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A Film Festival That's Fit for a Really, Really Big Star

Movies: Three of Godzilla's 22 features will be shown during the Nisei Week Japanese Festival in Little Tokyo.

August 02, 1996|KATHLEEN CRAUGHWELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Befitting a screen legend celebrating his 40th year in movies, Godzilla has a film festival to call his own. It's Saturday in Little Tokyo, with organizers promising appearances at noon and 6 p.m. by his monstership.

The film fete, which will feature three of the big guy's 22 films, will be a highlight of the annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival. Because the giant fire-breathing reptile's films have seen a recent surge in popularity, organizers hope Godzilla will help attract a more diverse crowd to their 56th festival.

"As we asked around, I was amazed. Everybody knows about Godzilla. I couldn't find anybody who didn't know Godzilla, from the little kids to the seniors, to everybody in between, all nationalities. I thought it was a Japanese and Japanese American thing. You mention his name and people chuckle," says Yukio Kawaratani, chairman of the Godzilla committee for the Nisei Festival.

Indeed, Godzilla has generated some heat of late. Making a virtual appearance via satellite at the recent MTV Movie Awards, where he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from presenter Patrick Stewart, Godzilla was as warmly embraced by the hipster crowd as fellow award recipients Alicia Silverstone, pop diva Brandy and George Clooney.

A Columbia/TriStar spokeswoman confirms that action gurus Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, the team responsible for "Independence Day," are currently working on a screenplay for a new Godzilla movie for the studio, which Devlin will produce and Emmerich will direct.

So why all the interest in the monster who in the past has battled such noble foes as Mothra, the giant moth (1964), the Smog Monster (1972) and of course, King Kong (1962)? According to Kawaratani, Godzilla is an integral part of pop culture for a generation who, as children, spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons in front of the television watching the poorly dubbed Japanese films. "Most people say they remember seeing [Godzilla] as a kid on television," Kawaratani says. "They all have fond memories."

In fact, Godzilla movies are still a staple on cable's Sci-Fi Channel, which recently devoted a week of prime time to Godzilla fare.

Hard-core fans will note that the great monster was at long last killed off in 1995's "Godzilla vs. Destroyer," which has not been released in the United States. Will his death affect his American movie debut?

No way, according to Mark Meloon, a 26-year-old applied mathematics graduate student at Caltech who is the editor of "Mark's Godzilla Page" on the World Wide Web (http://www.ama.caltech.edu/users/mrm/godzilla.html).

"A lot of fans, including myself, are kind of looking forward to [the American movie]. There have been a lot of things, at least I feel, in the Godzilla legend or story that the Japanese have not really picked up on and carried through--the psychological impact of watching your city demolished--I think an American movie will . . . deal with some of the emotional and dramatic aspects of it."

* The Godzilla Film Festival will take place at the Japan America Theater, 244 S. San Pedro St., Little Tokyo, (213) 680-3700. The lineup includes Saturday screenings of "Destroy All Monsters" a.k.a. "Parade of the Monsters" (1968) at 1 and 7 p.m.; "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" a.k.a. "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster" (1971) at 2:45 and 8:45 p.m.; and "Terror of Mechagodzilla" a.k.a. "Terror of Godzilla" (1975) at 4:30 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets: $7.50 for adults; $3.75 for children 12 and under; $5 for students and seniors.

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