Japan's best-known cinema export, the movie monster Godzilla, was honored Monday with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. The ceremony coincided with release of Godzilla: Final Wars, a film that is billed as the monster's final movie.
Through 28 films, Godzilla has rampaged through Tokyo and battled a bevy of fanciful movie monsters.
Created 50 years ago by Tokyo's Toho Studios, he is known in Japan as Gojira, a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla and whale. In the original 1954 film, the monster was created by the deforming effects of a hydrogen bomb tested in the Pacific. The theme had special resonance for the Japanese, just nine years after the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima ended the Second World War.
The movie monster reached a worldwide audience in 1956, when scenes with American actor Raymond Burr were melded with Japanese footage to create Godzilla, King of the Monsters. No one was more surprised at the movie monster's success than his Japanese creators, and every few years since then, another Godzilla film has followed.
Hollywood's honorary mayor, entertainer Johnny Grant, hosted the celebration on Hollywood Boulevard for the Japanese movie icon.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to unveil a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Godzilla," he announced.
There, among the dignitaries from Toho Studios, was a human-sized, steam-breathing Godzilla.
"Please welcome our honored guest, Godzilla - Get the photographers! Get the photographers!" he exclaimed.
Toho studios producer Shogo Tomiyama had some sad news for the fans.
"This year's 'Godzilla: Final Wars' is the last Godzilla film," he said. " But, so long as Godzilla keeps fascinating people, I believe he will be resurrected by new generations of filmmakers in the future."
The fans will be waiting. Tasuku Marayama, who is visiting from Japan, finds the movie monster appealing.
"He's big, strong and very famous in Japan," he said.
As far as these fans are concerned, Godzilla is just as famous in the United States. For Tim Vila of Los Angeles, Godzilla is an icon.
"He's right up there with Don Corleone and Shrek and Citizen Kane. He's an icon," he said.
Fan Mark Hatus identifies with the movie monster. Like Godzilla, he feels uncomfortable in the modern world of technology and science.
"I have to say I relate to him in a way," he confided. "He's literally out of place in today's world, and I've always felt the same way."
Scholars have debated the movie monster's meaning. For some, he is a symbol of innocence destroyed by technology, for others the modern expression of the Japanese spirit.
But for fans, his many films offer simple entertainment. Godzilla's producers have avoided glitzy special effects, relying on an actor in a rubber suit, as they have for 50 years. Only the Hollywood version of the Godzilla story, released in 1998, violated that rule and incurred the wrath of the monster's many fans.
As Godzilla made his final exit on Hollywood Boulevard, his creators said, like many a Hollywood legend, the Japanese movie monster may be back.