While most kaiju eiga fans know Haruo Nakajima as the actor who played Godzilla in the monster suit from 1954 to 1972, he also played such Toho kaiju as Rodan, Mogera, Varan, Gaira, and King Kong (in King Kong Escapes, 1967) in a variety of monster movies from Toho Studios. A longtime favorite among Western Godzilla fans, Haruo Nakajima was interviewed by Brett Homenick and August Ragone in July 2008, which was translated by Robert Field.
UPDATE (August 2021): The following transcript features improved and updated translations by Yusuke Sasaki from the original recording of the interview. Some details have been clarified from the previous translation, while others have been brought to light for the first time.
Brett Homenick: Let’s get right to the questions. While people can imagine that suit-acting is tough, can you tell us how dangerous it actually is?
Haruo Nakajima: Good morning. It is said that you would complain about how hot the suits are or something like that. However, when I put on the suit, my suit was layered, and I needed to keep standing and speaking Therefore, the temperature of my suits reached 60 degrees Celsius. Rain fell from the ceiling of the studio, so I wondered who was making this rain. The was rain made by the staff, and there was a huge light, so it was really astonishing. When you touch the suit just a little bit, you could feel that it was really hot.
The films were made in such severe conditions. There were no cooling or heating systems, but just a big block of ice that was placed next to the director. It would seem to be cool, but it was not cool in the studio. You could only feel cool by looking at that ice. There was really no cooling system.
In Varan the Unbelievable (1958), different from Godzilla, the surface of the suit was a little bit thinner. During some of the shots, they had attack tanks that had explosives on them come and run into me and hit me in my abdomen. These things blew up while Varan climbed out of Tokyo Bay. As a result of the explosion, it broke through the surface of the suit. The most important thing was that my abdomen was a bit burned.
You have to be durable to act as a film actor. During the scenes where the explosions happen, I never made any excuses, and never complained about anything until after it was over. An actor who cries while the action takes place cannot be offered such jobs anymore.
Suit actors face many severe conditions to perform their roles. However, you cannot complain because you are a professional actor; you have to act like there is no pain. After making the film, you do not have to act anymore. Also, you can tell people that you really got hurt when time has passed. The job of being an actor is terribly hard. Actors who complain too much are often considered ones who cannot continue to work in the movie industry. That is why actors should be quiet, and need to put a tape over their mouths if necessary.
Movie directors are very cold people. My nickname was Naka-chan, and the director would come up and say calmly, “Naka-chan, it is your turn again.” It seemed that the director was indifferent to my acting, so I just acted the way I wanted.
When you work as a suit actor, it is normal to have to act the way the director would expect under severe conditions. However, this job is really tough because suit actors cannot always do what the director asks for. Suit actors seem to be people who just follow the director’s instructions and do not think for themselves. This profession is in between God, the top, and the outlaws, the bottom. There are a lot of different types of directors. There are a few good ones, and there are some who are loud [much too strict]. (laughs) For instance, when we perform as samurai, director Akira Kurosawa was too strict about a lot of things. He would always say, “I don’t want you acting like Toei Studios [actors] would. When you play the role of a military strategist who supports the shogun, you must play that role!”
For instance, when it comes to samurai, one samurai slashes, and the other one gets slashed. Mr. Kurosawa clearly said, “You must act as if you were naturally slashed.” For instance, at Toei Studios, when they would do fight scenes with swords, one actor would do the slashing, and the other actor would turn his face to the camera. That is not natural. The actor who gets slashed must not show his face to the camera when he gets slashed so that the act of slashing becomes more natural. Once you act like Toei Studios actors do, the person would die after only one slash. That is why Mr. Kurosawa said, “You must act naturally.”
Mr. Kurosawa was also persistent with the actors who played the starring roles. If he does a take of a scenes with his main actor, and the actor does something strange, he would say, “Go home. We do not want you here. Get out of here.” Mr. Kurosawa replaced the main actor 1,200 times.
On the other hand, director [Eiji] Tsuburaya was not loud. Between takes, he was constantly sleeping. I was not sure if he was thinking really deeply or sleeping, but he always had his mouth open, and he was looking up. Then, all of a sudden, he would wake up and say, “OK, you act like this!” When I think about it, he was not one of the louder ones. He was one of the quieter ones.
