much to his surprise, he encounters his ex-girlfriend Yukino Amane (Tao Tsuchiya), who is the Kaiju expert and secretary of the environment minister, on the field. Not much later, the responsibility of disposing the carcass is given to Masago (Rinko Kikuchi) and her military Kaiju disposal Task Force.
What To Do With Dead Kaiju does not merely provide a mixture of genres, but offers a thoughtful structure of genres that allows each to engage and satisfy the spectator. The central element that makes the narrative and its different genre elements work so well is the fact that Miki approaches his interesting premise with the utmost seriousness.
It is on the background of such seriousness that the political satire and the influx of silliness is painted on, giving the comical the necessary contrast to become effective for the spectator. The seriousness by which the premise is handled is, furthermore, instrumental in making the mystery element, the flash of romance, and the tensive thriller-like moments so enjoyable. It is due to the seriousness that Miki is able to successfully tease the spectator with the mystery of the origin of the light that killed the Kaiju and Amane’s past disappearance. And the thriller-like sequences, peppered with silliness, only engage the spectator so deeply because they exploit this seriousness (Structure-note 1).
The political element of What To Do With Dead Kaiju is given form via a structure of political games, schemes, and conflicts. Miki swiftly illustrates that conflict between departments and their jurisdictions is caused by ambition. The Environment Minister’s ambition to get ahead of others in the post-kaiju world leads her to utilize her secretary in unsavoury ways, e.g. to find out, by whatever means necessary, the results of the health minister’s division’s analysis of the carcass. And the way that the prime minister uses his aid Masahiko Amane as well as his rash act of keeping certain troublesome information classified to not upset the public and not put his position as prime minister into immediate danger functions as a sign that self-preservatory games within politics are played (Narra-note 1).
Yet, before the political games burst forth in What To Do With Dead Kaiju, Miki explores, in a light-hearted manner, the disturbance the sudden death of the kaiju causes within the societal fabric. The initial celebratory happiness (e.g. peace-concerts on the street) quickly makes way for mourning and subjective discontent (e.g. cult-like gatherings, manifestations against certain governmental lies). Why? Quite simply, because the living flesh of the kaiju was the support of a signifier that organized society and gave meaning to the lives of many subjects. The death of the kaiju renders that signifier impotent and, thus, robs many soldiers of the ego-image they identified with – they mourn, in a certain sense, the loss of their ego-role within the societal fabric. This explains why many people get hopeful at the low-spirited reunion when hearing the false kaiju alarm and the happiness of the man who received his draft-notice.
Why do the politicians desire to preserve the carcass of the Kaiju? While, at first, they merely call to inscribe the bones of the kaiju body within the history of Japan, their desire to preserve the carcass quickly becomes economical motivated. They want to preserve it to exploit its touristic value, to enrich the economy by attracting foreigners, who due to the state of emergency were barred entrance into the country. The promise of exploiting the dead body of the Kaiju to fuel the economy and the touristic industry makes it top priority to deem the carcass safe for the public – no radiation, no contamination by bacteria. Yet, as the carcass is rapidly decomposing – causing a foul smell, will it not cause a viral outbreak? When can it be truly deemed truly? What will happen if the prime minister’s decision turns out to have been too rash? Or, more importantly, how will we name the kaiju?
This pleasant political satirical moments in What To Do With Dead Kaiju do not only elegantly exploit certain well-known customs within Japanese politics (e.g. the need for a uniform when dealing with emergency situations, the naming of a new era, …) but also exploit the facade of formal politeness and the mendacity of the social image. Miki does not only reveal, by letting politicians transgress their formal facade, that the subject who dresses himself with the image of the politician is driven, like any other human, by immature impulses, childish competition, sexual desires, and irrational fears, but he also shows how the public image of political harmony is but a fiction that hides certain contradictory relational dynamics.
That formal politeness is merely a facade is, for instance, touched upon in the heated discussion between the various ministers. Rather than having a constructive discussion, the ministers aim to avoid taking on the responsibility of dealing with the carcass and force it in the hands of another minister – they also find time to mock the education minister Jiro Saizen (Takashi Sasano). The mendacious nature of the public image is emphasized by contrasting the confidence by which the prime minister conducts his press conference with his impotent and unconfident attitude he has when faced with his cabinet.
The composition of What To Do With Dead Kaiju stands out due it pleasant rhythm. This rhythm is not only due to Miki fluidly changing the pace with moments of swift cutting and his reliance on dynamic shots, but his pleasant play with visual decorations like slow-motion within his composition.
While the shifts to swift cutting and more dynamic cinematographically movement play an essential role in heightening the tension in the more tensive second-half, Miki’s dynamism is also instrumental in enhance the impact of the many visual gags, play on words, and pun-like moments. Yet – and this should not come as a surprise – the true source that makes the comedy in What To Do With Dead Kaiju effective is the cast. They do not only breathe life into the characters and, if they have any, their caricatural side, but also allow, with their performance, the comical moments to hit their mark, to cause a smile or a burst of laughter that deflate, for a moments, the peculiar seriousness of the disposal problem.
The visuals of What To Do With Dead Kaiju have a pleasant visual due to Miki’s subtle use depth-of-field and the soft colour-schemes and colour-contrasts. The visual effects are – it has to be said – not that great, but they are serviceable. They are, in fact, good enough to both enhance the silly flavour of the narrative and to allow the spectator to suspend his disbelief and immerse himself in the more tensive moments of the narrative.
Satoshi Miki’s What To Do With Dead Kaiju delivers on all fronts. What could have been a narrative that could not fulfill the promise of its interesting premise is turned into an extremely well-structured genre-blend that does not only provides the laughs and giggles with its pleasant political satire, but also allows the spectator to immerge himself into the tension that mark the attempts of dealing with the carcass. Anyone who likes comedy films or kaiju films should give Satoshi Miki’s splendid genre-blend a watch.
Structure-note 1: It is not difficult to realize that the overarching structure of What To Do With Dead Kaiju? resembles Shin-Godzilla – first half of the movie a lot of chatter, the second half taking action.
Narra-note 1: The repurpose of the JSF (Japan Special Forces), which lost its main purpose with the death of the kaiju, also seems to be part of a political game. Is the ‘repurpose’ of this unit for the goal of disposing the carcass not merely a backhanded attempt of inviting the JSF to cause their own downfall?
Narra-note 2: There is a lot of irony in the naming of the Kaiju. This irony becomes really evident when you utilize it to describe what the leaders of the country are trying to do with the carcass, like ‘the prime minister tries to flush away hope’.