Sunday, March 7, 2004

Japan 'Godzilla' movies to hibernate

By Kenji Hall
The Associated Press

TOKYO - Five decades after Godzilla first rose from the ocean, this monstrous movie star is about to take a break from show business.

Hit by slumping box office sales for the iconic series, Japan's Toho Co. is planning to shelve its Godzilla films after this year's finale.

Toho studios' executive producer, Shogo Tomiyama, said that the latest movie - marking 28 releases and 50 years of Godzilla films - would probably be the last one for at least a decade.

"We have done all we can to showcase Godzilla, including using computer-graphics technology. And yet we haven't attracted new fans," Tomiyama said. "So we will make the 50th anniversary film something special, a best-of-the-best, and then end it for now."

Godzilla: Final Wars is set to premiere in Japan in December, with a U.S. release to follow. The giant, genetically altered dinosaur will fight to the finish against 10 different foes, new and old.

Tomiyama refused to discuss the script, but said director Ryuhei Kitamura's epic would touch on Godzilla's past. The budget will top Toho's past record of $9 million.

Known in Japan as "Gojira," from a combination of the words for gorilla and whale, the monster born in a nuclear accident first appeared in director Ishiro Honda's 1954 black-and-white classic.

It featured an actor in a rubber suit emerging from the sea to stomp through a miniaturized Tokyo. For a nation rebuilding from the World War II atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dark allegory about the global nuclear arms race was a familiar one - and Japanese packed theaters to see it.

Inspired by the turnout, Toho made one sequel after another. Part cautionary tale, part campy fun, the films have shown Godzilla hamming it up while saving humankind from crises of its own making: the Cold War, pollution, nuclear energy and biotechnology.

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