Anyone who knows me, knows I have a love for a LOT of different things. Some wonder how I can keep track of it all, but I’d say if you ask the people who really know me what my favorite things are, they’ll tell you, tacos, coffee, road trips, Dinosaur Jr, cardigan sweaters, and Godzilla.
So it is with a very, very heavy heart that today, we say goodbye to Haruo Nakajima. Better known as Godzilla.
Not just ANY Godzilla either. Nakajima was THE original King of Monsters in the 1954 film. However, perhaps more importantly, he remained to play Godzilla in throughout the Showa era until his retirement from the role, ending with 1972’s Godzilla vs Gigan. These are the Godzilla movies that most of us who grew up with them know and love the best. From starting out as the frightening, then transforming to the goofy, the crazy, the occasionally trippy, the monster, the hero. The King.
Below this, I’ve listed all the kaiju movies he’s done. You’ll notice that he wasn’t JUST Godzilla. He was the original Mothra, Rodan and Mogera as well as a host of others.
Outside of the beloved Kaiju movies, he was also in a few of Akira Kurosawa’s famous samurai film, notably, Seven Samurai.
Nakjima is still considered the best suit actor ever. To the Japanese film industry, he was what Andy Serkis now is to mocap. You knew when he was in that suit because he had certain moves, the way he walked, fought, waved his hands around, reacted to things… So many people are dismissive of Godzilla movies as rubber-monster-camp. To an extent they’re right. Just watch some of the goofier entries. I won’t deny the campiness of those films. What you can’t be dismissive of, is the talent that really brought Godzilla to life for so many of us. I’ve often said that the greatest actors are the ones that make you forget who’s behind the portrayal. With the heavy suits on though, Nakajima instead reminded us who was inside the portrayal.
In an interview, he was asked, “What is Godzilla to you?” and his response nails it;
He’s my partner! He’s my partner. He can’t be a character without me, but I get inside and he’s the boss.
He’s the boss, but I’m his partner. We can’t stand alone. We’re partners because we share the same feelings.
The wonderful thing is, he never stopped being a hero to legions and generations of kaiju fans. Up to this past year, he was still making the rounds. Hitting the convention circuit, always smiling, always happy to meet new and younger fans. He was kind and humble for his station. In this new age of CGI, as wild as it is, you can never replace the fun and heart of those older films.
Just as you can never replace Haruo Nakajima.
Here’s a short video of the last time Nakjima donned the Godzilla mantel. In 1983. The suit he’s wearing here was made for Godzilla’s 25th Anniversary in 1979. However, the wonderful thing is, once he’s going, he IS Godzilla. Those classic, signature moves, the stance… That’s love.
- 1954 – Godzilla (Godzilla, Newspaper Writer)
- 1955 – Godzilla Raids Again (Godzilla)
- 1956 – Rodan (Rodan, Meganulon, JSDF Officer)
- 1957 – The Mysterians (Mogera, JDSF Officer)
- 1958 – Varan the Unbelievable (Varan)
- 1961 – Mothra (Mothra)
- 1962 – King Kong vs. Godzilla (Godzilla)
- 1963 – Matango (Matango)
- 1963 – Atragon
- 1964 – Mothra vs. Godzilla (Godzilla)
- 1964 – Dogora, the Space Monster
- 1964 – Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (Godzilla)
- 1965 – Frankenstein vs. Baragon (Baragon)
- 1965 – Invasion of the Astro-Monster (Godzilla)
- 1966 – The War of the Gargantuas (Gaira)
- 1966 – Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (Godzilla)
- 1967 – Son of Godzilla (Godzilla; water scenes only)
- 1967 – King Kong Escapes (King Kong)
- 1968 – Destroy All Monsters (Godzilla, Military Adviser)
- 1969 – Latitude Zero (Gryphon, Manbat, Giant Rat, Lion)
- 1969 – All Monsters Attack (Godzilla)
- 1970 – Space Amoeba (Gezora, Ganime)
- 1971 – Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Godzilla)
- 1972 – Godzilla vs. Gigan (Godzilla, Comic Book Publisher, Defense Forces Officer)