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After 50 years, Godzilla is taking a break

Japanese monster won't have new films for a decade
/ Source: The Associated Press

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 Thursday 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 told The Associated Press. “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.

Storied historyKnown 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, tapping into worries about Armageddon. 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.

Although Toho says nearly 100 million people have seen its Godzilla series, over the years, stale story lines and outdated special effects have eroded Godzilla’s broad appeal.

“Unlike the early Godzilla films, most of the remakes only draw either fanatics or children,” said Risaku Kiridoshi, an essayist on Japanese pop culture.

An 1998 American production starring Matthew Broderick and a computer-generated Godzilla was critically panned (“a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie,” wrote Roger Ebert). It earned $136 million at the box office after costing about $125 million to make.

Godzilla’s dwindling popularity has led Toho to consider retiring the mutant monster before. In 1968, Toho announced it would end the series with “Destroy All Monsters,” which had Godzilla battling a dozen other creatures. Its unanticipated success inspired Toho to bankroll six more.

After the 1975 flop “Terror of Mechagodzilla,” Toho again seemed eager to say goodbye to its star. But a 1984 revival that became a box office smash prompted Toho to make 11 more over the next two decades.

Even if the new movie makes money, it will be at least a decade before Godzilla returns, Tomiyama said. He declined to say how the next-generation Godzilla might look, saying only that the filmmakers would have to make a clean break from past sequels.

Kiridoshi hopes Toho doesn’t completely abandon its origins — like the actor in the rubber suit.

“Without a person acting as Godzilla, it would just be animation,” Kiridoshi said. “That’s no different from Hollywood’s ’Jurassic Park.”’