Shin Godzilla: An Unexpectedly Agile Monster Movie

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to catch a limited screening of Shin Godzilla (sometimes known as Godzilla Resurgence), a brand new Japanese reboot of the classic franchise. Not to be confused with the 2014 American film, this movie puts Godzilla back in Tokyo, where he promptly destroys everything. Yet there is a baffling second nemesis at the forefront of the movie: government bureaucracy. Equally surprising, a shift toward agile practices seems to be what ultimately thwarts both threats.

(Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers Ahead)

The Office Monster

The majority of Shin Godzilla actually takes place in sprawling government offices, everyone trying to figure out how to handle the appearance of a giant nuclear monster. And the movie cast is purposely enormous. For every sort of trivial or contrived government job one might imagine, there is an actor in the movie playing the part of a person in that role. Indeed, almost every new character and location in the movie receives on-screen text explaining his/her/its title. Eventually, it gets exhausting to even comical proportions, and that is precisely the point—bureaucracy tires people out.

Scenes play out where a game of telephone is required up and down the chain of command in order to arrive at decisions, in spite of time being in short supply with Godzilla a few yards down the street. Yet importantly, everyone within the government is portrayed as not just competent but also genuinely well-intentioned about protecting citizens. In depicting the employees this way, it is demonstrated how damaging bureaucracy can be even when dealing with benevolent people.

The Office Hero

The main character of the movie, government employee Rando Yaguchi, often gets lost in the shuffle due to all of the other undeveloped government employees sharing screen time with him. Yet circumstances evolve such that Yaguchi’s job title keeps elevating throughout the movie. He ends up as the leader of a small, cross-functional team of experts of every discipline, tasked with finding a way to stop the unstoppable Godzilla. In order to maximize the team’s effectiveness, Yaguchi says explicitly from the beginning that his team will be flat, not subscribing to any hierarchy. Team members are encouraged to develop their own hypotheses and collaborate to conduct iterative experiments to test them. The best ideas are swarmed for further development.

In other words, uh, Yaguchi kind of goes agile to save Tokyo.

Nobody whips out a kanban board that I can recall, but boy does the whole thing start to feel like a big advertisement for agile thinking. And without going into detail, Yaguchi’s team does ultimately formulate a strategy that stops Godzilla from clobbering the rest of Japan. As the movie concludes, there is even discussion of how it is up to a younger generation to collaborate more effectively and remove bureaucracy for the sake of a better society.

Leveling the Hierarchy

Granted, yes, the film is not literally promoting agile so much as it is condemning bureaucracy. Shin Godzilla draws parallels with the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in the same way that Godzilla (1954) drew parallels with the atomic bombings and nuclear testing. These movies, in their awesomely heavy-handed way, merely reflect the times in which they were created. And apparently, we now live in an era where flattening our organizational structures is such a good idea that it can be used to stop Godzilla himself.

My, how far we have come.

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