The film starts with the coast guard investigating an abandoned small yacht off the coast of Tokyo. Because there is no sign of struggle, they theorize a suicide.
Suddenly the boat is disturbed by a huge eruption in the water. At the same time, a car tunnel under the ocean collapses and copious amounts of red liquid spill into the tunnel.
The government convenes an emergency meeting with all the bigwigs to discuss. The prevailing theory is volcanic activity from an undersea volcano. However, one person brings up a theory that has already surfaced online: that it’s some unknown giant creature. This person is the closest character to a “main character” in the film: Yaguchi. He is the assistant secretary of the cabinet, which is not too high in the overall government scheme but is #2 responsibility for handling national crises.
Yaguchi is mocked, until an enormous tail comes out of the ocean. Stunned and unsure what the right thing to do is, the government has all the ministers put on emergency rescue gear as if they are going to help deal with a crisis directly. After some debate, the prime minister gives an emergency press conference decked out in his emergency crisis gear, announcing that there is no risk of the monster making landfall.
This is a deliberate call-back to the March 11, 2011 disaster, when the prime minister in real life took a lot of public flack for appearing in press conferences wearing emergency rescue gear as if he was going to go help at Fukushima in person, which of course he never did.
Ironically, right after this press conference, the creature makes landfall. Cue “Persecution of the Masses.”
A stupefied government watches as a giant creature comes crawling out into Tokyo. This is Godzilla’s first form, totally unrecognizable, crawling on all fours with gills in its neck spilling more red liquid on the streets.
As it destroys everything in its path, killing civilians, the government finally scrambles helicopters to attack. As they approach, Godzilla suddenly stops and evolves to his second form, growing arms and standing on two legs.
The prime minister is extremely indecisive about order the helicopters to open fire. This is because Japan has a peace clause in its constitution and takes weapon usage really seriously. In real life, this is a major political topic in Japan right now as the very right-wing Prime Minister Abe wants to revise the constitution to give Japan the most military autonomy it’s had since WWII.
Eventually the prime minister orders the helicopters to fire but immediately retracts the order when they see that civilians still haven’t completely evacuated the area. Godzilla mk 2 gives a skreeonk that is verbatim the exact same as the one from Gojira 1954. He goes back on all 4s into the ocean.
Cue long government discussion scenes.
The government divides into 2 groups: The main ministers focus military strategy and civilian safety, while a vindicated Yaguchi is put in charge of a team of young all-stars to research the monster.
3 major discoveries happen at this point:
1. A monster that big could only possibly use nuclear energy to sustain itself. Further, the monster leaves a trail of radiation in its wake. From this, they figure out that Godzilla has nuclear fission constantly occurring inside of him, which continuously heats him up, and that he went back into the ocean to cool off.
2. The second “main character,” Kayoco Ann Patterson, a Japanese American liason to the American Ambassador in Japan, arrives to say that the owner of the deserted ship at the start of the movie was a now-missing zoologist that was researching the monster. He figured out that something big was down in in the bottom of the ocean, which he named “Gojira” after a local legend in his hometown. The Americans got wind of his research and give the creature the codename “Godzilla” in English.
3. They figured out that Godzilla was eating nuclear waste buried at the bottom of the ocean.
In the midst of all this research, Godzilla reappears, further evolved into his “main,” familiar form, walking on two legs and twice as big as before. He makes land in Kamakura, which is a ways south of Tokyo, and slowly walks up towards Tokyo, destroying everything in his path.
The Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) prepares helicopters, tanks, and bombers to attack Godzilla. Once again, the Prime Minister is extremely hesitant to give the order to fire, but eventually he does, this time for real. The SDF lets lose, and in classic Godzilla fashion, nothing phases him. The prime minister orders retreat but it is too late for some SDF members.
The US military offers to step-in and help, and after some hesitation the Prime Minister agrees. This harkens to another major political hot topic in real-life Japan today: the right-wing government and its supporters feel that Japan is overly dependant on the US military and needs to get more military, political, and economic autonomy in order to be a truly legitimate international player.
The government figures out that the location where the prime minister and the cabinet are gathered is in Godzilla’s probably path of destruction, so Yaguchi talks the prime minister and most of his other ministers to flee via helicopter, while Yaguchi and other lower-level officials flee by car.
