Japan's Toho Studio says its biggest movie star is retiring. Godzilla, who has made 29 films since 1954, was honored last week with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame prior to the world premiere of Godzilla Final Wars. The radioactive monster's handlers are making sure he exits with a bang.
For half a century, those ominous musical notes have heralded the imminent destruction of some of the world's major cities - at least on the movie screen - by the giant lizard Godzilla.
Now, in what is billed as his sayonara appearance, the radioactive reptile stomps his way around the world one more time, wreaking havoc in New York, Shanghai, Paris and Sydney.
Toho Studio says it spent nearly $20 million on Godzilla's finale. That may not sound like a lot compared to the budget of a typical Hollywood blockbuster - but it is double the cost of a typical Godzilla flick, and seven times what is normally spent to make a movie in Japan.
The Godzilla films have always been decidedly low-tech affairs, essentially a man in a rubber suit crushing balsa wood sets. Even the monster's roar is nothing more than the sound of a resin-covered leather glove being run along the loosened strings of a double bass.
Special effects director Eiichi Asada says it would be sacrilege to try to create a Godzilla with computer graphics.
Mr. Asada says the magic of his job is making a two-meter figure appear to be a 100-meter tall monster. He says computer graphics cannot reproduce the vibrant action created by a skilled actor posturing inside a Godzilla suit. That, he contends, is why Godzilla has such worldwide appeal.
Despite destroying the world's major cities over and over, many of Godzilla's loyal fans see him as bearing a message of non-violence.
In his 1954 debut, Godzilla's awakening was caused by American nuclear testing in the Pacific, which aroused real-life anger here in a country that had suffered the atomic bombings of two of its cities less than a decade earlier.
The Director of Godzilla Final Wars, Ryuhei Kitamura, says whether it is nuclear weapons or terrorism threatening civilization, Godzilla's message is so simple even a child grasps it.
He says we do not know what sort of real-world disasters future generations might face, but Godzilla's message will be the same: meaningless violence is wrong, and people should not do bad things.
Godzilla was nearly killed off in the 1970s, as big budgets films like Star Wars," and Japanese TV super heroes thinned the lizard's core fan base of young boys. Toho put the rubber suit in the closet for nine years after its 1975 release, Terror of Mechagodzilla, got a poor reception at the box office.
Since the final film in the series has opened in theaters here, however, executive producer Shogo Tomiyama says he has been inundated by requests from fans of all ages for yet another Godzilla movie.
Mr. Tomiyama, who is also president of Toho Pictures, says his team has achieved its goal of making the best Godzilla film ever, so they cannot make any more. He says any future resurrection of Godzilla would have to be done by the children who are currently enjoying the 29th - and ostensibly last - appearance of the flame-breathing reptile.
All photos by VOA's Steve Herman