Fan favorite Haruo Nakajima, the actor who brought Godzilla to life in twelve movies, has died. He was 88. He was born on January 1, 1929 in Yamagata, Japan, and died August 7, 2017.
Haruo Nakajima played Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese) twelve times from 1954 to 1972. He also played King Kong, Rodan, and Mothra. He was best known for playing kaiju (Japanese monsters) as a suit actor. He was considered one of the best suit actors in Japanese filmmaking. After several severe injuries, including burns and electrical shocks, Nakajima retired from suit acting in 1972. His last acting role, the prime minister’s chauffeur in Japan Sinks (also released as Tidal Wave) was in 1973. He made several convention appearances in the USA and in Japan during the 1990s and early 21st century.
In his younger days, Nakajima was an actor and stuntman. His first role was in Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog in 1949. He acted in Kurosawa movies several times, including Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress. Film historian August Ragone explained that after volunteering for a dangerous stunt in Eagle of the Pacific, “Nakajima became the ‘go-to guy’ for stunt work, so when it was decided that Godzilla would be brought to life primarily by a man in a suit, his was the first name that came to mind.”
In addition to his many samurai and monster movies, in the 1960s Haruo appeared in three television shows: Ultra Q, Ultraman, and Ultra Seven. He was awarded the “Mangled Skyscraper Award” by the Godzilla Society of North America at the G-FEST XV convention in Chicago in 2008. Although Godzilla was the role that made Nakajima famous, he said his favorite role was Gaira in War of the Gargantuas as the costume gave him more freedom of movement.
Nakajima was one of the many actors featured in the 2012 documentary Men in Suits. He published an autobiography in 2010 entitled Monster Life: Haruo Nakajima, the Original Godzilla Actor. His wife predeceased him January 17, 2017. He is survived by his daughter, Sonoe Nakajima.