As they flee, the US military sends in stealth bombers, which are finally able to deal a noticeable wound to Godzilla. In retaliation, Godzilla glows purple, “Who Will Know (Tragedy)” plays, and Godzilla delivers the most epic atomic breath attack of all time, turning 3 districts of Tokyo into a fiery wasteland, destroying the American bombers, and taking down the helicopter with the Prime Minister and cabinet in the process.
After this great expulsion of energy, Godzilla stops and enters a state of hibernation.
With the Prime Minister and the next 10 in line to succeed him all dead, the Minister of Agriculture becomes temporary Prime Minister. He complains about how hard the job is.
At this point, Yaguchi’s team tracks down the rest of the zoologist’s research. Additionally, the US and Japan are able to get somewhat close to take readings. But not too close—Godzilla has a sort of natural sensor and will disrupt any equipment that gets too close.
Through this, there are 3 more revelations:
1. Given the amount of energy that Godzilla expelled, they figure out that it will take 15 days for him to recover and reawaken.
2. Godzilla doesn’t have “normal” cells, he’s made up of ancient, nuclear-energy-consuming mixotrophs. They theorize that Godzilla started as a collection of these ancient mixotrophs that ate the nuclear waste dumped into the ocean. This caused them to evolve and come together. The pace of evolution increased, to the point that Godzilla goes from undersea creature, to 4-legged Godzilla mk 1, to 2-legged Godzilla mk 2 in a matter of hours, and soon after became the Godzilla we know and love.
3. Bits of Godzilla fell off him in his attack, and these also start the process of evolution. They realize that Godzilla can reproduce asexually (like a worm, not like GINO), and that if they can’t stop him soon the world will be overrun by constantly evolving, unstoppable monsters.
The US Government fears that Godzilla will evolve and reproduce out of control. They decide to use the H-Bomb to wipe him out, and give Japan 2 weeks to evacuate Tokyo.
The new interim prime minister fears that nothing else can be done, and agrees with the US’s plan. But Yaguchi and Kayoco, who’s grandmother died in the Hiroshima nuking, want to come up with another plan. They don’t want Japan to once again be the victim of a bombing that will take decades to recover from.
Kayoco decides to use her political connections to get France to convince the US, Russia, and China to extend the countdown until they nuke Godzilla by one day, i.e. until right before he wakes back up. The American Ambassador to Japan warns her that if her plan fails, it will destroy her political career and shatter her dreams of becoming US President in her 40s. She decides to proceed nonetheless.
Kayoco and Yaguchi’s plan is pump freezing liquid into Godzilla, cooling the organisms inside him until he completely freezes over. They call this plan Operation Yashiori (Yashiori Sakusen). This name goes 3 layers deep:
1. Everyone wanted to call it Operation Yaguchi but he didn’t want to take all the credit, so he took the “Ya” and made it Operation Yashiori.
2. “Yashiori” comes from yashiori no sake. In Japanese folklore, yashiori no sake is a legendary sake that is given to the demon Orochi in order to make him drunk, leading to his defeat. If you’ve played the game Okami, there is a boss fight where you defeat Orochi by feeding him Yashiori no Sake. In this movie, they force feed Godzilla coolants in order to defeat him, a la Yashiori no Sake
3. It harkens back to the name “Operation Yashima” (Yashima Sakusen), which originally comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and then was used on the internet in 2011 to refer to the nationwide campaign to conserve energy after the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown.
They complete preparations on time, and on the day of the operation, Yaguchi gives a rousing speech to those who are participating in the operation, thanking them for their service and their sacrifice, since there is no guarantee they will make it out alive or be safe from radiation poisoning.
They first use unoccupied trains and drones to send explosives at Godzilla. This is a ruse to get him to expend all his energy via atomic breath. When he runs out of juice, they topple him by causing the buildings around him to fall on him. When he’s down, they force feed him coolant via fire trucks.
It takes a couple attempts and many lives are lost, but eventually it works, and Godzilla is frozen.
After the climax, we learn that the half-life of Godzilla’s radiation is only 20 days, meaning Tokyo will be able to make a quick recovery. The Americans postpone the nuke, but remind Japan that, should Godzilla ever reawaken, they will finish the job and nuke him. Yaguchi declares his intent to help rebuild the government into something stronger, that can support Japan in the age of Godzilla.
The film ends with a close-up of Godzilla’s tail. We see human skeletons coming off of it, reaching for the sky. No explanation is given for why they are there.