TOKYO (AP) — Fire-breathing, building-stomping Godzilla was welcomed in part of Tokyo on Thursday as a sign of prosperity, not destruction.
The irradiated monster was appointed special resident and tourism ambassador for Shinjuku ward, known for its down-home bars and noodle restaurants.
A Godzilla-size head towering 52 meters (171 feet) above ground level was unveiled at an office of Toho, the Japanese studio behind the 1954 original. Toho is shooting a comeback film this year after a decade-long hiatus.
Godzilla's standing as an icon has had its ups and downs, but its stature has been reinstated after the Hollywood "Godzilla," directed by Gareth Edwards, became a global hit last year.
Japan is hoping the biggest star in this nation's movie history will help lure tourists during a market-opening strategy launched by the prime minister.
At an awards ceremony next to the giant Godzilla head, an actor in a rubber suit waddled to Shinjuku Mayor Kenichi Yoshizumi. However, Toho executive Minami Ichikawa had to accept the residency certificate in Godzilla's place, since the suit's claws aren't designed to grab anything.
The longtime belief is that any place Godzilla destructs in the movies is sure to prosper in real life, Yoshizumi said.
"Godzilla is a character that is the pride of Japan," he said.
Hiroshi Ohnishi, chief executive of the Isetan-Mitsukoshi department store chain, who heads the area's tourism promotion, kept referring to Godzilla with the very polite honorific "sama" — used at the end of a name — underlining respect for the creature as a business-drawing landmark for the region.
The fire-breathing "gojira" — as it is pronounced in Japanese, combining "gorilla" and "kujira," or "whale" — was born a genetic aberration, caused by nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean.
The reptilian mutation also symbolized a national trauma over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
The first "Godzilla," directed by Ishiro Honda, with both an unforgettable score and bestial screech, is revered as a classic.
But in 2004, Toho announced it had made its last "Godzilla," the 28th in the series.
Toho's reboot is set for release next year, ahead of Edwards' sequel for Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers, planned for 2018.
Over the years, Godzilla has demolished Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, the Parliament building and several castles in Japan, as well as Golden Gate Bridge and other chunks of San Francisco in the Hollywood version.
Shinjuku ward has not been spared, flattened in three Toho movies. If Godzilla chooses to return, it can now stomp on its own giant head. But Ichikawa told reporters where it will show up was still undecided.
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