Honestly, quieter directors are much tougher to act for because you must understand what the director intends. The quietest ones are the most difficult because they put the responsibility on the actors for their performance. The directors think, “If you cannot act perfectly, you will be no longer used in the movie.” They clearly say such things. On the other hand, if you get one hundred percent done, and it is perfect, the director would also be slightly satisfied with the acting, though he usually kind of snorted through his nose, “Mm.” We were not really sure if he was happy or not about it.
Sometimes, the director would try to incorporate the great actions that other actors in our production did into the scene and say, “If it is not good, we will edit it out. Please try it.” To be honest, the director told me to try a gesture called the shie. Then he said, “If it is not good, we will edit it out. But, if it matches the scene, we will keep it in the movie.”
August Ragone: That was from a famous manga, right? That was from a famous manga originally.
HN: I think, maybe, the shie derives from a famous manga first. Mr. Tsuburaya was open-minded to a lot of ideas. There was one scene where Yuzo Kayama, a famous Japanese singer, made this gesture [scratches his nose] while he sings a song. Mr. Tsuburaya said, “It is a good idea to introduce this. If you have any good ideas, please introduce them in your acting. If those actions do not match the scene, I will remove them.” He was a person who accepted all ideas that could be suitable for the scene from others and decided whether it matched or not.
As you may know, there are many difficulties in making films. There are a lot of flying things, such as missiles and rockets, that you get hit with, and they hurt. Mr. Tsuburaya said, “Shall we start testing it?” When we tested it, we took a big board and placed a helmet on it, and then we aimed the rocket at it and shot it. As a result, the rocket went straight through the board and helmet.
Since the Godzilla suits were made of latex rubber, all the rockets were going to bounce off. It was not until we did this test that I realized that the rockets would go straight through them.
I like to smoke. I am a heavy smoker. A lot of times, between different scenes, we were not going to take off the Godzilla suit, so they drilled a little hole in the neck of the suit and stuck the cigarette through the hole.
AR: Can you share any memories of particular films that the audience might want to hear, some stories about the original Godzilla (1954), for instance.
HN: I was doing a number of different movies made by Mr. Tsuburaya, and, during that time, he said, “I’ve just created Tsuburaya Productions. The actors in my production company are like amateur performers compared to you. We need your help with something else.” That is how Ultraman (1966-67) started.
AR: It’s “Defeat Gomes!,” the first episode of Ultra Q (1966).
HN: At that time, Mr. Tsuburaya did not have a character that he had in mind to use, so he decided to use Godzilla. However, Toho has the rights to Godzilla, so he was not able to use Godzilla. He used Godzilla’s head and put a horn on it, but it was actually a suit from Godzilla.
Shooting is quite a tough job. Generally, in the summer, everybody wants to go in the pool and play, but, when it comes to kaiju movies, it is totally different. Most of the scenes that they shoot in water are not in the summer, but in the winter. In the middle of winter, shooting started at nine in the morning, going until noon, and then we’d take an hour off. But we’d go from 1:00 p.m. until around 5:00 at night. I needed to stay in the water all day in the suit, and shooting took a week.
For a whole week, we had been shooting like this, in the middle of winter in the water from early morning to evening. There was a tea plantation where we were making the film, and the camera was in the tea plantation. While I was going through the water, I could see the camera far away. On the right side of the camera, I could see the director and some staff members. Of course, they were warming themselves with a small stove. The place around me was surrounded by a thick ice whose width was around one centimeter. I was the only one sitting in the water all day and all evening.
Directors look like very cold people. I had been in the water more than a week for one movie. Since I was working hard, I did not get an appetite, so I ate a little bit of ramen and one ball of rice, and I became full.
We had a scene in one of our movies where we used ten live octopuses. The director said, “OK, it’s lunchtime.” The ten octopuses were there! I was able to work with an octopus, then I ate the octopus, and I became full.
