let’s pay tribute to the man who played the original incarnation of the Big G: Haruo Nakajima. Granted, he was joined by Katsumi Tezuka for stunt double duties for some of the early films and was mostly replaced in Son of Godzilla (with the exception of the water scenes) by Seiji Onaka and Hiroshi Sekita due to their taller size contrasting with the height of the titular monster, but he was the primary go-to guy for Godzilla (and various other daikaiju) until 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. After that, he voluntarily retired from the role. It wasn’t due to the grueling experiences he had while wearing the costume but was instead due to the death of Eiji Tsuburaya and layoffs at Toho having drained out all the joy he used to get from performing. It speaks volumes about his skills that Toho had to resort to using three men to try and replace him for the final three films of the Shōwa Godzilla series: Shinji Takagi, Isao Zushi, and Toru Kawai (those last two also portrayed the character in the television series Zone Fighter). However, 1972 was not the last time Nakajima wore a Godzilla costume.
In 1983, Space Magazine Uchusen put had Haruo Nakajima don a Godzilla costume for a special photo shoot. Thankfully, someone was on hand to document the process on film:
The reason the costume might look a bit “off” is because it is an attraction costume. Attraction costumes are made specially for publicity purposes and are rarely used for scenes in movies. According to the information for the video, the costume in question is not the attraction suit that was infamously used for a few scenes in Terror of Mechagodzilla. Instead, it was a costume made in 1979 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Godzilla.
A year after the photo shoot, The Return of Godzilla (better known as Godzilla 1985 in America) was released and marked the first time Kenpachiro Satsuma would play Godzilla (which he portrayed through the rest of the Heisei series until 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah). Diehard Godzilla fans will also recognize him as having played Hedorah and Gigan back in the 70’s. For the Millennium series, Tsutomu Kitagawa handled the majority of the suit duties, with Mizuho Yoshida stepping in for Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.
Not to take anything away from those fine performers, but for many of us who grew up watching old Godzilla movies, Nakajima is our Godzilla. His ability to actually move in the costume is even a major factor in the first movie being made the way it was and I wouldn’t be surprised if his studying animals in order to get a better feel for how to move as Godzilla set a standard for those who followed in his footsteps. That’s right, Godzilla we know and love might not even exist today if it wasn’t for him. Those links also reveal that he was responsible for the monster fight choreography in those films! So let’s give three cheers to to man as we also say:
Happy Birthday Godzilla!