First actor to don rubber Godzilla suit
Haruo Nakajima, the Japanese actor who played the movie monster Godzilla in a dozen films and whose booming steps in a 200-pound rubber suit sent the denizens of Tokyo running into cinematic history, died Monday. He was 88.
His daughter, Sonoe Nakajima, said the cause was pneumonia.
Nakajima was a 25-yearold stunt actor with just four movies to his credit when he was cast in what are perhaps Japan’s two most famous films of that era: Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai, in which he had a bit part, and Godzilla, both released in 1954.
In Godzilla he played the titular character: a gigantic, irradiated lizard whose mutated form and destructive power wreaks havoc on Tokyo. The first movie in the Godzilla franchise, it was released nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a notso-thinly veiled fable about the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Nakajima would eventually put on the heavy rubber monster costume 12 times from 1954 to 1972 in a series of movies that became an international phenomenon.
The success of Godzilla kicked off Japan’s golden age of tokusatsu, or “special filming” movies, in which rubber-costumed actors portraying colossal, terrifying creatures typically destroyed scale-model sets, creating illusions of reality that would one day be generated even more spectacularly by computers.
He recalled Godzilla’s creator, Eiji Tsuburaya, who was the film’s special effects director, struggling amid Japan’s postwar shortages and rationing to find enough rubber and latex to construct the costume.
To perfect the monster’s destructive gait, Nakajima spent hours at the zoo studying how elephants and bears walked. He wanted the monster to be believable, he said in interviews.
Nakajima was born on Jan. 1, 1929, in Yamagata, Japan. He was 16 when Japan surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II. His first credited acting role was in Sword for Hire, in 1952, when he was 23. As a contract actor for the Japanese studio Toho, Nakajima starred in dozens of other monster movies, including King Kong Returns, a 1967 Japanese production in which he again played the title character, this time in an ape costume.
He retired from acting in 1973 and lived in a suburb of Tokyo.