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In 1947, a blossoming filmmaker at Toho named Senkichi Taniguchi started production on the crime thriller Snow Trail, his second directorial effort. Having previously helmed the star-studded musical Toho Show Boat (1946), he was ready to expand his creative spectrum, channeling his energy into a straight-forward caper about three criminals who rob a bank and then flee into the mountains with their loot. In what marked another significant difference from his first movie, Taniguchi was forced to fill his cast with lesser-known or even completely unknown actors—as the studio had recently lost most of its established “box office” talent during a labor union strike and, per the speculations of one actor, wasn’t keen on their remaining “big name” stars shooting on location in the rugged mountain wilderness*. Among the newcomers appearing in Taniguchi’s film was a vibrant young actress by the name of Setsuko Wakayama, whom the director married two years after the film’s release and divorced seven years after that.
Around the time his marriage to Wakayama ended, Taniguchi took charge of the rousing period piece The Maiden Courtesan (1956), during which he collaborated with Kaoru Yachigusa, who had been appearing in films for half a decade and had recently been subject to an attempt on Toho’s part to be rendered into the next international film star. History seemed to repeat itself a year after The Maiden Courtesan’s release, when Taniguchi and Yachigusa married (the second time the former wed an actress from one of his movies). This union, however, would not end in divorce: the couple remained together for the rest of Taniguchi’s life, Yachigusa supporting her husband as his career disintegrated in the 1960s, dedicatedly looking after him when ill health plagued him some decades later. As for Yachigusa’s career: Toho’s ambition to make a globally recognized name out of her never exactly came to fruition, but she nonetheless continued to enjoy domestic popularity in film and television—all while remaining at her husband’s side until he passed away in 2007.
In thinking back on the film career of Kaoru Yachigusa (who died on October 24th this year, age 88), the dominant image that again and again comes to mind is one not identical but somewhat akin to what one imagines through recalling her marriage to Taniguchi: one chiefly remembers the many times she played passionate—sometimes even self-sacrificing—women unrelentingly supportive and caring (or as film historian Stuart Galbraith IV once wrote, “willing to forfeit everything up to and including her own identity”) for the men they loved. This is not to say that Yachigusa’s acting and performances were confined to the parameters of such roles; her career, after all, lasted almost seven decades, proffering a variety of characters to play; and I have been told that, through her work in television in the 1970s and onward, she found a new screen image as an “ideal” housewife and mother (though I have not seen any such shows of hers and thus cannot comment on the matter). But again, what I remember first and foremost is her embodying romantic perseverance and how she played different variants of this sort of character—beginning with what is unquestionably her most famous role.
Produced three years after Yachigusa’s screen debut in 1951, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) on the surface might’ve seemed to have been merely the latest of countless movies based on the life and lore of the samurai/author of the title (director Hiroshi Inagaki himself made a few films about Miyamoto prior to this one). But the 1954 Toho spectacle in question was concocted and presented as something much grander, featuring huge sets, hundreds of fully costumed actors and horsemen, and touting a budget of roughly $500,000, the second largest ever afforded to a Japanese film at that time**. Appearing in such an enterprise—and opposite a huge star like Toshiro Mifune, no less—granted Yachigusa more visibility than ever and arguably started establishing the persona still associated with her today. “It was my first adult role,” Yachigusa recalled decades later, “so I didn’t know what to expect. Musashi and Otsu are shy and awkward with each other, but I think there’s great love between them.”
The film takes its foundation from part of Eiji Yoshikawa’s serialized novel about Miyamoto and places heavy emphasis on the relationship between the burgeoning samurai and the immaculately beautiful Otsu, whom Yachigusa portrays. And in contrast to the film’s two sequels—Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955) and Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956), which generally charged Otsu with following Musashi around, to the point where another recurring character played by Mariko Okada became the more interesting love interest—Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto presents Otsu as a fully drawn person with contextualized struggles extending well beyond those in her romantic tenacity.
Yachigusa portrays Otsu as a fragile person emotionally battered by those around her (betrayed by her fiancé; cornered and tormented by her betrothed’s family). She initially blames Musashi for pulling her fiancé toward the path of war—and thus away from her—but later comes to identify with him once society rears its ugly head; both of them have been betrayed by the people in their lives (Otsu realizes her fiancé was not worthy of devotion after he marries another woman; everyone in Musashi’s village compliantly joins forces with the warmongers seeking his death) and feel completely and utterly alone, with no one to seek consolation from besides each other. Otsu’s empathy culminates with an initiative to save Musashi after he’s captured, followed by a beautifully romantic scene of the two characters reconciling on the banks of a stream. And then there’s the heartbreaking finale in which Otsu’s left behind as the man she loves wanders off to begin his journey as a samurai, promising to return one day.
Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto pivots on Mifune’s transformation from a glory-seeking ruffian into a cultured swordsman, but it is the relationship between him and Yachigusa that makes up the picture’s emotional core. And while I do take issue with how Otsu became a tad too sidelined as the trilogy went along, the character’s lasting commitment to Musashi nonetheless embodies Yachigusa’s screen image as self-sacrificing woman who only wants to be loved. Moreover, she did have some powerful moments emphasizing the pain her character was going through: watching Musashi change before her eyes, losing her strength (both physical and emotional), finally reaching the point where, at the end of Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island, she can barely go on. And even when at long last she is able to be with the man she loves, she cannot escape the realization that, due to their experiences, things will never be the same. As she laments, “I wish you were still the [man] I used to know.” I have many reservations with the finale of this trilogy, but there are jabs of touching melancholy stemming from Yachigusa’s character, and the actress delivers them faultlessly.
To reiterate, Kaoru Yachigusa by no means only played quietly hurting women like Otsu, for she did at times break away from her screen image or, more interestingly, perform variants of it. During Toho’s trial run efforts to create a name for her overseas, Yachigusa was often cast in lavish international productions such as The Legend of the White Serpent (1956), co-financed by Hong Kong’s the Shaw Brothers and based on a popular Chinese legend, for which she acted as a voice of reason amid a doomed relationship between two others. Before that, she’d played the titular role in the 1954 Madame Butterfly (joint-produced between Toho, Rizzoli Films, and Gallone Productions), which came from a stage adaptation of Giacomo Puccini’s opera—in essence allowing her to enact a western rendition, if you will, of her usual part of a Japanese woman suffering from heartbreak.
On Yachigusa’s home turf, the 1957 adaptation of Yasunari Kawabata’s novel Snow Country again placed the actress within the framework of a woman devoted to the man she loves, but this time she’s characterized as fiery and passionate, outspoken and protective, pouring her heart into caring for someone too ill to care for himself. (And let it be said her performance is by far the best thing about this production: she captures the exact image I had of the character when I read the novel.)
