Home / Arts & Life / Haruo Nakajima, the First Actor to Play Godzilla, Dies at 88

Haruo Nakajima, the First Actor to Play Godzilla, Dies at 88

In that interview, Mr. Nakajima recalled Godzilla’s creator, Eiji Tsuburaya, struggling amid Japan’s postwar shortages and rationing to find enough rubber and latex to construct the costume.

“You don’t learn this from a textbook but by doing,” Mr. Nakajima said of those early days. “There is no chance to learn now.”


Mr. Nakajima in 1966. He donned the Godzilla rubber monster costume 12 times from 1954 to 1972.

Kyodo, via Reuters

At the end of a day of shooting, Mr. Nakajima would later recall, he typically sweat so much inside the hot, heavy suit and beneath the soundstage’s bright lights that he was able to wring enough sweat from his undershirt to fill half a bucket.

To perfect the monster’s notoriously destructive gait, Mr. Nakajima spent hours at the zoo, studying how elephants and bears walked. In interviews, the actor said that he had wanted to make sure the monster was believable and to enable viewers to connect with it on an emotional level.

Mr. Nakajima was born in Yamagata, Japan, on New Year’s Day in 1929. He was 16 when Japan surrendered to the Allies at the end of World War II and appeared in his first credited role in “Sword for Hire” in 1952, when he was 23.

As a contract actor for the Japanese studio Toho, Mr. Nakajima starred in dozens of other monster movies, including as King Kong in the 1967 film version.

He retired from acting in 1973 and is reported to have briefly taken a job at the bowling alley on the Toho studio lot. Beginning in the 1990s, he made frequent appearances at conventions for comic book and movie fans.

“Godzilla,” the first film in the franchise, was released nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was a not-so-thinly-veiled fable about the dangers of nuclear weapons.

“One might regard him as a symbol of Japanese hate for the destruction that came out of nowhere and descended upon Hiroshima one pleasant August morn,” The Times wrote in a 1956 review of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” the English-dubbed version of the film released in North America. “But we assure you that the quality of the picture and the childishness of the whole idea do not indicate such a calculation. Godzilla was simply meant to scare people.”

Mr. Nakajima was the first iteration of Godzilla to scare people, but not the last. Toho produced 27 more Godzilla films after Mr. Nakajima hung up his rubber suit in 1972. Since then, Hollywood has produced three “Godzilla” movies. The next in the franchise will star Ken Watanabe and is scheduled for release in 2019.

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