Celebrity Icons reported the passing of Haruo Nakajima this morning. It’s not entirely unexpected; he was 88 and had been ill for some time, and lost his wife in January of this year. However, in our minds he will always remain a totem of strength and exuberance.
For lack of a better term, Nakajima was a badass. Monster costumes are hundreds of pounds of wire and latex, suffocating under regular circumstances, but under hot studio lights, with dust and smoke all around, they’re veritable death traps. The tone with which Nakajima would cheerfully reminisce about when he plummeted to the floor after the wires snapped during Rodan, the scars he took to the stomach from pyrotechnics during Varan the Unbelievable, and all the times he nearly drowned in a waterlogged kaiju suit would chill even the hardest stunt men. Bin Furuya recalls being terrified of him, and Hurricane Ryu went so far as to make him the antagonist in his suit acting manga.
He’s always been quite forthcoming about his roles, and thus has taken on a celebrity role unparalleled among suit actors. He did photo ops throughout his 20-year career, had multiple figures made of him, and even played a pastiche of himself on an episode of the 1967 show He of the Sun. In recent years, in spite of declining health, he made a concerted effort to travel the world and meet fans across it, and we as enthusiasts of his work truly appreciate it.
Nakajima was one of the last lynchpins remaining from the creation of the 1954 Godzilla, and continued playing the monster for 12 movies. He defined the role and played it more than anyone else; he was Godzilla. He was also Rodan, Gaira, Baragon (Pagos, Gabora, and Neronga included), Kiyla, King Kong, Mogera, Matango, Gezora, Ganimes, Kroiga, U-tom, the Invisible Man, the H-man, Magma, larval Mothra, the Meganuron, the Kemur alien, bat men, giant rats, and, of course, Jirass and Gomess. That’s on top of other bit parts and regular stunt work, where you can see him pop up in everything from Submersion of Japan to The Seven Samurai. For playing so many wonderful roles and serving to establish an entire medium of suit acting, we thank him, and his boundless energy and joy that he brought to every interaction with his fans will be sorely missed.