On occasion, Yachigusa played objects of romantic obsession, as in Ishiro Honda’s science fiction thriller The Human Vapour (1960), itself, as many have described, something like a Japanese variant of The Phantom of the Opera. Another example was her appearance in the long-running Tora-san series, where she captured the interest of Kiyoshi Atsumi’s beloved ne’er-do-well.
And for an example of Yachigusa enacting a spin on a different kind of superficially familiar material (in this case the role of a dutiful housewife), I would like to salute a film which I saw just a few months ago. In Yoshimitsu Morita’s family comedy Like Asura (2003), Yachigusa was once again paired up with Tatsuya Nakadai (they’d previously played husband and wife in the 1987 tearjerker Hachiko) in a story revolving around an extra-marital affair on the husband’s part which is found out by the married couple’s four adult daughters.
Yachigusa plays the mother with what appears to be sweet naïveté, seemingly oblivious not only to her husband’s trysts but also to the true nature of the comedic scrambling that occurs when his “activities” are reported in a local paper. (There’s a great scene where Nakadai’s trimming his toenails and Yachigusa spreads out newsprint beneath his feet to catch the clippings, “coincidentally” opening it to the page broadcasting his secret. One of their daughters stops by to steal their copy of the morning edition—so that her mother doesn’t read it—and fearfully waits until both parents leave the room. She snatches the paper and, when Yachigusa re-enters, lamely pretends to swat a cockroach to explain her having crumpled it. Yachigusa remarks she hasn’t read the paper yet and reaches for it, resulting in a tug of war between the two women, the daughter sweating bullets, the mother perplexed.)
In the picture’s finale (I am about to give away the ending, so read this last paragraph at your own discretion), the mother has succumbed to a sudden illness and the daughters discover that she in fact had been the one who leaked news of their father’s philandering to the press—to which they enjoy a tearful laugh. At this point, the audience is prompted to look back on Kaoru Yachigusa’s character and performance and put the dots together: now we realize she’d laid out the paper at her husband’s feet with the intention of him inadvertently reading the story in question; now we realize her sweet and out of it persona wasn’t so sweet and out of it after all; there were hints in her behavior the whole time, but they were hints one does not notice without the benefit of hindsight. A fine script enhanced by subtly comedic acting from a marvelous film actress whose range and natural grace will be missed.
* The actor who made this speculation was none other than Toshiro Mifune, who made his acting debut in Snow Trail, directed by Kaoru Yachigusa’s future husband, Senkichi Taniguchi. Mifune later recalled: “I think the reason I got the part was because of the physical risks involved. Because the big stars had left Toho from the strike, I was chosen to co-star in Snow Trail. […] It called for a great deal of mountain climbing, and I believe the studio felt an unknown actor was more expendable.”General // November 18, 2019
On September 6, 1998, veteran screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto was visiting his daughter at a lodge in Kita-Karuizawa when he received some dismaying news: one of his colleagues—someone whose name he will forever be associated with—had just passed away. That colleague being none other than the internationally acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa. Hashimoto had collaborated with Kurosawa (always one to participate in the writing of his films’ scripts) a total of eight times, their combined efforts leading to classics such as Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), and Throne of Blood (1957). And upon learning of his associate’s death, Hashimoto realized he was the sole surviving member of a once-prominent team of storytellers. All the other writers who’d participated in crafting Kurosawa’s movies—Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima, etc.—had already passed on. Hashimoto, then a physically decrepit man of 80, was unable to attend the farewell gathering due to poor health, so he sent the following in a condolence telegram: “I want to ask a favor of our leader, Mr. Kurosawa. Tell everyone ‘Hashimoto’ll be here soon.’ Leave some space for me to sit with my legs crossed. It will probably be only a little while, so until then, Mr. Kurosawa, from Kita-Karuizawa […] goodbye.”
Hashimoto ended up waiting nearly twenty years to join his senior: pneumonia claimed his life on July 19, 2018, three months after his 100th birthday. An incredibly long time to be alive—especially for someone who’d suffered through an assortment of grueling health issues from a relatively young age. He was a twenty-year-old soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army when tuberculosis landed him in a sanitarium, where he remained for four years. In his early thirties, a herniated disc left him temporarily bedridden and proved so painful that mere vibrations generated by another person walking across the floor racked him with agony. A skiing accident in 1957 injured his neck and cost him a scriptwriting assignment. He went in and out of hospitals throughout much of his later life, and his 2006 memoir Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I contains a passage near the end in which the screenwriter once again predicted his days were running out. And yet, he endured: twelve years past that book’s publication and two decades after his previous self-determined prognosis that he was close to dying. That, in and of itself, is remarkable.
And that’s to speak nothing of his incredible body of work, both for and apart from Kurosawa.
Hashimoto’s attachment to writing began in the late 1930s, when he was a patient in the Okayama Disabled Veteran’s Rehabilitation Facility. Bored and restless, he spent many hours of many days staring at the ceiling until a fellow patient offered to loan him a copy of a film magazine. In it, Hashimoto happened upon a published film script, of which he proclaimed: “I’m surprised it’s so simple. [E]ven I could do better.” Confident in his abilities, he wrote a scenario of his own and mailed it to Mansaku Itami, the most celebrated Japanese screenwriter of his age. Much to his surprise, Itami wrote back with suggestions on how to improve and subsequently became his mentor. Hashimoto recovered from his illness and took a job in a munitions company, continuing to write until Daiei greenlit his adaptation of a Ryunosuke Akutagawa short story called In a Grove. When Kurosawa joined the project, they beefed up the script together, integrating a second Akutagawa story to increase the picture’s length; from that, Kurosawa proceeded to revise the amalgamation on his own (due to Hashimoto becoming bedridden) and created the world-renowned masterpiece Rashomon (1950).
Over the next twenty years, the duo collaborated on seven other projects, their working methods constantly evolving. Hashimoto’s health had improved to where he could now remain active throughout the entire screenwriting process; and to enhance what was already a sensational team, Kurosawa recruited a third man, Hideo Oguni, to serve as their “navigator”: to tell them when an idea was no good or when the story was straying off course. (As noted by the late film historian Donald Richie, the great artistic success of the 50s-60s films stemmed from the virtues of teamwork: of multiple artists playing to each other’s strengths.) In writing Ikiru and Seven Samurai, Hashimoto penned the initial draft himself and then extensively rewrote it with Kurosawa; the more experienced Oguni, meanwhile, sat off to the side and merely looked over their progress, handing back anything in need of further revisions.
Beginning with I Live in Fear (1955), Kurosawa introduced the “straight to final draft” technique, in which everyone simultaneously wrote their own version of an individual scene and critiqued each other’s work to get the best results. Hashimoto’s involvement during this particular phase wavered—he joined the production of The Bad Sleep Well (1960) late in the game and claimed never to have watched the finished product, for instance—always with a certitude that the previous method had been better.
