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Godzilla remake finally gets Japanese homecoming

Actor Ken Watanabe poses at Japanese premiere of Godzilla in Tokyo on Thursday. The rebooted film is finally set to open in the country July 25 after earning $488-million worldwide.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

Tokyo is rolling out the red carpet for Hollywood's Godzilla remake although the country that gave birth to the fire-breathing monster is seeing the latest movie after it opened everywhere else.

Godzilla, opening in the United States and Canada in May, has grossed more than $488-million (U.S.) globally.

But trepidation remains about its reception in Japan because of the intense loyalty fans feel toward the original. The new movie opens across the country on July 25.

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Director Gareth Edwards, present in Tokyo for the gala screening on Thursday, stressed that he had merely parented what was the child of Japan.

"It feels like a homecoming," said Edwards. "His home is Japan."

Japan's own Ken Watanabe stars in Godzilla as the lead scientist, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. It's the latest of several appearances in Hollywood films, such as Inception (2010), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and The Last Samurai (2005).

Watanabe acknowledged that pressure is high for how the film may be received in Japan.

"It might be a challenge for Japanese to accept this movie," Watanabe said after posing with a figure of Godzilla on the red carpet. He said that some scenes show the wreckage of a giant tsunami, evoking painful memories of the March, 2011, disaster in northeastern Japan, which killed nearly 19,000 people and set off the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chornobyl.

"I have a special feeling for this film because of the disaster," Watanabe added.

Edwards' 3-D Godzilla, complete with glistening scales, spikes down its back and a terrifying roar, pays homage to the original, tracing the theme of the threat of radiation, following the U.S. atomic attacks on Japan in the Second World War.

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Although Godzilla has grown to be one of Japan's most iconic exports, along with sushi, its status in mainstream entertainment has waned in the country.

Toho Co., the creators of Godzilla movies since the first one in 1954, stopped making them after the 28th in a series in 2004.

Officials say times have changed and that an actor thrashing about in a rubber suit, smashing miniature models of buildings, just doesn't cut it anymore.

Watanabe said the film's late opening in Japan was because of technical reasons about summer vacations coming later, and denied it was intentional to avoid jinxing it by having it possibly fail in the land of Godzilla's birth.

But he laughed and shook his head when asked whether the best was being saved for last.

Hard-core Godzilla fans think nothing can live up to the charm and pathos of the original, and scoff at computer graphics and other modern filmmaking technology.

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Akira Takarada, who played the young diver in the original Godzilla and appeared in many sequels, said he burst into tears when he watched the new Godzilla in the United States, and the crowd began stomping on the floor, and then gave Godzilla a standing ovation when the monster finally appeared .

"A giant hero they had been waiting for had arrived," Takarada said with emotion in his voice.

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