BH: One movie that very few people know about your experiences making the movie is Godzilla Raids Again (1955). Many people would like to know what it was like to work on this film, and how did you adjust, because this was the first time you had to fight a monster, another actor in a suit. What was that like, Godzilla Raids Again?
HN: With regard to Godzilla Raids Again, the material used for the characters’ suits was different from the ones used in the first Godzilla. The material used for the first Godzilla was made out of plastic, which was really hard. The behavior [acting] in each suit was totally different. It weighed 100 kilograms. On the other hand, the material used for Godzilla Raids Again was a rubber type of latex, and it was only 60 kilograms.
Of course, the suit I wore in Godzilla Raids Again was much softer than the one I wore in the first Godzilla. When I acted as the Godzilla suit actor in the other film, there were fight scenes. The enemy was Angilas, and Katsumi Tezuka acted inside the suit. This guy, Katsumi Tezuka, was awesome. He looked like a yakuza.
He was older than I was, so he was kind of like a boss. He was not, of course, but he behaved like that. Even though we were suit actors, our personalities were totally different. He was really unique, and there are some actors like him. When we did a fight scene, I was the one who set up all action, including the hand movements. During the fight scene in which Godzilla and Angilas fall down from [Osaka] Castle to a muddy pond, I got my hands wrapped around his neck and tried to force him to drink the water. Mr. Tezuka was involved in his role, and he actually did drink the water! He became full from drinking so much water.
There are certain miniatures in the film like a castle, and certain parts where the monsters fall into these buildings. Staff members wanted more of an effect, so they would actually cut pieces into the miniature castle, and they had ropes to pull the buildings down behind them as I played Godzilla. Sometimes, they would pull down the miniatures too quickly, so miniatures were often destroyed. Therefore, it took about ten days to repair them. A long time ago, I heard that it cost them about 500,000 yen. At that time, it was a lot of money. I was getting paid less than what it was to make one of these castles.
Since these miniatures cost so much money, the director, Mr. Tsuburaya, said, “You can make mistakes, but it needs to be minimized so that we do not need to repair it.” That means, you should try as much as possible not to destroy these miniatures. I think he intended to tell me to act naturally when I destroyed the buildings as Godzilla.
Comparing myself to Kenpachiro Satsuma, a lot of his acting was a copy of mine. The big difference was that he wanted to crush all the buildings and break little pieces off on purpose. Therefore, his acting was unnatural. If the director were alive today, he would probably be terribly upset with Mr. Satsuma because of the way he smashed them.
When you think about it, natural is the best way. If you play the role in a reckless way, the film cannot be natural and is less interesting.
Because of the differences in the ways of making films, and the change in generations, directors are probably thinking about whether or how they can continue Godzilla.
AR: Speaking of natural movement or attributing animalistic behavior to his kaiju performances, one of the first notable ones is in Rodan in 1956 where, when Rodan first emerges to the humans, where we can actually see him for the first time, he rises out of his lair, and he starts preening. I have read a couple of different accounts that Mr. Nakajima said he would come up with these ideas, act like a bird and preen.
HN: In my days, when we made the scripts, Godzilla was about 50 meters high at the time. The buildings were only 30 stories, the same as an eight-story building. Now, as the generations go by, the buildings get larger, more than 100 meters high. The serious problem now is how directors can create stories with these buildings. I watched the American Godzilla (1998) movie and found that the walls of the buildings only got some scratches and did not break. That seemed to be very natural.
AR: What [were] his experiences working on, let’s say, Rodan?
HN: When I played Rodan, the film was shot in Kyushu. There is a bridge called the Saikai Bridge. One of the scenes I do remember is that I was actually in the suit when they had me flying over this bridge. The height from the ground to the top of the set was around 10 meters, and, when they were filming it, they had wires hooked to me as it went along. The wire suddenly stopped at a certain point where it should not have stopped, so I spun around fell to the ground.
One good thing was that Rodan’s wings kind of balanced it, and there was water which came up to my knees. As a result, when I was spinning around and fell to the ground, I was not injured.