After a brief return to partnership with 1970’s Dodes’kaden, Hashimoto ceased writing for Kurosawa; though he did remain, in two fleeting instances, present in the director’s later life. He helped shop around the script for Kagemusha (1980), personally convening with producer Tomoyuki Tanaka to help secure partial funding for the picture, before 20th Century Fox supplied the balance; and his final encounter with the director occurred in 1990, at the premiere of Dreams, a picture Hashimoto described in his memoir as the Kurosawa film he liked best. Even though Kurosawa made two more features before his passing, Hashimoto deliberately avoided seeing them, holding to his conviction that Dreams embodied a perfect and most personal closure for his associate’s career. And he forever held onto his last memory of them together, at the premiere: “He seemed honestly happy. It had been more than forty years since Mr. Kurosawa and I had met, but this was the first time I’d ever seen him with such an untroubled, happy smile.”
Of course, those eight assignments with Kurosawa made up only a small portion of Shinobu Hashimoto’s career, not to mention his ideas on the cinematic medium. In discussing his screenplay for Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri (1962), Hashimoto stated “those of us who make movies feel differently than those who watch them” and asserted the anti-feudalism themes of the aforementioned picture had been applied by filmgoers and critics and was not his intent as the writer. He might’ve been onto something: history’s full of artists who scoffed at interpretations of their work. On the other hand, one cannot help but recognize a certain (perhaps subconscious) leeriness toward authority figures as well as militarist traditions that imbues some of Hashimoto’s scripts. His other Kobayashi-directed project, the outstanding Samurai Rebellion (1959), shows members of a family standing against cruel demands imposed by their superiors. And I recently saw a picture he co-wrote for Tadashi Imai called Broken Drum (1958), about a samurai who discovers his wife slept with another man during one of his journeys—at a time when adultery was punishable by death. It was only because of his (regular) long absences, demanded by the shogun, that his wife, under tremendous pressure as revealed in a series of flashbacks, did what she did; he knows this, and yet he morosely insists she take her own life for the sake of an unfair tradition—especially since others in their village, including men in authority, are aware of it. The characters don’t rebel as in Kobayashi’s pictures, but their abhorrence for the dark side of Japan’s feudalistic social structure and reluctance to follow codes of “duty” and “honor” comes through nonetheless.
Other notable credits in Hashimoto’s résumé. Three of Kihachi Okamoto’s most popular films: Sword of Doom (1966), Samurai Assassin (1965), and Japan’s Longest Day (1967). Miki Hirate (1951), the second script of his to be produced, based on a historical figure who, like Hashimoto, suffered from tuberculosis. Mikio Naruse’s first color picture, Summer Clouds (1958). For Shiro Moritani, he penned the original Submersion of Japan (1973), likely the most intelligent and thoughtful disaster movie ever made.
And, in discussing Hashimoto’s career, it would be remiss to overlook Lips Forbidden to Talk, better known as I Want to Be a Shellfish, a Tetsutaro Kato novel he adapted first as a teleplay in 1958 and then again, for the big screen, the following year, for which he also assumed directorial responsibilities. (Of the two, the fleshed out theatrical version is the superior effort.)
I Want to Be a Shellfish’s narrative is set during and immediately after the events of World War II. It begins with a civilian barber named Toyomatsu Shimizu (played in both versions by Frankie Sakai) radiantly voicing support for the war, happily asking customers to wait while he steps outside to wish luck to disembarking troops…until he receives a conscription notice with his name on it, at which point his mood swiftly changes to the dejected. The tendency to read anti-authority themes in Hashimoto’s work becomes somewhat justified at this point. In the Imperial Army, Shimizu’s verbally admonished by his superiors, chastised for taking too long to report to his bunker after doing officers’ laundry, instructed to pop the blisters on his feet by walking long patrols at night (during an air raid). Worse still, after two American planes are shot down over Japanese soil, our protagonist and one of his comrades are ordered by a bloodthirsty captain to stab the pilots (who are already dead and strapped to trees) for the sake of boosting morale. Years later, Shimizu’s arrested and tried by the Americans for the “crime,” at which point he explains his actions and why he had no choice in the matter. In the Imperial Army, disobedience to a superior officer was equivalent to disobedience to Emperor Hirohito himself and, thus, punishable by death. Here we have a man whose rapturous love for the military has already been proven naïve, who was berated and disrespected by his higher-ups, who wanted nothing to do with the barbaric act he’s on trial for, and who only did so because of the consequences of failing to follow orders. And though he was one of two soldiers convicted for the dual “executions” of that day, only Shimizu receives the death sentence (his former comrade gets twenty-five years’ imprisonment). The implication is the Americans are looking for someone to take the fall, especially since the captain who gave the order in the first place committed suicide.
Given that the film channels a negative connotation in its portrayal of both Japanese wartime figures and postwar western authorities, it’s perhaps not unreasonable to suspect an anti-authority undercurrent in common with what’s been perceived in some of Hashimoto’s other work. I imagine the screenwriter would’ve dismissed such an allegation; he probably viewed I Want to Be a Shellfish as nothing more than the story of an ordinary man thrown into an extraordinary circumstance under the universally despised canopy of war. But, intended or not, it’s fun to speculate in context with the rest of his career, and it’s certainly food for thought. If it exists at all, however, it plays second fiddle to the picture’s blatantly stated, domineering antiwar theme, which sounds unambiguously in the conclusion. Shimizu, hours away from his execution, pens his wish that, should he be reincarnated, he return not as a person or an ox or a horse but, rather, as a shellfish at the bottom of the sea, away from war and poverty and the other miseries of human existence. Hashimoto would return to this narrative a third time, writing the script for Katsuo Fuzukawa’s 2008 adaptation. It also marked the closing film assignment in his long, prodigious career.
When film historian Stuart Galbraith IV interviewed Hashimoto in 1999, the screenwriter’s health was, in a word, ghastly. “He was so frail then,” Galbraith recalled. “Drool kept running down the sides of his mouth, his black shoe polish-dyed hair was stringy and half grown back to white, and he was wrapped in about five blankets. My interpreter, Yukari Fujii, and I kept trying to cut it short, given his condition, but he insisted we do the full interview, which lasted maybe four hours.” For Hashimoto, the stories of his experiences working with Kurosawa were worth telling, health and comfort be damned. “On the cab ride back to the station,” Galbraith continued, “I told Yukari how glad I was that we caught him in time, that he surely wouldn’t last another month. Instead, he outlived virtually all of his contemporaries, nearly twenty years after that interview, and was productive during some of that time.” If that isn’t an account of an admirable person, I don’t know what is. An intelligent storyteller as well as a man with an interesting (if somewhat unenviable) life, Shinobu Hashimoto was one of the truly great film artists of his day; and when he passed away at age 100 last month, what little remains of the Golden Age of Japanese cinema suffered yet another crushing loss.General // August 16, 2018
In the late 1950s, Ishiro Honda directed Inao: Story of an Iron Arm (1959), a biographical film about famed baseball player Kazuhisa Inao. One of the director’s non-genre efforts, this 106-minute picture was subjected to a number of post-production excisions, in which some now-reputable cast members had their screen time mercilessly trimmed or entirely eradicated. Among those to suffer the wrath of the editor’s scissors was a newcomer named Yuriko Hoshi. As revealed in the recent biography Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa, Hoshi had been sequestered on location in Kyushu for an entire month during the shoot, the vast majority of her time spent waiting for the crew to get around to filming her scene; and when the finished product hit theaters in March of that year, the future star’s image was nowhere to be found. Presumably for the sake of pacing—and despite the fact that her name still appears in the credits—Hoshi’s scene had been cut.
