Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Godspeed Haruo Nakajima, "Mr. Godzilla"

Haruo Nakajima, the man in the Godzilla suit for 12 movies from Gojira (1954) to 1972, died yesterday at the age of 88. The cause was pneumonia. He also appeared in several other films, including classics directed by Akira Kurosawa. 

Haruo Nakajima was born on January 1 1929 in Yamagata, Japan. He made his film debut in Sengoku bura (Sword for Hire) in 1952. He appeared in Taiheiyô no washi (1953--Eagle of the Pacific) before appearing in what might be the two most iconic Japanese movies ever made. In Gojira, known in English as Godzilla, he played the title character, encased in a heavy rubber suit. To determine how Godzilla would move, Mr. Nakajima visited zoos and studied how elephants and bears walked. That same year he appeared in Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) as one of the bandits.

In the Fifties Haruo Nakajima would appear as Godziila again in the sequel Gojira no gyakushû (1955--Godzilla Raids Again). He also played various other monsters in the films Rodan (1956), Chikyû Bôeigun (1957--The Mysterians), Daikaijû Baran (1958--Varan the Unbelievable), and Gasu ningen dai 1 gô (1960--The Human Vapour). He also appeared in roles other than monsters in kaiju and sci-fi movies. In addition to Akira Kurosawa's Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (1958--The Hidden Fortress), he appeared in such films as Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Ankokugai (1956--The Underworld), Shujinsen (1956--Rebels on the High Seas), Bijo to ekitai ningen (1958--The H-Man), Yajikita dôchû sugoroku (1958--The Happy Pilgrimage), and Sengoku gunto-den (1959--The Saga of the Vagabonds).

In the Sixties Mr. Nakajima reprised his role as Godzilla in the films Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (1962--King Kong vs. Godzilla), Mosura tai Gojira (1964--Mothra vs. Godzilla), San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen  (1964--Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster), Kaijû daisens (1965--Invasion of Astro-Monster), Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no daiketto (1966--Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster), Kaijûtô no kessen: Gojira no musuko (1967--Son of Godzilla), Kaijû sôshingek (1968--Destroy All Monsters), and Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru kaijû daishingeki (1969--All Monsters Attack). He played other monsters in Mosura (1961--Mothra), Yôsei Gorasu (1962--Gorath), Matango (1963--Attack of the Mushroom People), Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon (1965--Frankenstein Conquers the World), Furankenshutain no kaijû (1966--War of the Gargantuas), Kingu Kongu no gyakushû (1967--King Kong Escapes), and Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû (1970--Space Amoeba). He also appeared in the films Taiheiyo no tsubasa (1963--Attack Squadron!), Horafuki taikôki (1964--The Sandal Keeper), and Izu no odoriko (1967).  Mr. Nakajima played various monsters in the TV series Ultraman.

In the Seventies Haruo Nakajima would make his last few appearances as Godzilla in the films Gojira tai Hedora (1971--Godzilla vs. Hedorah), and Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan (1972--Godzilla vs. Gigan). He appeared in stock footage as Godzilla in 1973's Gojira tai Megaro (Godzilla vs. Megalon). His last appearance as an actor in a film was in Nippon chinbotsu (1973--Tidal Wave).

He retired from acting in 1973. In the Nineties he began appearing at various kaiju conventions both in Japan and the United States. 

Haruo Nakajima received very little screen time outside of a monster suit, playing uncredited bit parts in many films, but in various kaiju films he was very much the star. Perhaps no other actor could move quite so convincingly as Haruo Nakajima. Watching Gojira and the other early Godzilla movies, it is sometimes easy to forget that it is a man in the suit and not an actual, giant monster devastating Tokyo. Later in his life Mr. Nakajima would be responsible for relaying much of the history of the films to fans. Except for the first film (uncut and in its original Japanese), the Godzilla films may not number among the greatest films ever made, but they are very enjoyable. Haruo Nakajima's performances as Godzilla are much of the reason for that.

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