First ac­tor to don rub­ber Godzilla suit

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS -

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.

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