Five years later, Hoshi, now one of Toho’s most popular actresses, reunited with her Inao director for the production of 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla. At one point, Honda approached his leading lady and apologized for the interminable wait she endured on their 1959 collaboration. (“I was surprised he even remembered,” Hoshi recalled in a 1996 interview with Stuart Galbraith IV.) And, consciously or unconsciously, Honda made it up to the young actress by granting her one of the new film’s most dramatic and powerful scenes, in which the female lead appeals to the humanity of the Infant Islanders, begging them to think of the scores of people falling victim to Godzilla’s wrath. “[E]ven as we speak, many people are losing their lives to Godzilla. There are many good people among them, but even the bad ones have the right to live.” This scene, and many others, flooded into my mind when I learned of Hoshi’s passing a few days ago.
Yuriko Hoshi, who died from lung cancer on May 16th (age 74), commanded a number of memorable parts in the course of her long, productive career. For international audiences, she’ll most likely be remembered for her science fiction pictures with Honda—the earlier mentioned Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Ghidorah the Three-headed Monster (1964)—and as the elder scientist in Masaaki Tezuka’s Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000). In addition to those performances, I’ll always have great affinity for her non-genre work. One that comes to mind as I write this is Shue Matsubayashi’s apocalyptic drama The Last War (1961). An extremely problematic film which draws most of its strength from individual scenes as opposed to its complete narrative, one of the The Last War’s bravura qualities is its collection of standout performances from its Japanese cast. Hoshi plays a young bride fated to perish in a global nuclear war mere days after wedding the man of her dreams; and the dialogue-free sadness she evokes while saying goodbye to her husband through Morse code I sincerely rank with the most moving performances I’ve ever seen in a motion picture. The actress took what was, at script-level, a fairly simple part and created a believable person before the eyes of the audience.
Other roles of note. Hoshi joining Yuzo Kayama in singing his iconic Kimi to itsumademo in 1965’s Campus A-Go-Go, one of many times she played love interest to Kayama in the long-running Wakadaisho (Young Guy) series. The passionate women she played in the films of Kihachi Okamoto, including Kill! (1968) and, most notably, as the sword-wielding bakashu in Warring Clans (1963). The last two performances, conducted a half-decade apart, brilliantly demonstrate Hoshi’s true range as an actress, as they show her playing two very different parts and playing both effectively. In the former, she’s a fairly regular woman aggressively devoted to her fiancé; in the latter, she retaliates to the unwanted advances of men by striking their heads with shafts of wood or slicing their hands with the edge of a blade. Of course, in listing the titles mentioned thus far in this article, I’m merely chipping the tip of a very large and fairly robust iceberg, as Hoshi acted in well over one hundred film and television projects (and that is to say nothing of her stage career). But in wrapping up, I would like to salute one more screen performance, this one coming from a motion picture I saw on the day of her passing..
In the 1963 Mikio Naruse film A Woman’s Life, Yuriko Hoshi plays a cabaret girl whose husband is killed in an automobile accident. It’s a very small part, limited to a couple of minutes of screen time, but exceedingly well-written and beautifully performed. In the picture’s finale, the widow, who is expecting a child, visits her mother-in-law (Hideko Takamine) for the first time, only to be ardently denounced and turned away. Takamine had objected to her son’s matrimony from the get-go, declaring the bride a “slut” based solely on the girl’s profession; and now she unfairly pins blame for her son’s death on his widow. Eventually, she comes to realize she was wrong in prejudging her daughter-in-law and that they, as it happens, have much in common: Takamine, once a single parent herself, underwent many of the struggles Hoshi’s character will soon endure. What follows is a genuinely moving sequence as the two women converse in the rain. Hoshi initially shrugs off all pleas for forgiveness but softens upon watching her mother-in-law sulking in the downpour. And then, in a move displaying her true compassionate colors, Hoshi invites Takamine to come up to her apartment, to get out of the rain. They leave together. A new bond has been forged and we join Takamine in realizing this young woman will make a wonderful mother. The emotional patterns demanded of the supporting actress—cautionary friendliness, defiance, reluctance to forgive, eventual exoneration—are delivered without a single false note.
Rest In Peace, Yuriko Hoshi. On May 16th, we lost one of the greats.General // May 23, 2018
August 7th, 2017 marked the passing of a true legend. Best known for being the suit actor for the original 1954 Godzilla, Haruo Nakajima demonstrated his talents on the big screen in an unforgettable performance that would live on in the hearts and minds of people the world over. Nakajima would go on to bring to life even more iconic Toho movie monsters, such as the original Rodan, Varan, Gaira, Baragon, and King Kong, and even appear on the silver screen in acting roles, though his outing as Godzilla would remain one of his finest endeavors.
From August 10th to the 15th, Toho Kingdom opened its doors to fans to share their first impressions, fondest memories, and pictures of the late Nakajima, which have been collected below. While many mourn the passing of a great man, many more celebrate the life he lived, and the enduring legacy he leaves behind.
Note that some submissions may have been edited for space or modified for other reasons.
I had the pleasure to meet him several times and it was always a great honor and privilege to spend time with him and hear all the stories about his pioneering work. I am currently on the set of Godzilla 2 and on behalf of the entire team, would like to send out our condolences to his family.
– Brian Rogers, Producer: Godzilla (2014), Godzilla 2 (2019)
In my hearing the news, I started posting photos of Haruo Nakajima I had taken in 2011 and 2014 on my Facebook page and on the Toho Kingdom Twitter, and after seeing the reactions to the photos, I made the following post which I feel sums up my feelings perfectly.
“I don’t normally make posts like this but from the amount of reactions on here and on Twitter of the photos I took of Haruo Nakajima, it makes me feel proud of my work in the sense that people seem to be using them to mourn, reminisce, and even to heal. Haruo Nakajima was by far my favorite subject to photograph because he was up for anything and trusted my eye. Many of my photos would go on to represent him in the exhibits dedicated to him in Japan. I’m proud of my work because HE was proud of it. I got his seal of approval and that means the world to me.
