He's taller than the Statue of Liberty, has fiery bad breath and is the granddaddy of just about every tentacle-wiggling, laser-blasting monster you've seen on TV.
He's Godzilla, and he has just turned 50.
So how is the King of the Monsters celebrating? With a Hollywood party, for starters. Later this month, Godzilla will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for future fans to ooooh over.
He's also got another movie -- his 28th! -- coming out. And Atari just released its third 'Zilla-themed video game, "Godzilla: Save the Earth," in which the Big Guy battles "notorious mega-monsters."
The lumbering lizard has come a long way from his youthful, black-and-white movie days. Those flicks -- the first one opened in Japan in November 1954 -- seem pretty cheesy and old-fashioned now: an actor in a jiggly latex Godzilla costume, munching fake subway trains, crushing buildings the size of Lego projects and fighting monsters even goofier-looking than he was. (For instance, his foe in "Godzilla vs. Megalon" was a giant insect with drill-bit hands. )
But don't be too quick to dismiss Godzilla as a scaly has-been. He opened the doors for many Japanese pop culture stars. Without Godzilla, you might never have had Astro Boy, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Powerpuff Girls, or Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon characters. Anime and manga owe a lot to this early mon-star.
His movie special effects may have been lame-o, but they're a big reason why lots of people love Godzilla movies, collect Godzilla toys and enjoy spoof 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. Its title was "Gojira" -- Godzilla's original name, from the Japanese words gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale).
The 1954 film had a serious message inspired by a true story: That March, a Japanese fishing boat was accidentally splattered with radioactive particles from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test. After a crewman died of leukemia, protesters demanded a halt to testing. Concern over nuclear weapons was especially intense in Japan, where tens of thousands died when U.S. pilots dropped two atomic bombs during World War II.
In "Gojira," 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 rampaging 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 the sound of a leather glove being dragged across a stringed instrument, and his thunderous footsteps were made by beating a kettle drum with a knotted 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; "Godzilla Final Wars" will be his last movie.
Godzilla retired once before, in 1968. But within a year he was back, city-stomping like he'd never left.
-- Fern Shen