HE is taller than the Statue of Liberty; he has fiery bad breath and huge claws; and he is the granddaddy of just about every blazing monster you've seen on TV or film.
He's Godzilla, the super lizard with a terrifying roar. And he turned 50 this year. So how is the king of monsters celebrating? With a Hollywood party, naturally. Later this month, he'll even get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A November 29 ceremony will honour the giant lizard on Hollywood Boulevard, during the world premier of the latest movie featuring the monster, "Godzilla: Final Wars".
The movie, the 28th in the series, will mark 50 years since Godzilla emerged from the sea. It features a showdown with 10 notorious mega-monsters, old and new, with Godzilla blasting his way through tiny movie sets of Paris, New York, Tokyo and Sydney.
It's being billed as the last time Godzilla, who is played by an actor in a rubber suit, will move across miniaturized sets before retiring.
"This movie will surprise and delight everyone, from longtime fans to first-time viewers," said Shogo Tomiyama, president of Toho Pictures, the Japan-based company that produced the last Godzilla movie.
Come a long way
Godzilla, known in Japan as "Gojira" (from "gorilla" and "whale"), has come a long way from his youthful, black-and-white movie days. He first appeared in Japanese director Ishiro Honda's 1954 black-and-white classic "Gojira".
That film seems pretty silly and old-fashioned now: an actor in a shaky rubber costume eating fake subway trains, crushing buildings the size of toys, and fighting other monsters even sillier-looking than he. But this monster opened the door to many Japanese pop culture stars.
Without Godzilla, we might never have had Astro Boy, the popular anime featuring rocket-powered boys and girls. Or there might not have been pokemon characters. Anime and manga owe a lot to this early monster, too.
His movie special effects may have been weak, but they're a big reason why lots of people love Godzilla movies. They also collect Godzilla toys and enjoy related films with titles such as "Bambi Meets Godzilla". Godzilla fans filled theaters earlier this year when the original Japanese version of the 1954 film was released in the US.
There was a reason
The 1954 film had a serious message inspired by a true story: That March, a Japanese fishing boat was accidentally covered with radioactive particles from a US hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean. After a crewman died of leukemia, protesters demanded a halt to the testing. Concern over nuclear weapons was especially intense in Japan, where tens of thousands died when the US dropped two atomic bombs during World War II.
"Gojira" was made nine years after the war. Godzilla is a dinosaur awakened in his undersea home by a hydrogen bomb test, which makes him radioactive. He responds by running wild through Tokyo. "If we keep on conducting nuclear tests," a scientist in the movie says, "another Godzilla might appear."
The beast was a triumph of low-tech filmmaking. His body was a 200-pound lizard suit; his terrifying roar was made by dragging a leather glove across a stringed instrument; and his thunderous footsteps were made by beating a drum with a rope.
The new film promises to be ultra-high-tech, but Godzilla isn't waiting to see if it makes him a box-office star again. He has had it with show biz: his agents say that "Godzilla Final Wars" will be his last movie.
Like many a human actor, Godzilla has taken rests from the screen before. He first disappeared from theatres in 1975 when the film industry was overwhelmed by the popularity of television.
Godzilla also "died" in 1995 before Hollywood launched the digital Godzilla, which earned US$379 million worldwide.