I shot with him over the period of 4 days in April 2011 and day 4 (thank you August Ragone for allowing me to go on the journey with you, Sonoe Nakajima, Brad Thompson, David Chapple, and Jason Varney) was spent going to various places. We went out to dinner and on the way back, I remember sitting in the back of David’s SUV, with Mr. Nakajima in the seat in front of me. I remember, for some reason, just looking at the back of his head and it hit me that this little old man, was the embodiment of not only the childhood memories of watching his work, but also the creative inspirations that came from it.
I didn’t get the chance to tell him how much his work meant to myself and others but today I realized that I didn’t have to. He knew. That’s why he kept coming back time after time. To see all of you. He loved each and every one of you. He didn’t just change your lives, you also changed his.
Goodbye Haruo Nakajima. Your work will carry on for generations to come and the effects and inspirations of which will last even longer. You are now immortal.”
– Chris Mirjahangir
Words cannot begin to express the amount of respect and gratitude I have for you. In my youth, all I saw was Godzilla, this unstoppable force of nature that was larger than life. Whether he was the hero or he was the villain, his destructive power knew no equal, and his fighting abilities always left me in awe.
Now, all these years later, I can finally see both sides of the coin equally: Godzilla, the invincible destroyer and protector, and you, the man who brought him to life. Hearing the trials you went through in your early career in suitmation, then learning of your travels to visit fans from across the globe, left an indescribable impression on me. Your commitment, passion, and your love for the many fans of your craft knew no bounds.
Thank you for all you have done, for becoming larger than life yourself, and for bringing so much happiness to countless people. Your legacy will endure eternally.
God bless you, Haruo Nakajima.
– Joshua Sudomerski
It was love at first sight, me and Godzilla. It was sometime in the mid eighties, I don’t know when exactly. It was probably courtesy of TBS’ “Super Scary Saturday”, where Al “Grampa Munster” Lewis would show an old monster/horror movie on Saturday mornings; Toho films among them. I think the first movie was King Kong vs Godzilla, one I love to this day. Obsessed with dinosaurs as I was, like most boys my age, regardless of the storyline, Godzilla was always “the good guy” to me. I cheered him on no matter what. For those who didn’t grow up at the same time I did, they may find it hard to believe that liking so many things that are popular today such as superheroes, professional wrestling, and Godzilla movies were a one way ticket to being unpopular as a kid. That was assuming you even found another kid who knew who Godzilla was. Me, the greatest feeling in the world was running to the back of Blockbuster to the horror/sci-fi section to look for new Godzilla movies I hadn’t seen yet. Thirty years later, and so many iterations of Godzilla, the “O.G.” is still my favorite. I’m very picky about what I accept as “my” Godzilla. I’ve never been a fan of the “mindless force of nature”, because MY Godzilla did a victory dance on Planet X, my Godzilla had a crush on Kumi Mizuno, when he wasn’t crushing invading monsters from outer space. And it wasn’t just because of the script, but because of the magic, the spirit, and the wonder breathed into the monster by his suit actor Haruo Nakajima.
I met Mr. Nakajima a few years ago at a convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. A friend and I had made our own suits for Godzilla and the Gargantuas and were eager to show them to the master suit actor. He greeted us, and all fans, with a wide grin. It was evident he was pleased to see the appreciation that we had for Godzilla and his friends and foes. I went through the line a couple times to get him to sign a few different things. Though obviously tired, in his mid eighties at the time, his enthusiasm never wavered. One of the items I had him sign was a print of Godzilla 1954 taking on a gigantic Elvis Presley. He “oooohed” and “ahhhhed” appropriately and then said to me “Cowabunga! America!” which is about the most rock and roll thing I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll leave you with my favorite part of the Q&A I attended with the master. He was asked about a well known accident during the filming of Rodan where the wires holding Mr. Nakajima inside the giant pterodactyl aloft snapped and he plummeted down into the pool below. He said something along the lines of “I was not scared at all. After all, I was Rodan, and Rodan can fly.”
Fearless. Imaginative. Inspirational. Legendary. All the things a hero should be, Haruo Nakajima embodied…and because of him, so did Godzilla.
Long Live the King
– Steve Johnson
I wish I could so wonderfully or succinctly summarize my feelings at the news of Haruo Nakajima’s passing as others have. As a fan who never got to meet Mr. Nakajima or shake his hand, who never got to tell him just how much his work meant, I share in that sadness. By all accounts he was a good man, and a fine friend. And though I do not know any better myself, it makes me that much more sad to know that a good person has gone to ground.
My first Godzilla was Mr. Nakajima’s first as well; Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was the first kaiju movie that I ever saw, Toho or otherwise. I was pulled in immediately, as so many children were before me, and as so many more will continue to be for all time. From that first movie, to Ghidorah and Monster Zero, to his last hurrah in Gigan, Mr. Nakajima imbued Godzilla with a personality and presence that few could ever hope to match, and something that I firmly believe has been imprinted on the character forever.
My favorite quote from Godzilla 1985 comes to mind:
“For now Godzilla, that strangely innocent and tragic monster has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not, or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us remain.”
And though he may indeed be gone, the films he made for us and the joy that they bring us will remain. And in that, I take solace. Mr. Nakajima was Godzilla, and will remain a part of him forever. So though I feel sad at the passing of a truly wonderful actor and an amazing man, I’ve found one more reason to love Godzilla even more.
– Jack Jordan
While I regret never meeting Mr. Nakajima, his performance as Godzilla sparked my imagination at a young age. I imitated his movements, fathomed that I, too, was larger than life. I never realized how much confidence it gave me to stand up against my own bullies and to overcome them, because after all, Godzilla did. His legacy isn’t only in his work, but the incredible impact it has had on those who’ve watched him in wonder and awe.
I attended Mad Monster Party in New Jersey as an artist, and had a terrible time getting there, which included my car almost exploding. But Nakajima was going to be there, so I rented a car and continued my journey.
When I finally got to meet him, I presented him with an original piece of art I designed myself. It featured toys representing many of the Godzilla roles he played, including the action figure of himself and the Gargantua, because I knew he loved playing the role since everyone finally got to see his eyes.
He put his pen down before signing it and traced each face with his fingertips. He signed it happily, and the event organizer used his own phone to take a picture for me since I had left mine in the dealer’s room.
On the last day I saw him and his friends sitting in the lobby, and shortly left. I sprinted over to sit in the seat Godzilla had sat in.
I never regretted my decision to push forward to meet him even with everything trying to prevent me from going.
– Sean McGuinness
Thank you for giving life to Godzilla and giving joy to my life.
