Haruo Nakajima

by Armand Vaquer

Above, Haruo Nakajima in 2008.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.
When people think of the “Godfathers of Godzilla,” they usually think of three men: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya. However, there is also a fourth Godfather: Haruo Nakajima. His importance in making Godzilla a fifty year-plus success story cannot be denied.

Nakajima, an actor and stuntman, first donned the Godzilla suit in Godzilla (1954) and continued to play Godzilla and other creatures, including King Kong in King Kong Escapes, Rodan in Rodan, Gaila in War of the Gargantuas, Varan, Moguerra, Mothra and many others. He played Godzilla in twelve features and monsters in twenty six movies, in addition to TV appearances. His skills as a suit actor became so important that he gained the additional responsibility of becoming the choreographer of titanic monster battles in Toho’s daikaiju eiga epics.

When Nakajima was offered the chance to work in Hollywood productions, Eiji Tsuburaya (angrily) asked him to turn down the offer because, as he said, they couldn’t make giant monster movies without Nakajima.

Above, Nakajima donning the Godzilla suit in 1954.  Note the miniature of the Wako Dept. store in the background.  Photo courtesy of Sonoe Nakajima.
Haruo Nakajima was born on New Year’s Day in 1929 in Yamagata, Japan. He began his career acting in samurai movies. “I was always the one who got killed in a sword fight,” Nakajima says. “One day, I played a pilot in Eagle of the Pacific by Ishiro Honda. In the Midway battle scene, my plane is hit by a bomb. I’m on fire and jump out.  Nowadays, stuntmen specialize in those things, but at the time I was the first Japanese actor to perform such a stunt. This role established my reputation. When they were looking for an actor for Godzilla, they felt I was ideal for it.”

He adds, “They probably thought, ‘He does anything without getting hurt.’” Not always. “When I played the monster Varan,” he said, “a squad of kamikaze planes approached me [to attack]. The explosion [from a special effects bomb] occurred under my thighs. I was burned all the way up to my tummy, but I couldn’t tell anybody during the shoot. Actors didn’t complain at the time (laughs).”

Efforts are now in progress to have Haruo Nakajima inducted into the Rondo Hatton Classic Monster Awards "Monster Kid Hall of Fame."

The Mad Monster Party 2013 will mark the first time in two years that Nakajima-san has attended a North American fan convention. His previous appearance was at Monsterpalooza in Hollywood, California in 2011.

This year, he is accompanied by his daughter, Sonoe Nakajima.  Although Mr. Nakajima does not speak fluent English, fans have found him to be a warm and funny man ready to discuss his monster experiences. He is always happy to greet his public and sign autographs. Please take advantage of this opportunity to honor and meet the man who brought Godzilla and other monsters to life.

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