AR: As they were pulling him up out of the water, he goes into the water in one scene. Everybody remembers that, right? And, as he comes out, what they did was, when he comes into the water, it’s a prop. He’s not in the suit. It’s the prop that smashes into the water, and when he comes out of the water, it’s Mr. Nakajima on wires, and they pulled him up. I heard, in one story, and I want to ask him if this is true, as they get to the apex of the set, the wires broke, and he went straight into the set, which was the water.
HN: The story is true. The wire did not break, but the pulley, because it was spinning around, got weakened. As they had me fly, the wire spun around and twisted, and I did fall onto the floor of the set. The good thing was that I did not get hurt. It was a good experience. (laughs)
BH: Well, one of my favorite films was The Mysterians (1957). In that film, Mr. Nakajima played Mogera. This was the first time that he played a robotic monster, as opposed to a living animal. So, on top of just remembering his experiences making that film, how did he approach playing a robotic monster, as opposed to a living creature?
HN: Since I have had a lot of experiences, not just with Godzilla, it is totally different from Godzilla or other kaiju. Of course, the behavior is mechanical. The one thing that was good in this case was that I have had a lot of experience with Ultraman and other Tsuburaya films. I played a robot in an Ultra [Seven] episode [U-Tom in episode 17]. I can learn many things from the actions of a robot. If you think about a Western movie, if all a cowboy can do is ride a horse, he is really not so cool. He has got to know how to fall off the horse naturally. When you play a cowboy, the ideal acting would be to fall off the horse very smoothly and naturally, which the audience wouldn’t notice is actually acting.
I think making a film is really difficult. As you learn may things through acting, you can make a film. These days, one of the big problems is that a lot of the stars make too much money. To make a good film, money and opportunities should be given to normal actors.
For instance, if you have a budget for a movie, a hundred million dollars is for the salaries of the actors, two-thirds of which usually goes to the superstars, and after that the rest of it goes to the production. Whatever is left over goes to the actors with small parts. I have never heard of any other business like this.
So, personally speaking, the fact that the superstars take two-thirds of the budget, and the rest of the budget goes to the other actors, is unfair. It would be a lot better if it were more balanced. Whether it was a good script or not, the end product would be a lot better with more balance. You cannot make a movie with one movie star. That is totally wrong. By cooperating with all the actors, you can make a good movie.
In one of the samurai movies with Toshiro Mifune, who was one of the major stars at Toho at the time, he would be the one against ten other samurai. Of course, he would kill all of them by himself. Whenever the film finished shooting, he would gather the actors and give them a glass of whisky, which he bought, and say, “Drink up, drink up.” Then he would say, “Cheers!,” and take care of the other actors.
I have talked about the American movie superstars. On the other hand, one thing I like about other Japanese actors is that they are also good. Japanese superstars have experienced many things since they started acting, as well as other actors, so Japanese superstars can understand the feelings that other young actors have. Therefore, they are always looking after the other actors. And, as I said before, when a film finished shooting, they would all go drinking.
There have been a lot of different techniques when making movies throughout history. There are a lot of different directors. When it comes to Mr. Tsuburaya, of course, he asks for certain things, but he tried to have as much balance as possible. In fact, many actors tried to use those techniques in their acting. Again, he was very open-minded. He always tried to apply the actors’ techniques.
Mr. Tsuburaya himself was actually a pilot, so he understood airplanes very well. So that was his specialty. Considering his background, he could come up with ideas about that, and he was good at mixing those ideas with ideas from other people.
Mr. Tsuburaya made a film whose title is The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942). He asked the staff to put in American battleships, such as Arizona and Oklahoma, and shot a scene in which airplanes attacked them during World War II. After World War II ended, [General Douglas] MacArthur happened to hear that there was a documentary film of World War II in Japan.
At that time, he thought it was actually a documentary of the war, so he asked, “Where did you shoot this documentary during the war?” However, the person in charge said, “It was just special effects that Mr. Tsuburaya did.” That is how good the special effects were at the time and how detailed he was when he did it. Apparently, when MacArthur watched it, he was about to confiscate it because he thought it was real. However, it was not a documentary movie but just a special effects movie.
His movies are as real as possible. That means he has techniques to make films with reality. I think his movies are masterpieces. I am pretty sure he is one the greatest directors I have ever met. He was 68 when he died, and I was terribly sad at the time.