– Ian Castillo
I became a Godzilla fan when I was only 4 years old. It wasn’t until many years later (16-ish) when I first saw an image of Mr. Nakajima on the set of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, smiling at the camera with a cigarette in his hand and Godzilla suit in tow. He was such an interesting looking character that when I saw that picture, I thought: “I need to know more about this man!”
I learned so much about Mr. Nakajima from the way people described their interactions with him. He loved the fandom dearly. Haruo Nakajima was the soul of Godzilla for 18 years. He was Godzilla. The old saying rings true: Legends NEVER die. They live in the hearts and minds of the people who loved them. There is no denying that Nakajima-san was a legend, and he will be dearly missed by millions of people. May he rest in peace.
– Adam Striker
To my only hero, Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla), I am grateful to have met you three times (G-FEST 2000, Chiller Theater 2014, and Anime Boston 2015) and being able to share many memories in my life from the movies to the conventions which lead to friendships across the globe. You have always enjoyed meeting your fans and the last time we met was in my hometown in Boston where I had the privilege to be your “Minya” at the Hynes Convention Center. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have always looked up to you. You kept me living, fighting, and striving to be the best that I can, going up against all odds and never giving up. Thank you for being my God, my hero, and a good friend. May you rest in peace knowing your legacy will continue to live on. GODZILLA FOREVER!
Andrew Wong, G-Forever
The Godzilla franchise has been one of the biggest influences on my life since before I could walk, and it may not have been that way without Haruo Nakajima bringing all those monsters to life all those years ago.
Freshly into adulthood (I’m 21 as of May), I’m interested in creating things through art and writing, and the magic this man brought to the screen was one of things that planted those seeds.
Rest in Peace, Nakajima-san, and thank you for everything.
As a fan of Godzilla and all Kaiju that Haruo had brought to life, my heart sank when I learned of his passing. As a child, I never knew that he was even in a rubber suit that was the first Godzilla or any of the Godzilla faces that came after. I actually thought that it was a real monster back then. Many suit actors for monsters would be inspired by how Haruo brought the monsters that Toho creates to life. To a legend that was and will always be Haruo Nakajima, I wish him good luck on the after life. And I wish his family and friends good fortune for the future endeavors.
– Chanz Foster
To be honest I never really knew about him until his death was announced all over the web. Soon as I found out that not only did he play my favorite and the most famous of all Kaiju, Godzilla, up until 1972, he also played other famous monsters which were Rodan, Varan, Gaira, and my second favorite Kaiju, Baragon. I really enjoyed all his performances for a good majority of the Showa era. The movements he made with these monsters sometimes felt so life like. Like they were actual animals moving around. And there were many times where he really knew how to show off Godzilla either being a rampaging monster or hero just through simple movements. Most people would say they could do what he did in a heartbeat with barely any effort. I could only laugh, if they said that, because what Haruo Nakajima did wasn’t just campy monster movie acting. It was art. Art that only us Kaiju fans can truly appreciate. The greatest regret I have was not ever getting the chance to meet this actual legend, but I’m even more ashamed that I never really learned his name or what he’s done till now. I can’t any other way to honor and give thanks to him than to give pictures of my two favorite Kaiju that he’s performed as.
Rest In Peace Haruo Nakajima
– Ben Mayer
Haruo Nakajima was someone I never met. I admired his work, and was impressed by it, but he personally never captivated me the way he did to other fans.
And weird as it may sound, THAT is one of highest compliments I could possible give him. Allow me to explain.
Godzilla is one of the most important things in my life, and I take it very seriously. The music, the themes, and above all Godzilla himself. Godzilla’s design, mannerisms, power, and different interpretations culminate to make him the best thing ever. To me, Godzilla is far more than a movie, a character, a franchise, or even a concept. And he is certainly more than a “man in a suit.” Godzilla is too real for me to concerned with the special effects that bring him to life.
Which is a testament to how amazing a suit actor Nakajima was. Not only was he able to move around in some super uncomfortable suits, he actually ACTED in them, because he’s a suit ACTOR. It takes genuine talent to bring anything to life, and if you actually look at different examples of suit acting you’d see how amazing Nakajima’s performance is opposed to whoever was in the suits in Unknown Island. Nakajima pioneered suit acting as an art, and it’s extremely sad he died in a world where his art was replaced by CGI, and most of the world doesn’t even think it’s art.
So to Nakajima, I am sorry. You deserved better than this. I hope you rest in peace.
– Marc Finnish
R.I.P Haruo Nakajima, 88
The Man That Made The Legend
As long as Godzilla’s name exists so will Haruo Nakajima’s name. Thank you for the memories and the inspiration. We all will miss you but as long as there is a copy of Gojira in existence, we will see you every time we watch it. He will live on as the heart of our greatest and beloved monster.
– Christian Lawson
R.I.P Haruo Nakajima.
What you did for Godzilla, and the daikaiju genre as a whole will forever be remembered and treasured by us all. your body may be gone, but your spirit will forever live on in all of those who have been touched and influenced by your work. In the words of Shinota: Godzilla’s inside each one of us.
I wish I had gotten to know the man through conventions, as someone who always seemed to be stuck here in Minnesota and unable to travel. I wish I had gotten his autograph and talk and laugh about our stories and his time as various kaiju. I wish I had gotten to take a selfie with him. I wish I gotten to talk with him about his time with the other G-4 gang as I call them and how they acted and their ideas.
It seems anything could change in an instant, and if by chance I meet him in the afterlife I hope I can correct this wish and make it a reality
God Bless you Haruo Nakajima
Joel “Dai-Man” Endrizzi
I never forget him. He will be our heart for bringing classic monsters to life. Thank You.
– Jayson Rogoz
It really hurts to hear that Haruo Nakajima has sadly passed away. I’m glad that I able to meet Nakajima-san at Comic-con two years ago, it was honor being able to meet him & its a moment that I’ll never forget. Thoughts & Prayers go to his Family & Friends. RIP Gojira-san.
– Andrew Cross
Haruo Nakajima! What a name and what a man!
My name is Henning and I am a fan of Godzilla and Japanese science fiction since childhood. I am German, therefore please excuse my sloppy English!
I was introduced to Godzilla in the age of six by watching the German-dubbed version of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) in 1992, little while I was watching the anime THE FANTASTIC ADVENTURES OF UNICO, based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka, my personal premiere to the world of anime and manga. Still Godzilla and the kaiju conquered my heart and soul at this point completely and a love was born that lasts until today. It was around the premiere of the ill-ridden first Hollywood attempt of GODZILLA; G.I.N.O.; when I learned first of the name + the man Haruo Nakajima and his life. I was virtually speechless what he did, what difficulties and accidents he endured, but foremost that he bore everything with iron will without lamenting! I found an icon, a human, which I could look up!
