I’ve just learned that Haruo Nakajima, the stuntman and actor who originated the role of Godzilla himself, has passed away at the age of 88 of pneumonia. Now all the major players of that greatest of monster films are gone, with the sole exception of Akira Takarada.
Mr. Nakajima was a stuntman and bit player at Toho studios (he played one of the bandits in Seven Samurai) when he was picked to play the monster in Tomoyuki Tanaka’s massive gamble Godzilla. Since they pretty much had to invent the different special effects techniques as they were making the film, the suit they designed was notoriously difficult to work with. Mr. Nakajima suffered terribly for the role, enduring temperatures up to 140 degrees and often leaving a whole cup of sweat behind him. The suit weighed over 200 pounds and included numerous bits of machinery to operate the mouth and tail. Though a trained athlete and a powerful man, Mr. Nakajima fainted more than once during the shoot.
Yet he returned for twelve films, finally retiring from the role after Godzilla vs. Gigan. In the process, he helped give Godzilla the distinctive personality that made him such a memorable figure on screen. Mr. Nakajima was known as a very good humored, playful man, and that side of him sometimes came across through the mountains of coarse latex. Those who remember Godzilla clapping his hands in mockery of King Kong, or leaping with excitement after sending King Ghidorah packing will see Mr. Nakajima’s personality shining through. At the same time, he could lend remarkable dignity and poignancy to Godzilla’s movements, as seen in the underwater confrontation at the end of the first film, or his interactions with Minya in Son of Godzilla.
Few may know his face or name, but Mr. Nakajima helped create one of the great figures of cinema, and for that he will always be remembered.
Rest in peace, sir, and many thanks.