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Learning to stomp: The man inside Godzilla

Haruo Nakajima (<a href="">Toho</a>)
Haruo Nakajima (Toho)

Over two decades, Haruo Nakajima stomped his way into history.

With the Toho film “Godzilla” in 1954, Nakajima became the first man to don the rubber suit of Japan’s most famous kaiju monster.

It all started with hime being presented the first script, which had “G Film” written on the cover.

“I figured I didn’t know exactly what to do,” the 85-year-old retired actor tells Josei Seven (Oct. 9), “but because my belief was to not be picky about work I was appreciative.”

Before shooting began, he visited Tokyo’s Ueno Park.

“At that time, there was an elephant from India called Indira and I observed how it walked,” Nakajima says.

Nakajima, who had already appeared in a number of Toho productions, including Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” observed that Indira lumbered around slowly by pressing the entire sole of its foot on the ground at once.

“So Godzilla’s style of walking came from an elephant,” he says.

For a week, he visited the zoo, paying attention to the arm movements of bears and how birds shifted their heads.

Filming began at the Toho studios in Tokyo over the summer. It took three months, and Nakajima was forced to cart around a suit that weighed roughly 100 kilograms.

“I put one foot in (the suit) at a time,” he says, “and then the staff zipped it up from behind.”

Wooden geta sandals added a bit of height to his frame, but moving such a heavy beast was challenging.

Nakajima’s time in the military helped. In 1943, at the age of 14, he entered the Navy. When the war ended two years later, he returned his home in Yamagata Prefecture to work at the butcher shop operated by his family.

“Without the training my body received in the Navy I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he giggles.

Even though it was 60 years ago, Nakajima vividly recalls the intensity of the heat during the shooting. In those days, air conditioning and even electric fans were rare, and inside the suit the temperature reached 60 degrees Celsius.

“One cut would take seven seconds,” says Nakahima, “and during the breaks I would wring the sweat out of my shirt into a jar. I also really stunk up the inside of that suit to an unbelievable degree.”

But it was worth it; he was paid handsomely — his salary of 200,000 yen for the film far superseded that of the average salaryman, who in those days averaged 30,000 yen a month.

Yet garnering respect in the industry for his work was not easy.

“Back then, people didn’t speak positively of suit actors,” he says. “There’d be whispers going aroud saying that working inside (a suit) is not an acting job.”

But Nakajima, whose last performance in his 12-film career in the franchise was in “Godzilla vs. Gigan” in 1972, took pride in the role.

“There was only one actor who could play Godzilla, and that was me,” he says. (K.N.)

Source: “Watashi ga ano ni haitte mashita Gojira, Kamen Raidaa ni yurukyara…suutsu ni kimashita,” Josei Seven (Oct. 9)