Haruo Nakajima was the most famous Japanese performer that you’ve probably never heard of.
Widely considered to be one of if not the most iconic suit actors in film history, Nakajima was for many years the principal suit actor at Japan’s Toho Studios. Along with Toho’s legendary special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya, he was one of the principle artists responsible pioneering “Suitmation” and bringing to life some of the most iconic daikaiju (giant monsters) in movie history, including Mothra, Rodan, King Kong and the original King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla.
Nakajima originated the role of Godzilla in Toho Studio’s original 1954 film and continued to play Godzilla in twelve consecutive films over the next two decades. In addition to working as a suit actor on dozens of Japanese movies, he also performed characters on the pioneering Tokusatsu seires Ultra Q and Ultraman and had small roles in some of Akira Kurosawa’s most famous films, including The Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress.
Although he officially retired from performing in the mid-1970s, as his fame grew among diehard fans of Kaiju Eiga (Japanese monster movies) he became a beloved guest on the monster movie convention circuit, delighting fans at events like Monsterpalooza and G-Fest. Although fans are mourning his passing earlier today at the age of 88 – as he himself often pointed out – he’ll be immortalized forever on screen as the King of the Monsters.
Rest in peace Nakajima-san.