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 twelve 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.
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 dinosaur 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-meter 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.
- Godzilla (1954) as Godzilla / Reporter
- Invisible Man (1954) as Invisible Man Akita
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955) as Godzilla
- Rodan (1956) as Rodan / Meganulon / JSDF Officer
- The Mysterians (1957) as Moguera / JSDF Officer / Soldier Leaping from Tank
- The H-Man (1958) as Second Dissolved Sailor
- Varan (1958) as Varan / Deputy Minesweeper Director
- The Secret of the Telegian (1960)
- The Human Vapor (1960) as Transitional Human Vapor
- Mothra (1961) as Head of Mothra larva / Evacuee
- The Last War (1961) as Police Officer
- Gorath (1962) as Maguma
- King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) as Godzilla / Farou Islander
- Matango (1963) as Matango
- Atragon (1963) as Mu Frogman / JSDF Officer
- Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) as Godzilla
- Dogora (1964)
- Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) as Godzilla
- Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965) as Baragon / JSDF Soldier
- Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) as Godzilla
- Ultra Q as Gomess [episode 1] / Pagos [episode 17]
- The War of the Gargantuas (1966) as Gaira
- Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) as Godzilla
- He of the Sun (TV 1967) as Himself / Gaira
- Ultraman (TV 1966-1967) as Neronga [episode 3] / Gabora [episode 9] / Jirass [episode 10] / Kiyla [episode 38]
- King Kong Escapes (1967) as King Kong / unidentified role
- Ultraseven (TV 1967-1968) as U-Tom [episode 17]
- Son of Godzilla (1967) as Godzilla [water scenes]
- Destroy All Monsters (1968) as Godzilla / Military Advisor
- All Monsters Attack (1969) as Godzilla
- Latitude Zero (1969) as Lion / Griffon / Giant Rat / Bat Person / Underwater stunts
- Space Amoeba (1970) as Gezora / Ganimes / Underwater stunt double for Akira Kubo
- Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) as Godzilla / Concerned Citizen in Montage / JSDF Officer
- Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) as Godzilla / Background Comic Editor / JSDF Officer
- Submersion of Japan (1973) as Prime Minister Yamamoto's Driver
- Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) as Godzilla [stock footage]
- Sayonara Jupiter (1984) as Godzilla [stock footage]
- Godzilla 1985 (1985) as Godzilla [stock footage]
- Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) as Godzilla [stock footage]
- Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) as Godzilla [stock footage]
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
- 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)
- SciFi Japan's tribute to Nakajima
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: