Japanese movie major Toho confirmed Nakajima’s death. “We offer our heartfelt prayers for the soul of Mr. Haruo Nakajima, who was the first suit actor to play Godzilla, our company’s signature character,” the company said in a statement. It confirmed that he died from pneumonia on Monday (Aug. 7).
Nakajima’s career began in samurai and war films, notably “Seven Samurai” by Akira Kurosawa and “Eagle of the Pacific.” He landed the “Godzilla” role starting with 1954’s “Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” directed by Ishiro Honda. And shared the credit on the first film with Katsumi Tezuka, a former professional baseball player.
In an April interview, Nakajima explained how the original 1954 Godzilla costume was created from ready-mixed concrete — though other reports describe it as a special plastic — since commodities like rubber were in short supply after WWII. As a result, the actor was forced to wear a suit that weighed up to 100 kilos. Nakajima added that he was given little direction on how to portray the monster, and conducted his own research by studying animals in the Tokyo zoo.
Nakajima took on the monster role in more than just “Godzilla” films, however. As the principal suit actor for Toho, he also played Mothra in 1961 and King Kong in 1967’s “King Kong Escapes,” among many other Japanese kaiju roles such as “War of the Gargantuas” and “Frankenstein Conquers the World.” In his later years, Nakajima attended Japanese monster conventions, including several across the United States, and wrote a Japanese language autobiography “Monster Life: Haruo Nakajima, the Original Godzilla Actor,” which was published in 2010.
“Godzilla” has gone on to become a monster classic. It spawned three Hollywood remakes, in addition to 29 original Toho films.
- Mark Schilling in Tokyo also contributed to this report.