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Views The Tokusatsu Entertainment Genre that Godzilla Spawned
Being Godzilla: An Interview with Nakajima Haruo, the Man Inside the Suit

What makes Godzilla tick? If anyone can answer that question it might be Nakajima Haruo. The former actor suited up to play the role of Godzilla in 12 films. We recently interviewed Nakajima to discover how he managed to bring the monster to life on the big screen.

Well-Suited to the Role

Hardcore fans of Godzilla movies know the monster from the inside out—quite literally. That is to say that serious fans are familiar with, and have the greatest respect for, Nakajima Haruo, the actor who wore the Godzilla suit.

Sixty years ago, for the original Godzilla film, Nakajima was chosen to don the heavy rubber suit of the monster dreamed up by special-effects director Tsuburaya Eiji (1901–70). And his splendid performance in that role was precisely what helped to bring the monster alive on the screen, giving birth to rabid Godzilla fans around the globe.

Nakajima is often invited to overseas events for fans of the tokusatsu (lit. “special filming”) special effects genre pioneered by the 1954 film Godzilla, and he has traveled to the United States over 10 times. This photograph, taken at a June 2014 event in Florida, features Nakajima (right) along with the actor Takarada Akira from the original Godzilla film and an American fan. (Photograph courtesy of Nakajima Haruo.)

Nakajima was born in 1929 and made his screen debut as a fighter pilot in the 1953 film Taiheiyō no washi (Eagles of the Pacific), produced by the studio that contracted him as an actor, Tōhō Co., Ltd. In the film, he performs a stunt in which his plane catches on fire.

After his success in that daring role, the young actor and stuntman was shown a script for an upcoming film tentatively known as “Project G” (G sakuhin). The film was treated like a top-secret plan; Nakajima couldn’t find out any more details about the project from the head of the acting department who handed him the script or from the director chosen for the film, Honda Ishirō. The director told Nakajima to direct his questions to Tsuburaya.

Top-Secret “Project G”

The hush-hush “Project G” became the legendary 1954 film Godzilla, which earned its special-effects director Tsuburaya his moniker as the “god of tokusatsu.” Nakajima recalls that when he met Tsuburaya to find out more about the secret project, the director spread out a couple of pictures, out of a dozen, from the storyboard for the film to give him a basic idea and then said:

“We’ve come up with the character, but I’m not really sure about how it’ll work out. I’ll only know once you get in the costume and walk around. We can iron out the rest of the game plan later.”

Nakajima reminisces about the creative duo behind Godzilla: Honda Ishirō, who directed the film Taiheiyō no washi (Eagles of the Pacific) that marked Nakajima’s screen debut, and the special-effects wizard Tsuburaya Eiji.

Tsuburaya showed Nakajima King Kong to give him a better idea of what the upcoming film’s monster would be like, although the 50-meter-tall Godzilla towered over that cinematic ape, which was only a fifth of its height.

“You’re the actor, so just concentrate on giving your best performance,” Tsuburaya instructed Nakajima. “Leave the overall acting direction to me, as director. Just be ready for whatever directions I give. The costume weighs a ton, by the way. Will you be OK?”

Nakajima answered with an enthusiastic “Yes,” his pride as a professional not allowing him to answer otherwise. The director followed this up by urging the actor to “stick it out no matter how hard it gets”—eliciting another keen affirmation from Nakajima. 

  • [2014.07.30]
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