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Haruo Nakajima, First Actor to Play GODZILLA, Has Died at 88

Haruo Nakajima, First Actor to Play GODZILLA, Has Died at 88

We know people like Doug Jones and Andy Serkis and Terry Notary and Ron Perlman for transforming into fantastical characters onscreen, either via performance capture or elaborate makeup and costumes. The people who do this important work have finally begun to receive their due, but back in the ’50s that wasn’t the case. We all should know the name of actor Haruo Nakajima, who passed away this week at the age of 88, because he played one of the biggest screen icons of all time.

Despite appearing in small roles in Akira Kurosawa films like Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress, Nakajima’s claim to fame is being the man inside the suit for the first 12 appearances of Godzilla spanning 1954 and 1972. In all of the outings of the King of All Monsters for the first 18 years of his existence, his movements were the result of Nakajima’s incredible physicality inside the incredibly heavy suit, created by famed special effects designer Eiji Tsuburaya. And he took his job, and the character of Godzilla, very seriously, as this video essay/interview from Great Big Story just a few months ago shows.

Prior to the ’80s reboot of the Godzilla franchise (with the excellent Godzilla 1985), the outings by director Ishiro Honda were the best, the ones starring Haruo Nakajima. On top of the original 1954 film, Nakajima appeared as Godzilla in Godzilla Raids Again, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah: the Three-Headed Monster, Invasion of the Astro-Monster, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, All Monsters Attack, Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and Godzilla vs. Gigan.

In addition to Godzilla, Nakajima also portrayed monsters in Rodan, Mothra, The H-Man, and Frankenstein Conquers the World, and The War of the Gargantuas, as well as the Tsuburaya-produced series Ultraman: A Special Effects Fantasy Series. Simply, if you’ve seen a kaiju movie made before 1973, you’ve seen phenomenal and iconic work of Haruo Nakajima. He’s a legend.

Enjoy this little silent home movie of Nakajima putting the suit on one last time for a promotional photoshoot in the early ’80s.

Images: Toho

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He writes the weekly look at weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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