Since my personal life was and is not always easy Godzilla was and is the help to flee from reality for a brief amount of time, and to return to reality with new found strength. Nakajima was providing this strength through his acting to me! To bear the unbearable found it’s pure human incarnation in Nakajima and his fellow colleagues in suit acting, but it was Nakajima who founded this tradition and spirituality, which keeps me alive in figurative sense spoken.
To wake up very early, to work and to return to home; without the willpower of Nakajima and Godzilla; absolute impossible for me! With Nakajima’s passing I felt very sad, but I also feel very proud. The hours of watching Toho kaiju movies and TV series like ULTRAMAN, where he also participated as a kaiju and as an instructor for Ultraman’s actor; Satoshi Bin Furuya, had been great – yes! And watching again and again will create the same situation all over again! This will also make me happy and strong enough for the future to come.
Nakajima made who I am and although he was truly one-of-a-kind, his legacy will live on. With the help of us fans and the movies and TV series he worked on. He lived so long to experience 62 years of Godzilla, among the over-amazing rebirth in Hideaki Anno’s and Shinji Higuchi’s SHIN GODZILLA (2016). This is quite an achievement! Who can say this also? Not to forget the also now-good second attempt and now success of an Hollywood movie-adaptation by Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA (2014).
I am confident that his daughter Sonoe, will also have the same strength as her father for the coming years. She will overcome the current sadness and will honor the name of her father with pride. My thoughts are with her. He is now with his wife in a place, where is no worry and sadness, only happiness, peace and prosperity.
The only possible “regret” is that I never met him in person, only in video footage and on pictures, but this was, is and will be enough! Thank you for everything what you did Nakajima!
In deepest respect I am bowing to you; domo arigato gozaimasu, Nakajima-sensei!
In eternal loving memory your fan,
Haruo Nakajima to me is one of the greatest actor in film history, although his face was mostly unseen everyone knows him for bringing to life a vast majority of Kaiju’s including the legendary kaiju ‘Gojira’ known world wide as Godzilla. I got hooked onto Godzilla after I watched my first movie ‘Ebirah, Horror of the Deep’ and I am also a fan favourite of one of the other founding Fathers of Godzilla. And that is the work of Eiji Tsuburaya’s Ultraman franchise. The two of them will be greatly mist but their legacy will live on in the work that they made and in future works made in their wake, like Legendary Pictures Godzilla 2 and TOHO CO. Godzilla Planet Monsters. R.I.P. Nakajima.
– Wayne Walker
Thank you for all the great memories you have given me through Godzilla. Since childhood, you changed my life for the better through your work. You will always be loved and remembered in our home for generations to come.
Love and respect,
I got the news while watching “Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster,” and it rocked me to my core. He was a great man, very professional, very brave, and a big part of my life. I’ve loved Godzilla most of my life, and it’s a shame to see that the man who first brought him, along with so many other beloved kaiju, to life is gone. He was a big inspiration for me, and so were his films. God bless him, and his loved ones. I wish I could thank him for all the entertainment and happiness he brought to my life.
– Bobby Dunakin
I love godzilla
– George Schroeded
August 7th marked the first day that I had cried since I was 12, (19 now). I first started watching Godzilla films when I was in kindergarten. I appreciated the charm and the lighter tone of the Showa era films as opposed to the films following it. Haruo Nakajima has always been my favorite Godzilla suit actor due to the amount of range and character that he was able to give Godzilla in his movements. One film he could stockily be seen destroying a city and the next he could be jumping up and down in victory. Haruo Nakajima has been a huge figure in my childhood and helped shape me into the person who I am today. He will continue to live on through his films and the countless people they have thrilled, entertained, and inspired. Rest in peace and God bless, the OG King of the Monsters himself, Haruo Nakajima.
– Joseppi Harding
When it is was Monday morning, I heard that Haruo Nakajima had passed away at the age of 88, he was known as playing the original Gojira (Godzilla) and that he was a part of my childhood. Not only did he play Godzilla, but he also played other kaijus and he was one of the first people to start using “Suitmation” which is a filmmaking techinque developed by Eiji Tsuburaya.
It’s sad that I won’t be able to see him and that he was such a big part of my childhood, as well as getting me into Godzilla, I send my condolence to the Nakajima family and that I hope they feel better. Sayonara Nakajima-San, may your spirit rest in peace for your legacy will never die and that you have become an inspiration towards me, you will never be forgotten as well as your performances.
R.I.P. Haruo Nakajima (1929-2017), we’ll miss you.
– Noah Bearden
Ever since I saw the very first film, I fell in love with the monster that would inspire me to pursue filmmaking, storytelling, and soul. Thank you, Nakajima-san, for giving me the fire to pursue my dreams, as well as the spark to ignite my passions. RIP
– Tre McNeill
I just wanted to say a quick & heartfelt Thank You to Haruo Nakakjima for bringing my hero Godzilla to life.
My thoughts & prayers go out to his family & friends.
May he Rest In Peace…
A Lifelong Godzilla fan because of Mr Nakajima
Haruo brought many distinct memories.
Ever since he put on the G54 suit, giant monster movies have never been the same, for he portrayed the fear we should all understand of nuclear weapons.
And yet he become a superhero dinosaur to many and made many children smile.
My niece isn’t even five and I had already planned to show her “vs. Hedorah”, when she’s older, before Nakajima was lost. I still will and hope she likes seeing the dinosaur save the day from “Mr. Yuck”.
While Nakajima didn’t return for the Kiryu subseries, I still imagine it was him reprising his famous role as G54, through Kiryu.
May he rest in peace and his work be remembered.
– Charles Ziese
Thanks Nakajima for giving life to the great Godzilla and do my childhood awesome. Rest in peace.
I am 23 years old and Godzilla has been an inspiration to me as long as I can remember. My dad got me an photograph autographed by Haruo Nakajima when I was a kid and I still have it. Haruo Nakajima was a great man who inspired millions of kids around the world and he will be greatly missed. Rest in Peace.
– Luke Williams
I was very sad to learn of the passing of Naruto Nakajima. After all, he was the first main suit actor in all of Toho sci-fi, playing Godzilla, Rodan, Gaila the Green Gargantua, etc. His unique grasp of what it took to act inside those monster suits made him, in the words of a favorite pro wrestler of mine, “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”
Rest in peace, Nakajima-dai-sensei, and thank you for all the memories.
