Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
TOKYO – Haruo Nakajima, the Japanese actor who wore the Godzilla suit for about two decades from the monster movie series’ original, died of pneumonia on Monday, his daughter, Sonoe, said Tuesday. He was 88.
A native of Yamagata Prefecture, Nakajima aspired to become a movie actor as a teenager shortly after the end of World War II and played stunts in a number of movies in his early career. His first credited role was in Hiroshi Inagaki’s “Sword for Hire” (1952). He appeared in three of director Akira Kurosawa’s best-known films — “Seven Samurai” (1954), “The Hidden Fortress” (1958) and “Yojimbo” (1961).
Nakajima’s fire stunt performance as a warplane pilot in Ishiro Honda’s “Eagle of the Pacific” (1953) led to him getting the role of Godzilla the following year when the first of the series featuring the monster, also directed by Honda, was released.
As Godzilla gained worldwide popularity, Nakajima went on to wear the Godzilla bodysuit for 11 more titles until the 1970s, including “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” (1956), “King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962), “Ghidora, the Three-Headed Monster” (1964), “Son of Godzilla” (1967), “Destroy All Monsters” (1968), and “Godzilla vs. Gigan” (1972).
He also performed inside the bodysuits of many other characters in “tokusatsu” (special effects) movies, including “Rodan” (1956), “Mothra” (1961), “Frankenstein Conquers the World” (1965), “The War of the Gargantuas” (1966), “King Kong Escapes” (1967), and “Space Amoeba” (1970). He also appeared on TV in “Ultraman” (1966-67).
One of his last roles was as the prime minister’s chauffeur in “Tidal Wave” (1973), in which Japan sinks into the sea.
Even after retirement, Nakajima maintained a high global recognition as the man inside Godzilla. In 2010, he released his Japanese-language autobiography, “Monster Life: Haruo Nakajima, the Original Godzilla Actor.” In 2011, he appeared at the Monsterpalooza convention in Burbank and received an honorary award from the City of Los Angeles.
In celebration of his 50th birthday, Godzilla (but not the actor) received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014.