OF ALL THE things Hollywood didn't foresee, perhaps the one it most regrets having missed is the appeal that big, ugly, city- destroying monsters can have to moviegoers on both sides of the Pacific. It took the Japanese film- makers to produce "Mothra," a moth much larger than a 747 that made a shambles of things just by flying around, and that responded only to the plaintive songs of a pair of miniature women. Another airborne menace from Japan was "Rodan," a huge bird that sent sedans scuttling along city streets like tumbleweed just by flapping its wings.
But foremost among the monsters has been Godzilla, lizard-like squasher of people and property, and the constant focus of attention of several hundred Japanese fan clubs. Godzilla -- known in Japan as "Gojira," a name drawn from the words for gorilla and whale -- was created in 1954 by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. A dinosaur awakened from a long slumber and greatly enlarged by a U.S. atomic bomb test, Godzilla went on an urban rampage. He was an instant hit, and over the next two decades 14 more movies were made featuring him.
Because of his growing appeal to children, however, Godzilla became a more benevolent character in his later movies, and by 1975 had also become less interesting to moviegoers. Mr. Tanaka stopped making the films. Now he is reviving Godzilla, making him mean again, and having him trash Tokyo, which has sprouted a number of new buildings since 1954, although probably not for that purpose. Godzilla is back on screens in Japan and will undoubtedly be here soon.
Over the years many explanations have been advanced for the fascination of the Japanese with this monster. They usually involve the destruction Japan's cities have suffered in war and earthquake, or the constraints of Japanese society. But thee don't account for the appeal of Godzilla in other nations, including ours. It might be more useful just to generalize and say that people like to go to the movies and see buildings crushed by giant lizards, and if we knew why we'd all be rich.