Enjoying some tea on the set of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964).
The Dean of Monster Suit Actors, Haruo Nakajima, got his start at the age of 20, as an uncredited background actor and stuntman at Toho Studios, working on Akira Kurosawa's STRAY DOG (1949). While the scene was an intense knock-down-drag-out-brawl, shot on a rather sweltering summer day, Nakajima laughed that, after all of the retakes, the footage unceremoniously ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, that didn't deter him, as he dutifully appeared, and died, in an endless succession sword films. As thankless as many of those stints were, Nakajima relishes the fact that, as "Bandit C", he was cut down by the stoic Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) in Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI (1954).
But, it was a stunt that he volunteered for, that really brought him to everyone's attention at Toho. A scene in Ishiro Honda's World War II spectacle, EAGLE OF THE PACIFIC (1953), required a live stunt in which a pilot becomes immolated when his Zero Fighter, sitting on the deck of a aircraft carrier, is hit by an incendiary. Asking for volunteers, it was Nakajima who fearlessly stepped up to the plate, and performed the first such fire stunt in Japanese Cinema. With this accomplishment, Nakajima became the "go-to guy" for stunt work, so when it was decided that Godzilla would be brought to life primarily by a man in a suit, his was the first name that came to mind.
From Honda's GODZILLA (1954) through Jun Fukuda's GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), Nakajima was the primary Godzilla performer, who was also tapped by Eiji Tsuburaya to essay all of the major monsters for Toho's Fantasy Films of the 1950s and 1960s. Among Nakajima's favorites is Gaira (the Green Gargantua) from Honda's THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). In the mid-1960s, Nakajima brought his considerable experience to television for ULTRA Q, ULTRAMAN, and ULTRA SEVEN. During this period, now considered a master at his craft, he helped to train a whole new generation of monster performers. In 1972, this all came to an end, when Toho disbanded its contract players, and Nakajima retired from monster acting.
Mr. Nakajima, despite recent health issues, traveled to Chicago last summer to attend G-FEST, where he received his "Mangled Skyscraper Award." During the ceremony, he was surprised by a proverbial flood of congratulatory letters from film professionals on both sides of the Pacific, extolling admiration for him and his work. While I had last met with him eight years ago at G-FEST in Hollywood, Nakajima was still as strong and tenacious as ever, still wielding that vice grip-like handshake, and a sharp and fiery tongue. Well, isn't that what one would come expect from Godzilla himself?
Cheers to Haruo Nakajima, King of the Monsters!