Inside the Godzilla suit, it was very dark, lonely, and isolated. Usually, the person who wears the suit becomes nervous and anxious. During summertime it’s very hot, it can become hell in there. But Mr. Nakajima always persevered. He acted in the suit underwater, he was buried underground, he withstood pyrotechnic explosions… and through it all he was always Godzilla.
— Teruyoshi Nakano on Haruo Nakajima
I already knew I could hardly become a star like Akira Takarada. I didn't have the face for it. At first, I could only become a bit player; and then, I was offered this. For the first time in Japanese film history. And once I was inside Godzilla, I became irreplaceable; it would be possible to replace all of the other actors, but not me. If I didn't get to work because I was sick, none of the staff would be able to do their work. All of this gave me a tremendous sense of pride.
— Haruo Nakajima
Haruo Nakajima (中島 春雄 was a Nakajima Haruo)Japanese actor and stuntman, most famous for playing Godzilla in the character's first 12 films from 1954 to 1972. During that time, he appeared in nearly every one of Toho's science-fiction films, either as a monster, an extra, or both. He retired from suit acting in 1972, several years after the death of Eiji Tsuburaya, who was a close friend of Nakajima as well as the special effects director for most of Toho's kaiju films in the Showa era. In 2010, he published an autobiography titled Monster Life: Haruo Nakajima, the Original Godzilla Actor. He passed away on August 7, 2017, at the age of 88. The 2019 film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, ends with a dedication to him and director Yoshimitsu Banno.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Haruo Nakajima served in the Japanese Imperial Navy as a reserve pilot during the Pacific War. He saw combat as a gunner aboard a Mitsubishi G4M bomber, and was present at the funeral of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in Tokyo Bay. Following the war, he struggled to find work; though he worked for a year as a truck driver for the American occupation forces, he was fired after being arrested for speeding. On a whim, he decided to enroll in the International Motion Picture Acting School in 1949. As a student, he was hired by legendary director Akira Kurosawa to portray a detective in a fight scene in Stray Dog. To his disappointment, the scene went unused.
Upon graduation, Nakajima became a contracted actor at Toho who specialized in period action films. He appeared in two more Kurosawa films in the 1950's, Seven Samurai in 1954 and The Hidden Fortress in 1959. However, his true calling would lie in a type of acting without precedent. In 1953, for Eagle of the Pacific, he volunteered to be set on fire during the film's recreation of the Battle of Midway. The stunt impressed the film's director, Ishiro Honda, who likely was the one to recommend Nakajima for the title role in Godzilla, Toho's first monster movie, the following year.
To properly embody a monster awakened by nuclear testing, Nakajima watched special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya's personal copy of King Kong. He also studied the largest animals he could find at the Tokyo Zoo: elephants and gorillas. Though Nakajima was used to working in heavy samurai armor, the Godzilla suit presented unique challenges; provided with little ventilation and working under harsh studio lights, he could only remain inside for three minutes at a time. He also had to adjust his movements to the higher film speeds (72 frames per second) that Tsuburaya mandated to create the illusion of a 50-meters-tall monster.
When Godzilla became a box office success, Nakajima knew that he would soon be offered more monster roles. His job would also expand in the next Godzilla film, Godzilla Raids Again, to include fight choreography. Scripts would often describe monster battles with a single sentence, leaving the rest to him. Such was his reputation that Eiji Tsuburaya hired him as a choreographer for the first two shows in Tsuburaya Productions' Ultra Series, Ultra Q and Ultraman. Nakajima also portrayed several monsters in the Ultra Series, mostly those made from old Toho costumes which he had already worn.
In total, Nakajima played giant monsters in 22 films, including 12 turns as Godzilla. One of his favorite roles was Gaira, the evil green Gargantua from The War of the Gargantuas. The flexibility of the suit, as well as that of his opponent Sanda, allowed him to pattern the fight scenes on professional wrestling. Though the work was often dangerous, especially the underwater scenes which made use of his scuba diving license, he was only injured once, on the set of Varan. The explosives-filled truck which detonates under Varan in the film's climax burned his stomach. Characteristically, he said nothing about it to the crew and kept working.
Nakajima retired from acting in 1972, following the completion of Godzilla vs. Gigan. Despite his retirement, Nakajima remained a consistent supporter of the Godzilla franchise for the next several decades, appearing at conventions and writing an autobiography detailing his work in suitmation. Nakajima also became a close friend of his former costar and eventual successor in the role of Godzilla, Kenpachiro Satsuma. Nakajima passed away on August 7, 2017, at the age of 88.
