GODZILLA: THE ART OF SUIT ACTING/HARUO NAKAJIMA

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I do love my special features; it is an aspect I missed desperately when I watch films online. It is amazing to me that a label like Something Weird Video who charges a mere $10 for a DVD can include so many goodies. Another label I have been impressed with is The Toho Masters Collection; like Something Weird it is also affordably priced. There isn’t a massive selection of features but they make it count with what they do include. I went on a real Japanese film splurge over the weekend. I watched Zero Woman Red Handcuffs, Female Prisoner Scorpion Jailhouse 41 (review pending) and two Toho selections; War of the Gargantuas (review pending) and Godzilla Raids Again. The Godzilla Raids Again DVD included a great little poster and lobby card gallery but even juicier was this mini-documentary; Godzilla: The Art of Suit Acting. Half of the fourteen minute long documentary was dedicated to Toho’s most prolific suit actor and the man who played Toho’s first monster Godzilla in 1954; Haruo Nakajima. Nakajima was featured in twenty-nine of Toho’s science fiction and horror classics with the vast majority of those being giant monster movies. He had no idea what he was getting into when he accepted the role. Toho had never made a monster movie before Godzilla and surely Nakajima did not envision “a stiff two-hundred pound dinosaur-shaped sweat box with virtually no visibility!” The dedicated actor took his lunch to the zoo daily so he could examine the movements of the larger animals! He learned to move quickly in the heavy suit which was later slowed down in the editing room to give the effect of a large laboring creature. Nakajima treated the job with the utmost respect and made himself indispensable; he never refused a request no matter how insane it was. He was buried alive, had explosives designated under his balls, neck and shoulders, set on fire and nearly drowned. Once when playing Rodan the wire supporting him broke and he went plunging unexpectedly into the water in the heavy suit. So indispensable was Nakajima that when he received an offer to do suit work in America; Toho asked him not to go. He had close contact with the suit makers not only to ensure the costume fit him correctly but to test the suit for movement and determine whether modifications were needed. Toho also relied on Nakajima to choreograph the monster battles and advise other suit actors on movement. Besides his work on the original Godzilla he felt his best work was Gaira the green Gargantua in The War of the Gargantuas; it was the only suit he donned where his own eyes could be seen. The suit partner he favored most Yû Sekida would play alongside him as Sanda the brown Gargantua. Early in the Toho days they did not like to reveal the identity of the men in the monster suits so Nakajima’s work was uncredited for years. The man who would labor under a couple hundred pounds of latex would work in anonymity for years. Nakajima portrayed Godzilla from 1954 until his retirement in 1972 along with several other characters including Rodan, Baran, Baragon and of course Gaira the Green Gargantua. Suit acting is dangerous and difficult work, not to mention underappreciated! Suit acting requires immense patience, strength and fortitude and Nakajima had those characteristics in spades! Below is Haruo Nakajima’s Toho Science Fiction and Horror resume along with several behind the scenes pictures of him on the various Toho sets.

Godzilla vs. Megalon (stock footage – uncredited) (1973), Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), Yog: Monster from Space (1970), Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), Latitude Zero (1969), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Son of Godzilla (1967), King Kong Escapes (1967), Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster (1966), The War of the Gargantuas (1966), Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), Matango (1963), Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (1962), Gorath (uncredited) (1962), Mothra (1961), The Human Vapor (1960), Daikaijû Baran (1958), The H-Man (1958), The Mysterians (1957), Rodan (1956), Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Tomei ningen (1954), Godzilla (1954)

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5 Responses to “GODZILLA: THE ART OF SUIT ACTING/HARUO NAKAJIMA”

  1. GG, you’re AMAZING. Now I need to get these films in my stash. Thanks much for covering this stuff. War of the Gargantuas was a staple here on WABC, but I know it was edited a bit and am looking forward to your take on this classic kaiju.

    Anyway, a photo gift of sorts for you: http://www.yanobe.com/aw/aw_footsoldier.html I love kenji Yanobe’s work and this piece is a fave. Hell, If I could buy this thing, I’d use it daily just to get room on the sidewalks here.

    • So many Sunday afternoons spent watching this stuff on TV as a child! I love the films as much now as ever. My appreciation for practical effects has only grown over the years. It is amazing what they were able to achieve with costumes and miniatures. Ha! I’d love to have a foot soldier for getting to work!

  2. Great post! Nakajima needs to get the credit he is due. Wonderful pics in your post, too!

    • Thank you! I guess I never gave it all that much thought about the rigors suit actors go through never mind knowing any of their names. It was a great little documentary they included with this DVD which I paid less than $10 for.

  3. […] impact. The real highlight here of course are the Gargantuas Sanda and Gailah. I recently did a feature on suit acting where I focus on Toho’s most prolific performer; Haruo Nakajima. Besides the original […]

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