After 50 years, Japanese makers of Godzilla decide world has had enough
Thursday, March 04, 2004
TOKYO (AP) - Five decades after Godzilla made its debut on the silver screen, the giant reptile is about to take a break from show business.
Hit by slumping box office sales for the iconic monster 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 the latest movie - marking 50 years since the original Godzilla - 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 in an interview.
"So, we will make the 50th anniversary film something special, a best-of-the-best, and then end it for now."
The movie - titled Godzilla: Final Wars and scheduled to premiere in December - will bring back the giant, genetically altered dinosaur for the 28th time in a fight to the finish against 10 different foes, new and old. Toho's budget will top its past record (the equivalent of about $12 million Cdn) and there are plans for a U.S. roadshow.
Tomiyama refused to discuss the script but said director Ryuhei Kitamura's epic would touch on Godzilla's past.
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 zipped-up rubber suit emerging from the sea to stomp through a miniaturized set of Tokyo, complete with trains and highways and electricity poles.
For a nation rebuilding from the Second World War atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dark allegory about the global nuclear arms race was a familiar one - and Japanese packed theatres 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.
Over the years, stale story lines and outdated special effects have eroded Godzilla's broad appeal.
Although Toho said nearly 100 million people have seen its Godzilla series, Japan's aging postwar baby boomers nowadays are the movies' biggest supporters.
"Unlike the early Godzilla films, most of the remakes only draw either fanatics or children," said Risaku Kiridoshi, an essayist on Japanese pop culture.
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 monsters. Its unanticipated success led Toho to bankroll six more.
After the 1975 flop Terror of Mechagodzilla, Toho again seemed eager to retire its star. But a 1984 revival that became a box office smash prompted Toho to make 11 more over the next two decades.
Toho's Tomiyama declined to say how the next-generation Godzilla might look. But he said the filmmakers would have to make a clean break from sequels of the past.
Kiridoshi said he hopes Toho doesn't completely abandon its origins.
Although Godzilla's height has fluctuated between 50 metres to 100 metres, it has always been played by an actor who zips up a 50-kilogram rubber outfit and then rampages through tiny Japanese cities that are accurate right down to the billboards and traffic signs.
"Without a person acting as Godzilla, it would just be animation," Kiridoshi said.
"That's no different from Hollywood's Jurassic Park."