There was another one that I really respected, Kajiro Yamamoto. Ishiro Honda and Akira Kurosawa were his assistant directors. To make a film, we were divided into two groups, such as A and B. Group A was the group that made the scenes in which people mainly appear, while group B focused on shooting the special effects. Mr. Honda was in charge of managing group A, and Mr. Tsuburaya managed group B. By integrating these two groups, a film was made. It was something like that.
BH: Jumping ahead a little bit, let’s talk about Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964). I just wanted to know what are your memories of working on this film. Of course, this film featured King Ghidorah, Mothra, as well as Rodan. So what was it like to balance working with all those kaiju at the same time?
HN: In this movie, since Mr. Tsuburaya had passed away, the director in charge of main part [group A] had to wear both hats; he had to do the acting with the actors, as well as the special effects.
AR: That was for Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), right?
HN: Since the director had to wear both hats, I was too busy. It is easy to say, “Let’s have all these great kaiju appear in the movie!” However, it was much tougher work for me than you would expect. There was the director who did his own job, but all the movements of all the different kaiju were up to me. That means I was responsible for the actions of each kaiju. This was one of the first times I felt like I was the director because I was taking on so many jobs myself. But I felt, of course, incredibly good about it. I was involved in the whole thing, so it really felt good.
But then the responsibility got heavier. All the responsibility was moving towards me. I was managing all the action, as well as acting as an actor in the movie. The director completely relied on me in terms of the action and usually said, “It is up to you to take it. I’ll leave it up to you, but you get the responsibility, too.” Under such pressure from the director, I took all the responsibility. This was my job. So I was very proud and happy with the whole thing.
AR: [What was it like] to work in Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, working with King Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra, all these monsters being coordinated on the set, dozens of wires…
HN: All people involved in the film had a responsibility for their role, but it was difficult for them to commit to their responsibility. It might be said that, if you cannot get one hundred percent, maybe you can get ninety-five percent, or ninety percent. However, that is not a professional actor. You must get as close to one hundred percent as you possibly can. That is the responsibility of a professional actor.
AR: A lot of fans’ favorites, on both sides of the Pacific, is a character that Mr. Nakajima considers his favorite, next to Godzilla, which is the Green Gargantua, Gaira, in War of the Gargantuas. [What was involved] in doing that role?
HN: One of the things I remember mostly was that I was in water for a week during filming. I had eye shadow around my eyes, and my body was green. There were other parts of my eyes with green to prevent showing my real skin color. You can easily see that I had eye shadow.
The other one in the The War of the Gargantuas was Hiroshi Sekita. He was particularly good at action. He was a second-degree black belt in karate. He was my great partner for a long time. Mr. Sekita played Ebirah and some of the other ones, such as Gorosaurus and Godzilla in [most of the scenes of] Son of Godzilla (1967). By the way, the child of Godzilla was played by Masao Fukazawa, whose nickname was “Little Man Ma-chan” because he was a small actor. I also played King Kong, and he [Mr. Sekita] played Mechanikong. King Kong’s face doesn’t look very good! (laughs)
BH: Well, while on the subject of King Kong, would you like to say a few words about working on this film and what it was like to play such an iconic monster as King Kong?
HN: When I first played the part of Godzilla, I received a script, but the name Godzilla wasn’t on it. It just had “G” written on it. That was it. I was thinking, “Well, I wonder if I should do this. I don‘t even know what the name of the monster is. All it says is ‘G.’” That is why I asked Mr. Tsuburaya about it. He said that they had a film print of King Kong, and he told me to watch it. After I got it from him, I watched the film print.
I watched King Kong, and it helped with my acting for Godzilla. I would also go to the zoo and look at the different animals. This was my original way of acting based on the actions of those animals. I don’t think you should imitate others. You should use your own original style. In my case, I learned from the behavior of animals and made it totally original. I watched the movement of bears. After learning from something, you need to create your own original thing.
Experience is crucial. When you see a movie or anything else that you actually do, you have to see the whole picture, as well as the details. At the time when I started doing these movies, all I had was this “G,” and I really did not know what was going on at the time. When I finally saw the whole picture, everything started to come into place. With all the experiences that I had, I was able to adjust to the next role. You should get as much of it you can.
