America usually likes its film stars young, sexy and glamourous. But for a few hours at the beginning of the week the biggest star in Hollywood was a frighteningly ugly 50-year-old monster.
Godzilla, the atomic-powered Japanese hero of 29 movies, was in town to celebrate his 50th birthday and the world's film capital was giving him a party worthy of movie royalty.
Hundreds of fans and almost as many TV cameras turned up on the Hollywood Boulevard to see the garrulous, fire-breathing black monster receive the ultimate accolade of stardom: his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"Godzilla should thank you for this historical and monumental star. Unfortunately, he cannot speak English," said producer Shogo Tomiyama. "We're very excited he is being honored in America. Godzilla: Final Wars is his last film but I am sure he will be resurrected by filmmakers in the future."
The celebration was capped with a red carpet gala at the opening of Final Wars at the legendary Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Leading up to Monday's celebrated cultural event, US newspapers and television shows paid homage to Godzilla, celebrating his gargantuan fury and pondering what it was about the massive lizard that made Godzilla such a long-time favorite.
"What is Godzilla?" wondered a CNN correspondent off-screen, as the cable news channel showed pictures of the giant monster pulverizing buildings and sending crowds fleeing. "Is he the embodiment of Japan's nuclear post-war trauma or is he Japan's national hope cleverly disguised as a fire-breathing monster."
Most Godzilla academics agree that the giant Japanese lizard is a symbol for the fear that gripped many nations at the height of the Cold War, with its threat of imminent nuclear destruction. It also was a pioneer of the Japanese graphic art of anime and introduced America to a genre that later spawned such cultural touchstones as Pokemon.
The atom-fueled creature is also seen as a representation of the age old angst about meddling with nature -- and having it come back 50 times as strong.
Originally called Gojira, the first movie was made nine years after the war and featured a dinosaur awakened in his undersea home by a hydrogen bomb test. This makes him angry and radioactive, and he embarks on a furious rampage of revenge through Tokyo.
"If we keep on conducting nuclear tests," a scientist in the movie says, "... another Godzilla might appear."
"Godzilla came out of Japan in the early 1950s and clearly represents their fears of the historic bombings. Godzilla arose out of this and carries the message that if you mess with the atom, it wreaks havoc on you," Robert Rosenwein, a professor of social psychology, told one newspaper.
"We sin and this is retribution for that sin. The Japanese fear is not just isolated to them. It's a shared fear -- a fear we shared during the Cold War."
Over the years, however, the fear faded and Godzilla's creators changed his character from one that threatens the planet to one that saves it from even bigger monsters and the scheming of evil men -- a far cry from the fire-breathing fury that destroyed Tokyo in the original hit.
Thus in 1971's Godzilla Versus Hedora, the titanic dinosaur was pitted against a sludge monster threatening environmental disaster, while many other movies see him battling monsters such as Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla.