Haruo Nakajima, The Original Godzilla Actor, Dies : The Two-Way Nakajima played the iconic giant reptile in a dozen films, donning the suit that he says weighed about 220 pounds and wreaking havoc on model cities and rival monsters. He was 88.
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Haruo Nakajima, The Original Godzilla Actor, Dies

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Haruo Nakajima, The Original Godzilla Actor, Dies

Haruo Nakajima, The Original Godzilla Actor, Dies

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/542198902/542468313" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Here's a sound you might recognize.

(SOUNDBITE OF GODZILLA ROAR)

SHAPIRO: That's the roar of Godzilla, the Japanese movie monster that debuted in 1954. The man inside the monster was an actor named Haruo Nakajima.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Nakajima wore the reptile suit for 12 "Godzilla" movies. He died last week at the age of 88.

BILL TSUTSUI: You know, Haruo Nakajima really set the standard for all the actors who would later play Godzilla.

CORNISH: That's Bill Tsutsui, the president of Hendrix College in Arkansas and noted "Godzilla" scholar.

TSUTSUI: Before Nakajima became the monster, he was an extra in samurai action movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARUO NAKAJIMA: (Speaking Japanese).

SHAPIRO: Producers of the original "Godzilla" film spotted him. They thought his weary build would help him fit into the suit. And most importantly...

TSUTSUI: He had the reputation for being determined and enthusiastic.

CORNISH: Nakajima took the role seriously. He wanted to make sure he got the movements just right.

SHAPIRO: He would go to the zoo in Tokyo and observe the animals. He thought watching the lizards would inspire his character. But they just laid there - not exactly inspiration for a city-stomping monster.

TSUTSUI: Instead his real motivation came from bears and elephants. And he brought a lot of their motions into how Godzilla walked and the gestures he made.

CORNISH: That determination came in handy when it was time to don the suit. It was uncomfortable and heavy - over 200 pounds - and hot, especially under the bright lights of a movie set.

TSUTSUI: The special effects staff had to drain the suit of his perspiration after every scene. So it really was a tough experience for him.

SHAPIRO: But it paid off. "Godzilla" was a hit. The film came out less than a decade after the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the filmmakers used "Godzilla" as a stand-in for the horrors of nuclear war.

CORNISH: There have been dozens of "Godzilla" movies since the original. The latest came out just last year. And as Nakajima said in an interview with The Great Big Story earlier this year...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NAKAJIMA: (Speaking Japanese).

SHAPIRO: "In the end, the Godzilla I played remains on film forever. It remains in people's memory. And for that, I feel extremely grateful."

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