AR: Well, how did he feel about playing both Godzilla and King Kong? He has played both roles of the most famous monsters.
HN: You can learn many things from the experience of playing the main roles in films. The more experience you have, the better you can act. At the beginning with Godzilla, of course, I did not know how the scenario would go. Once I finished acting in the movie, I could imagine what it was going to be like. So, when I got another script that was different from the previous movie, I could think more flexibly, thanks to the experience in the previous movie.
Again, as you think about it for yourself, you can get better at what you should do. Just keep in mind that, as you think for yourself based on your own experiences, your thoughts will become more sophisticated. Thus, experience is important. I think it is better to have experiences with many things. Another experience that I had when I was 14 was that I joined the Japanese navy as a reserve pilot.
BH: The last Godzilla movie that you ever worked on was Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), and this was your last role as Godzilla. So I wanted you to say a few words about what it was like to approach Godzilla for the last time. Mr. Tsuburaya was no longer there, with Mr. [Teruyoshi] Nakano who was directing. So could you talk about what it was like to work on that film, being the last one, with so many changes?
HN: The guy who played Gigan at the time was actually Kengo Nakayama. When I quit as the suit actor for Godzilla, this man became the next Godzilla, and his name became Kenpachiro Satsuma. In fact, it is the exact same kanji, except he changed his name slightly. Sometimes, I really do not understand why people have to change their names, or why they have to use a stage name. I used my real name, and I still use my real name. I think that is the best way to go.
One of the problems that a lot of these actors have is that they have to change their name to a stage name several times. In Mr. Satsuma’s case, he had changed his name to a stage name, and there were actually directors who worked with him but did not know he had changed his name. For instance, when he came to G-CON a number of years ago, they bought him a ticket under his stage name, and, when he took his passport and ticket to the airport, the official said, “This is not you.” Mr. Satsuma answered, “No, it is me. This is my stage name.” “Well, it does not say that on your ticket or passport.” Therefore, he had a very hard time getting to America. Haruo Nakajima is my name, and I have no problem coming to the United States.
It was my last movie, but I did about 8 kaiju movies [in total], and I made 10 Ultra[-series] episodes. It was my best career. Completing the last movie, I felt I had done what I wanted to do, so I have no regrets.
On not getting credited as a suit actor and whether Katsumi Tezuka was frustrated with not getting credit.
HN: In the original, this is true. The reason I was not credited is because I was regarded as a kaiju, and the precondition was that a person was not inside it. I acted the way the kaiju would. Again, that there wasn’t a person inside the kaiju was a prerequisite.
I don’t know [if Mr. Tezuka was frustrated]. For the second movie, Rodan, the mass media said, “There is actually a guy in the suit.” It was during the second movie when they said that Haruo Nakajima was inside the suit.
What do you think about CGI replacing suit-acting in kaiju movies in Japan?
HN: It is a very difficult question, and I do not have the perfect answer. I think it is better to keep using suits actors, but, honestly, I do not know.
How does it feel to be a part of one of Japan’s most popular exports?
HN: Thank you very much. I did 12 Godzilla movies, and I did a large variety of movies, including The War of the Gargantuas and King Kong [Escapes]. I did 14 other kaiju movies in total. I even played the Invisible Man. I played other kaiju more times than Godzilla. When you hear my name, you would imagine that I acted as Godzilla more than any other kaiju, but I acted in 12 Godzilla movies and 14 other kaiju movies. Thus, the other kaiju movies outweigh the Godzilla movies for me.
I have not yet heard whether [more] Godzilla movies will be made, so maybe Toho has plans to make a new Godzilla movie and knows who will be the director, but I do not know anything yet. Shogo Tomiyama is currently responsible as [the president] of Toho, but I have not heard the plan so far.
Was there a different atmosphere on the set of an American co-production than a purely Japanese one?
HN: The atmosphere was totally different. The biggest difference was the ideas that the Americans brought. The ideas of American film companies are totally new for us, while Japanese ones are [commonly] shared because we make films everywhere in Japan. Also, the Japanese directors are very sensitive and detailed, whereas American directors would come in with an idea, looking at the big picture, but not much in the details. I think Japan and America are totally different in terms of ideas for making films.
