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Godzilla Comes Home for Christmas

By MICHAEL ROSS, UPI Senior Editor

TOKYO -- Godzilla has been awakened from a nine-year nap and, boy, is he grumpy.

Salvaged from the ocean depths after poor box-office receipts forced him into retirement, Japan's rowdiest reptile is back in a tail-swishing new film that premiered Dec. 15.

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This time, Godzilla is bigger and meaner than ever as he lurches through downtown Tokyo, noshing on nuclear reactors and doing to skyscrapers what macho men do to empty beer cans.

For Godzilla, this is the second character change since he first stomped across the silver screen in 1954. A villain back then, Godzilla got nicer in subsequent films until at last he was cast as a good monster, fighting alongside mankind for truth, justice and the Japanese way.

Alas, as Godzilla's demeanor improved, his box office appeal declined.

'The fans did not like Godzilla when he was good,' said Masaru Yabe, a spokesman for Godzilla's producers, Toho Productions. 'They wanted to see a bad Godzilla. They wanted to see him eat Tokyo again.'

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And so in his new flick, entitled simply 'Godzilla,' it's no more Mr. Nice Lizard.

'In this film, we have returned to the original Godzilla. He is strong and powerful. He is a real monster,' said Koji Hashimoto, 'Godzilla's' director.

As the film opens, Godzilla has been awakened by a volcanic eruption. He's hungry after nine years -- and of course real monsters don't eat quiche.

Godzilla prefers plutonium, which he obtains by wading ashore and cracking open a nuclear reactor. So sated, he goes on to dispose of a Russian submarine, a squadron of U.S. jets, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and of course, central Tokyo. Along the way, he provokes a superpower confrontation and brings the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

But wait. There is more to this monster than meets the eye. Behind all the smoke and fire, beneath the rubble of downtown Tokyo, there is a message. For Godzilla has been resurrected not merely to terrorize the world but to sermonize to it about the dangers of nuclear energy.

The United States and the Soviet Union want to nuke Godzilla, not realizing that this monster goes for MX missiles the way kids go for Hostess Twinkies. But the wise and moral Japanese prime minister refuses, arguing there must be a better way of solving the world's problems.

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'In the first Godzilla movie in 1954, the monster was awakened by a nuclear explosion and the message was against nuclear testing,' said Hashimoto. 'This time the theme is broader -- the risk of nuclear energy in all its forms. This is the message I want to spread to the world through this film.'

The world, however, may not get to see the $6 million film unless someone is willing to pay the $5 million that Toho is asking for foreign distribution rights.

'We have had discussions with several companies including Paramount and Universal but they have not been successful. Their offers were too cheap,' said Kei Nakagawa, Toho's promotion director.

Nagagawa said the best offer so far has been $2 million, but that he believes someone will meet Toho's price once Godzilla proves his popularity in Japan again. 'We are sure the film will be a success. Then the foreign companies will change their minds,' he said.

To ensure that it is a success, Toho has pumped $1.5 million into a massive promotional campaign that has plastered Godzilla's monstrous face on everything from T-shirts to chewing gum labels. There are Godzilla dolls, Godzilla records and even a number fans can call to hear Godzilla screech over the phone.

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'We have learned how to promote films by watching the way the Americans promote films like Ghostbusters,' said Nakagawa, who shows up for interviews wearing a varsity jacket with Godzilla's name emblazoned on the back.

And there's more. Spied on the wall of a Tokyo men's room recently was the legend:

'Godzilla lives.'

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