Selected filmography[edit | edit source]
- Godzilla (1954) as Godzilla [with Katsumi Tezuka] / daily newspaper reporter / substation engineer
- Invisible Man (1954) as Haruo Akita / stunt double for Seizaburo Kawazu
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955) as Godzilla
- Half Human (1955) as mountain searcher [uncredited]
- Rodan (1956) as Rodan / Meganulon [with Shoichi Hirose, Katsumi Tezuka, Tokio Okawa] / JSDF officer
- The Mysterians (1957) as Moguera [with Katsumi Tezuka] / JSDF officer / soldier leaping from a tank [uncredited] / Mysterian [uncredited]
- The H-Man (1958) as Chosuke, man on the Ryujin Maru II / H-Man [uncredited]
- Varan (1958) as Varan / executive officer of the Isonami
- The Secret of the Telegian (1960) as police officer [uncredited]
- The Human Vapor (1960) as bank patron with black glasses [uncredited]
- Mothra (1961) as Mothra larva [head; with Katsumi Tezuka] / evacuee [uncredited]
- The Last War (1961) as policeman guiding the evacuation [uncredited]
- Gorath (1962) as Maguma [with Katsumi Tezuka; disputed][a]
- King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) as Godzilla [with Katsumi Tezuka] / Faro Islander on watchtower [uncredited]
- Matango (1963) as Matango [with Tokio Okawa, Koji Uruki, Masaki Shinohara]
- Atragon (1963) as Mu frogman / JSDF officer [uncredited]
- Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) as Godzilla [with Katsumi Tezuka]
- Dogora (1964) as onlooker at thermal power plant [uncredited]
- Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) as Godzilla
- Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965) as Baragon / JSDF soldier [uncredited]
- Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) as Godzilla
- Ultra Q (TV 1966) as Gomess [episode 1] / Pagos [episode 18]
- Ultraman (TV 1966-1967) as Neronga [episode 3] / Gabora [episode 9] / Jirahs [episode 10] / father [episode 25] / Illusory Kemur and squad leader [episode 33] / Keylla [episode 38]
- The War of the Gargantuas (1966) as Gaira
- Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) as Godzilla / Infant Islander [uncredited]
- He of the Sun (TV 1967) as Tanabe, Gaira suit actor [episode 2]
- King Kong Escapes (1967) as King Kong / unidentified role [uncredited]
- Ultraseven (TV 1967-1968) as U-Tom [episode 17]
- Son of Godzilla (1967) as Godzilla [water scenes; with Hiroshi Sekita, Seiji Onaka]
- Destroy All Monsters (1968) as Godzilla / military advisor
- Latitude Zero (1969) as Lion / Griffon [uncredited] / Giant Rat [uncredited] / Bat Man [uncredited] / underwater stunts [uncredited]
- All Monsters Attack (1969) as Godzilla
- Chibira-kun (TV 1970) as Tongari [episode 11] / Gebagoro [episode 15]
- Space Amoeba (1970) as Gezora / Ganimes / underwater stunt double for Akira Kubo [uncredited]
- Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) as Godzilla / concerned citizen in the montage [uncredited] / JSDF officer [uncredited]
- Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) as Godzilla / background comic editor [uncredited] / JSDF officer [uncredited]
- Submersion of Japan (1973) as Prime Minister Yamamoto's driver [uncredited]
- Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) as Godzilla [stock footage]
- Bye-Bye Jupiter (1984) as Godzilla [stock footage]
- Godzilla 1985 (1985) as Godzilla [stock footage]
- Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) as Godzilla / head of Mothra larva / Gaira [stock footage]
- Godzilla Final Wars (2004) as Godzilla / Varan / Baragon / Gaira / Gezora [stock footage]
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) [dedication; with Yoshimitsu Banno]
Interviewee[edit | edit source]
- Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1998)
- Bringing Godzilla Down to Size (2008)
- The Dawn of Kaiju Eiga (2019)
Gallery[edit | edit source]
Nakajima on the set of Godzilla (1954)
Nakajima steps into the Godzilla suit on the set of Godzilla (1954)
Nakajima on the set of Godzilla Raids Again
Nakajima holds a MosuGoji model
Nakajima with the KiryuGoji suit
Haruo Nakajima with Matt Frank
Nakajima sitting next to the original 1933 King Kong armature
Nakajima remembered at the 90th Academy Awards
Videos[edit | edit source]
[edit | edit source]
- Haruo Nakajima's filmography on the official Toho website
- Interview by David Milner (March 1995)
- Interview by John Rocco Roberto (2000)
- Interview by Brett Homenick and August Ragone (July 2008)
- Interview by NBC News (2011)
- Roundtable interview with Haruo Nakajima and Russ Tamblyn provided by Toho Kingdom (March 2014)
- Interview by Tetsu Nakamura (August 2015)
- SciFi Japan's tribute to Nakajima
Notes[edit | edit source]
- In his 2014 book Director of Special Effects: Teruyoshi Nakano, assistant special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano recalled Nakajima playing Maguma during the scene where the monster is surrounded by jet pipes. Nakajima denied ever playing Maguma in his 2010 book Monster Life: Original Godzilla Actor Haruo Nakajima.
References[edit | edit source]
This is a list of references for Haruo Nakajima. These citations are used to identify the reliable sources on which this article is based. These references appear inside articles in the form of superscript numbers, which look like this: 
Bibliography[edit | edit source]
- Tanaka, Tomoyuki (10 December 1983). The Complete History of Toho Special Effects Movies. Toho. ISBN 4-924609-00-5.
- Motoyama, Sho; Matsunomoto, Kazuhiro; Asai, Kazuyasu; Suzuki, Nobutaka; Kato, Masashi (28 September 2012). Toho Special Effects Movie Complete Works (1st ed.). villagebooks. ISBN 978-4864910132.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
- Nakajima, Haruo (17 July 2010). Monster Life: Original Godzilla Actor Haruo Nakajima. Yosensha. ISBN 978-4-86248-589-2.
- Toho Special Effects Movie DVD Collection No. 51. K.K. DeAgostini Japan. 27 September 2011.
- Nakano, Teruyoshi; Katsuki, Someya (2014). Director of Special Effects: Teruyoshi Nakano (Movie Bunko ed.). Wides Publishing. ISBN 978-4898302804.
- Nollen, Scott Allen (14 March 2019). Takashi Shimura: Chameleon of Japanese Cinema. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4766-3569-9.
- TV Magazine Special Edition: The Complete Works of Ultraman: A Special Effects Fantasy Series. Kodansha. 14 April 1987. ISBN 4-06-178404-8.
- Nakamura, Tetsu; Shiraishi, Masahiko; Aita, Tetsuo; Tomoi, Taketo; Shimazaki, Jun; Maruyama, Takeshi; Shimizu, Toshifumi; Hayakawa, Masaru (29 November 2014). Godzilla Toho Champion Festival Perfection. ASCII MEDIA WORKS. ISBN 978-4-04-866999-3.