There’s a lot of waste when it comes to film in American movies. In America, the camera is running for a while before “Action!,” as the director says, ”All right, camera.” On the other hand, in Japan, when they say “Action!,” they start filming as soon as they say it. When they say cut, they cut the film right away. I think the interval between “All right, camera!” and “Action!” wastes film.
Where should the character of Godzilla go in future films, and what should the character be about?
HN: There are a lot of good directors with a lot of ideas about how to handle Godzilla. I don’t think politics should be included. It should be something that people enjoy. Most of the directors today are not fools, so they should be able to understand what people want to see and make it interesting. I think that is the directors’ responsibility for entertaining an audience with their movies.
If Toho offers you the chance to play Godzilla again, would you do it?
HN: To be honest, I would like to do it, but my age is the problem. I started my career at Toho at 20 years old. I was there for five years for training before I played Godzilla, so I was 25 when that happened. As I get older, my body cannot do what I want it to do. When you’re my age, you will understand.
What was the strangest thing that happened to you during a public appearance when you played Godzilla?
HN: It is true that I worked in the suit for various media events. As soon as the movie was done, for at least one week, we would go to Osaka, Hakata City, southern Japan, and Sapporo City, Hokkaido, and perform in the suit at various events. What I liked most about it was getting to spend more time with the local people and getting to know them better. Of course, I enjoyed drinking various types of Japanese sake.
During your career, did you get to know any Gamera suit actors? Also, were your ever approached to play King Ghidorah?
HN: I had no relations with suit actors from Daiei. Daiei was not originally a studio that could make tokusatsu movies. Suit actors who were working for Toho would secretly go to Daiei and make these movies for them. However, when Toho found out about this, they were all fired. This background exists in history. I was never asked [to play King Ghidorah].
Do you have a personal favorite Godzilla suit?
HN: When I acted in the suits, I always ordered the suits from the shop, and they would be tailor-made. For example, when I raised my arm, and it was tight for me to move, I asked the staff in the shop to cut the suits and put in cotton so that I could move my body smoothly. I always thought about how I could move more comfortably. I have had a lot of experiences and memories of things that were good and bad. All in all, there was nothing I hated or liked more than others.
Could you comment on the different approach you’d take to play Godzilla a villain and a good guy? Also, do you have a preference?
HN: I did not look at the role in terms of being a good guy or bad guy. I read the script and adjusted myself to that. The first movie was basically for adults, but, as we went along, it became more for children. The biggest issue we faced was whether it was acceptable to show blood in these movies. When this idea was suggested, the director angrily said, “Do you really think showing blood is good for children?!” It was something we were constantly arguing about.
How do you feel about your original Godzilla being brought back from the dead in a new role in Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002)?
HN: The director has the right to make this decision, so I don’t know what to say about it. No comment from me.
What were your experiences with Akira Kurosawa on Seven Samurai (1954)?
HN: Mr. Kurosawa was a very, very strict director. A lot of directors will only look at the main stars, and if the director thinks they are doing something wrong, he will fix it. But, in Mr. Kurosawa’s case, it wasn’t just the stars but the extras, staff, and everybody else. He would look at everybody carefully and say, “I don’t like what you did. Get out of here.” He often said this during shooting when somebody did something annoying to him.
Do you have an opinion about stop-motion animation? Was it ever considered for the original Godzilla?
HN: Stop-motion is the technique in which the scene is stopped at a certain point. I think it contains various type of elements. Also, it is up to the director’s skill to use it effectively. Directors think about how people would feel when the scene or phenomenon in the scene is stopped. Generally, we do not use this technique so much. We use it in one shot of a scene.
This year , it is the 54th anniversary of Godzilla. This means that Godzilla has become a 54-year-old kaiju. Have you ever considered how long Godzilla has been popular? It gets old, doesn’t it? Anyway, thanks to all of you, Godzilla has become very popular, and I really appreciate it. If you and I have the chance to watch a new Godzilla movie, please give me your comments. Thank you so much.