Thursday, August 10, 2017

R.I.P. Haruo Nakajima

Haruo Nakajima, the first actor to ever play Godzilla, died this week (August 7, 2017). He was 88. Sad news, but that's a pretty good run.

Nakajima was a struggling actor whose big break came when he donned the dinosaur suit in the 1954 Godzilla movie. He played the Big G in twelve successive films over the next eighteen years. His final appearance was in Godzilla Vs. Gigan in 1972.

According to Nakajima, the original Godzilla suit weighed a whopping 220 pounds! Holy crap! Respect to him— I dunno if I could even stand upright in such a getup! He claimed the suit weighed so much because it was made of concrete (?), as there was a rubber shortage in Japan after WWII. 

OK, I really don't get how a moveable suit could be made out of concrete, but I guess I'll have to take his word for it.

The general public probably doesn't realize it, but the first Godzilla film was actually quite serious. The titular monster was obviously a metaphor for the legacy of the atomic bomb, and the public's fears over its literal and figurative fallout.

It wasn't until 1962's Godzilla Vs. King Kong that the movies became the camp-fests most people remember. After that they were filled with increasingly ridiculous monsters, bizarre plots and little boys named Ken wearing tiny shorts. That's also around the time that Godzilla became the protector of Japan, rather than an unstoppable force of nature.

These days the trend in Godzilla films is to use a CGI monster, rather than a man in a suit. Hollywood's done this twice now, and even the most recent Japanese Godzilla film (Shin Godzilla) used a computer generated creature.

Sure, an all-CGI Godzilla looks and moves better, but that's missing the whole point. Part of the charm of these films is seeing a man in a dinosaur suit battle a giant moth on a string, on a soundstage filled with miniature buildings. There's something innately appealing about a practically realized, handcrafted Godzilla. Something's definitely lost when they make him look too slick.

Hopefully Hollywood and Toho Studios will realize this, and start using suits again!

Anyway, in honor of Mr. Nakajima, let's all don our 220 pound cement suits and stomp on a model city of Tokyo!

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