Asia Life

Pacific Rim: Guillermo del Toro Invokes the Spirit of Godzilla

Recent Features

Asia Life

Pacific Rim: Guillermo del Toro Invokes the Spirit of Godzilla

The new film Pacific Rim draws on kaiju, Japan’s movie monsters of old.

In his just released movie, Pacific Rim, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has dived into the depths once again – this time exploring an imaginary rift that has opened where two tectonic plates have parted ways in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The Mexican-born director, who in 2006 brought us the universally acclaimed dark modern fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth set in post-Civil War Spain, takes us into the future in his latest flick, which is more Blade Runner than post-Franco Spain. But del Toro’s love of monsters remains.

“Monsters are my obsession,” he said. “You see some people whose faces light up when they’re talking about their puppies or kittens. Me, I’m happy when I’m talking about monsters.”

While the monsters and spirits in Pan’s Labyrinth were old-world, yet terrifying – Pan, fairy guides, a mandrake root that heals, the child-eating Pale Man – in Pacific Rim the director takes us into the near-future – 2020 to be exact – and draws inspiration from a very different source: kaiju, Japan’s monsters from the 1950s.

Godzilla reigned this now nostalgic genre, which del Toro recalls relishing as a child.

“I grew up in the 1960s, the decade when the kaiju genre was at its peak,” the 48-year-old director said. “All the animated series that a child could see in Tokyo were in Mexican culture.”

He continued, “When I had a fever as a small child, I dreamed about giant robots, and I loved the kaiju robots because they were an enormous spectacle. Now those films are seen with humour or nostalgia and in Pacific Rim I wanted to provide a fresh and spectacular look at those two mythologies for a new generation.”

Del Toro was faithful to the original taxonomy of kaiju, which comprised insects, crustaceans and reptiles. One of the beasts in Pacific Rim looks like an “elaborate crab”, while another is clearly reptilian. These 21st century kaiju come from another dimension, through a crack in the floor of the Pacific Ocean. After emerging from the ocean, the strange otherworldly beasts wreak havoc on Earth’s surface, decimating cities from San Francisco to Sydney. In terms of scale, the film’s $180 million budget speaks for itself – it’s epic.

The only hope for humanity lies in a small team of pilots, who in pairs operate 250-feet-high weaponized robots called Jaegers. The pilots achieve a symbiotic mental connection – compared to the Star Trek Vulcan’s “mind meld” by the Los Angeles Times – for which they become global celebrities. After winning an initial battle with kaiju outside Anchorage, Alaska, the humans make the faulty assumption that they’re safe and the fight is over. In reality, the kaiju were simply preparing and waiting for the final showdown.

Five years later, just as the earthlings are about to shelve the Jaeger program, former military man Stacker Pentecost (played by British actor Idris Elba of The Wire) and his mysterious protégé Mako Mori (played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Babel) assembles a dream team to crush the kaiju once and for all. Holing up in Hong Kong’s Shatterdome facility – evocative of Hong Kong’s own post-apocalyptic Kowloon Walled City – the warriors launch their final attack on the monsters.

Reviews for the film have been mixed. Some love the epic sweep of the tale, but others have criticized its lack of focus on plot and character development in favor of too much action.

Forbes writes, “Anyone expecting the auteur behind Pan’s Labyrinth to create something primal or genuinely epic may be a bit disappointed. Despite the world-changing stakes, the picture feels introverted and small.”

Despite the criticism there’s little doubt that del Toro’s monsters live up to the larger-than-life proportions of Japanese kaiju of old, as Forbes notes: “You want giant monsters duking it out with giant robotic machines (“Jaegers”) with humans inside? That’s precisely what you get.”

The Los Angeles Times, which gives a more positive review, mentions a nice final touch that del Toro put at the end of the credits. “Those who stay to the end of Pacific Rim’s credits will experience a particularly poignant moment. The last card standing is in memory of ‘Monster Masters’ Ray Harryhausen, the king of stop-motion animation, and Ishiro Honda, the director of Godzilla. In a field rife with impostors and poseurs, Del Toro, like his mentors, is the real deal. It’s good to have him working his magic again.”

The official trailer for Pacific Rim can be seen here.