WHEN WORD CAME FROM TOKYO Recently that Godzilla, king of monsters, would die at the end of his 22nd movie—not just sink beneath the waves with the usual tragic burp, but perish forever—the instinctive response was disbelief.
That, the Toho Company now makes clear, was the right response. According to Kenichi Hayakawa, a publicist for the movie studio, Godzilla does indeed pass on after stomping around Hong Kong in Godzilla vs. Destroyer, due in Japanese theaters at the end of the year. But Godzilla will return...somehow. "The current series had Godzilla versus somebody," explains Hayakawa. "We're going to stop that confrontational style." One thing isn't changing: Godzilla, a supposed 260 feet tall and a crushing 50,000 tons, will still look like a rampaging sofa. "It's just a guy in a latex suit," says Hank Saperstein, whose UPA Productions handles the bulk of Godzilla's U.S. franchise.
Oh, but that latex suit can be a strait-jacket! The Godzilla movies, which generally cost $8 million, still perform well in Japan, but the big guy flopped when he last appeared on screens here, in Godzilla 1985. And Toho execs are well aware that 1993's Jurassic Park, with its computer-animated thunder lizards, is the most successful movie ever. Three years ago, Toho sold TriStar the rights to produce an American Godzilla with modern special effects. TriStar, says Saperstein, is now trying to figure out how to trim the budget to $80 million. "After Waterworld," he says, "people were scared." But that's a whole different Hollywood monster.