Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Haruo Nakajima, 1929 - 2017

Suited By His Career

Per the Paper Of Record, Haruo Nakajima, the Japanese actor who played Godzilla in over a dozen films, and whose work in a 200-pound rubber suit became cinematic history, passed away yesterday in Japan at age 88. 

Eiji Tsuburaya, Special Effects Director At Toho Studios Who 'Invented' Godzilla,
Confers With Nakajima On Set, 1960's

The Big Guy, as the two people and Superintelligent Parakeet who read BeforeNine know, is nearly this blog's totem avatar creature.  We hold him in high esteem, and wish him all good things. It's good to have a 350-foot giant bipedal lizard on your team.

 Nakajima Rehydrating On A Minature Beach At Toho Studios, 1954
Mr. Nakajima was a 25-year-old stunt actor with just four movies to his credit when he was cast in what are perhaps Japan’s two most famous films of that era: Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai,” in which he had a bit part, and “Godzilla,” both released in 1954.

In “Godzilla” he played the titular character: a gigantic, irradiated lizard whose mutated form and destructive power wreaks havoc on Tokyo. The first movie in the “Godzilla” franchise, it was released nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a not-so-thinly veiled fable about the dangers of nuclear weapons.

The success of Godzilla kicked off Japan’s golden age of tokusatsu, or “special-filming” movies, in which rubber-costumed actors portraying colossal, terrifying creatures typically destroyed scale-model sets, creating illusions of reality that would would one day be generated even more spectacularly by computers...

Mr. Nakajima was born on Jan. 1, 1929, in Yamagata, Japan. He was 16 when Japan surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II. His first credited acting role was in “Sword for Hire,” in 1952, when he was 23.  As a contract actor for ... Toho [studio], Mr. Nakajima starred in dozens of other monster movies...

Mr. Nakajima was the first iteration of Godzilla but not the last. Toho produced 27 more Godzilla films after Mr. Nakajima hung up his rubber suit in 1972. Since then, Hollywood has produced three “Godzilla” movies. The next in the franchise will star Ken Watanabe and is scheduled for release in 2019.
We already live in a world where Heir Theyre Be Monsters. You may recall in the 2015 version of 'The Big Guy Comes To San Francisco', he defeated the Bad Aliens, and seemed to die -- but was only dead-tired. Picking himself up, he lumbered back to the Sea and swam home, without unnecessarily damaging more of the City. Like the end of the initial Jurassic Park (and again at the end of the last film in that franchise), a Big Lizard saved the day.

The next time you watch any of the Gorjira films made between 1954 and 1972, you're watching Nakajima at work. There may be less onerous ways of earning a living, but being a part of film history is not a bad tagline to a career. Remember: in Japan, Seven Samurai and the original Godzilla are considered the two cornerstones of their national cinema, and Nakajima was an actor in both.