Today, I am sad to report that original Godzilla suit performer and longtime Japanese character actor Haruo Nakajima has passed away at the age of 88. Nakajima was not only a frequent collaborator of Godzilla filmmaker Ishiro Honda, but also of director Akira Kurosawa. Throughout his career, he appeared in the latter’s sword-slinging classics such as Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Yojimbo. Of course, it’s the Big G that he will be most remembered for.
Haruo Nakajima originated the role of Godzilla in the 1954 original and subsequently went on to reprise the role an additional 11 consecutive times for Toho from 1955 to 1972. Not a single giant monster guy, Nakajima also portrayed Rodan (1956’s Rodan), Mogera (1957’s The Mysterians), Varan (1958’s Varan the Unbelievable), Mothra (1961’s Mothra), Baragon (1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World), Gaira (1966’s The War of the Gargantuas), and even King Kong (1967’s King Kong Escapes)! He also portrayed various characters and creatures in further Japanese science fiction outings like The Invisible Avenger (1954), The H Man (1958), The Human Vapor (1960), Matango (1963), Atragon (1963), Dogora (1964), Latitude Zero (1969), and Space Amoeba (1970), as well as in television shows such as “Ultra Q“, “Ultraman“, and “Ultra Seven“. If that’s not an outstanding legacy of not only kaiju cinema, but science fiction cinema in general, I don’t know what is.
Haruo Nakjima played Godzilla more than any other actor. Others helped out with the role during his run and many have taken it on since, but no one has defined it more than Nakajima himself. It was a job that frequently brought him pain and injury, but one he gave 110% to every time out. The man always took pride in his role in the mega-franchise’s legacy, frequently making public appearances in support of it right up until his death. Haruo Nakajima truly was “The Man Who Was Godzilla” and he will be missed.
Thank you for all of the beautiful memories that you have given me throughout the decades as I enjoyed your work, Mr. Nakajima. You help to inform my love of cinema in ways that you will never know. I will never look at Godzilla and not see you.
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