I first saw Godzilla when I was small, always into dinosaurs, a VHS I owned about trex, suddenly spirals into a mini Goji clipshow, of godzilla and rodan fighting ghidorah…then godzilla fighting rodan in ghidorah. I was always watching that part…now I’ve seen all the films, multiple times over and not much can beat Nakajimas energy in the latter films, especially in DAM and vs hedorah, and now I feel the need to watch his other suited appearances in other movies and shows, like space amoeba, varan, ultra Q and so on…attached to this is a picture of every monster toy and memorabilia that Nakajima has played, I never met him but am lucky to own thus autographed picture….to the very first king of the monsters, the hero of earth, Godzilla, and all other rolls, Sayonara, Mr Nakajima
– Samuel Carpenter
My interaction with Haruo Nakajima during his lifetime has been minimal. Back in 2015, I drove up to Boston to meet him and his co-star, Akira Takarada at that year’s Anime Boston convention. Thanks to Tim Bean, I had the opportunity to meet two of my biggest childhood heroes. Meeting the two was an experience I’ll never forget. Although, I deeply regret never being able to tell Haruo how much his work meant to me all my life. I have illustrated his first role as Godzilla in his honor, and will continue to honor his legacy for years to come.
– Christopher Chickenman Conde
I never had the honor of meeting Nakajima-san in person. However, his work had a glorious affect on me as a child. One that continues to resonate with me to this very day.
May God bless your soul, Nakajima-san, wherever you may be.
Robert J Laurich
My daughter and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Nakajima back in August of 2015. While my daughter, Ava, was getting this photo taken and his autograph, I was talking with his interpreter. I mentioned to her that Ava was trying to learn Japanese. She asked if she could say anything to him in Japanese. Well, she thought about it for a few seconds and said in Japanese…”It is an honor to meet you”. At that moment he stopped signing the picture, put the marker down and with a huge smile, he started clapping. Tsutomu Kitagawa and Bin Furuya also started to clap which caused the other fans in line to start clapping. So anytime I talk about this picture, I begin by saying, “Did I ever tell you about the time my daughter made Godzilla smile and clap”.
Thanks for allowing me to tell you this story. I have been a fan since I was little and got my first Godzilla movie in 8mm form back in the early 70’s. I introduced my daughter to this legend when she was still a baby and she’s been a fan ever since. It was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me…meeting my childhood hero. He will be missed.
As I sit at my desk trying to figure out what to write and say something that hasn’t been said about Nakajima-san, I realize everything that has already been said is correct about the man. He’s a legend and has truly become immortal now. While I personally never got a chance to meet him and tell him how much he meant to me, I think deep down inside he already knew how much he meant to not just me but to the Godzilla fandom both current and future. One of my most treasured Godzilla collectibles is an autograph that my good friend Chris Mirjahangir got for me when he had the opportunity to meet him, this is something that I’ll always treasure. So l guess I’ll just end this here and I want to tell you Nakajima-san that like many fans of doctor who have their favorite Doctor incarnation, you where my Godzilla. Thank you for all you’ve done for the fandom and for being my hero.
Thomas R VanSlambrouck
Haruo Nakajima may be gone, but the characters he brought to life have stood the test of time and will continue to carry on his legacy, I cannot thank Mr. Nakajima enough for being such a big part of something that has not only been my childhood, but my life as a whole, as I’m sure many others can agree. Here’s to you good sir, may the characters you played continue to be a part of many more childhoods.
I have been a fan of Godzilla and all his monstrous friends and foes for as long as I can remember, and have so many happy memories of watching the Big G menace cities or save the day with my family on television and home video, none of which would have been possible if not for the efforts of the man inside the suit for much of the Showa Era, Haruo Nakajima. As a child I was ignorant of his name, Godzilla was simply Godzilla to me, much like most children who do not dwell on the identities of the voice actors behind their favorite cartoon characters, or the individuals who don the capes and tights of their favorite superheroes until later in life. As an adult however, I would come to know his name, and be grateful for all the hard work he put into portraying a radioactive reptile for the entertainment of fans like me of all ages across the globe. Playing the role of a giant monster is no easy feat. It requires both skill and endurance to pull off successfully, especially back in the early days of Tokusatsu entertainment when safety features inside the hot, heavy suits were few to say the least, and yet Mr. Nakajima managed to excel and triumph despite all obstacles, much like his first and most iconic kaiju role, Godzilla himself. One of the greatest experiences of my life was when I met Mr. Nakajima in person during Anime Boston 2015, the theme was kaiju and mecha that year and I had been beyond delighted to learn that both he and Akira Takarada would be attending the con as celebrity guests of honor! This was a once in a lifetime experience for me, and I was equally nervous and excited at the same time, finally getting to meet my childhood hero, shake his hand, and tell him how much his performances meant to me well into adulthood. He was so friendly and patient with me and all the American fans who met him during the convention even though he could not speak English and needed a translator by his side to interpret what he said. We hung on his every word later during a panel prior to a screening of Gojira. It was fascinating to learn from the man himself that he studied animals at the zoo to give him an idea of how a massive creature like Godzilla would move and behave. It was an experience I shall never forget. He did all this for us, his fans, despite being 86 years old at the time and far away from home, and yet he still traveled all that way just to tell us stories about his time as the original King of the Monsters, and I will always remember and respect him for it.
Sayonara Nakajima-san, thank you for sparking my imagination, and for giving life to my favorite monster.
Daniel B. Roach
Haruo Nakajima brought some of our favorite monsters to live in both movies and television shows. He helped bring the likes of Godzilla, Jiras, Varan, Gaira, Rodan, Gomess, Baragon, and Neronga to name a few into the spotlight and giving us memorable kaiju. While his time in this world has passed, his legacy and portrayal of Godzilla and many other kaiju will never leave be forgotten.
The original Godzilla is gone. He set the gold standard for Kaiju actors that can never be topped. His attitude towards the job made a non-glamorous job seem wonderful. While I never had the chance to meet him; his devotion to the fans and the monster himself is something I always appreciated and admired. You will be greatly missed, Mr. Nakajima. RIP and Godspeed.
Thanks for the memories.
I met Nakajima-san at least four times since he first began appearing at US conventions. He was always kind, gracious and excited to meet his fans around the world. The first time I met him was at his first US appearance at G-Fest 1996. I remember that at this time several of us got together to offer up a drunken rendition of “Save The Earth” in the hotel bar, which impressed Mr. Nakajima to no end.
I was in a hotel room with Nakajima and Ken Satsuma in NYC when the news came that Princess Diana had died. We all found out at the same time.
One time at a convention party, some really incredibly nasty liquor was being passed around. I had already had a sip of the stuff and knew it was vile. Mr. Nakajima tried giving me some more (because he didn’t want his). I waved it away and said “Das ist nicht gut”. When he heard me speaking German he went into an exited diatribe about how the father of one well-known tokusatsu actor had been a fervent nazi during the second world war. This included vehement foot stomping which made Satsuma, who was sitting next to him, fear for the safety of his own feet.
Photos include Nakajima, Satsuma and Yoshio Tsuchiya. Some of them were taken at the dinosaur exhibit at the NYC museum of science and history.
– Michael Keller
The original and best Godzilla, who helped give the character an imposing presence and a personality.
Throughout our world’s history, there have been many legends that have made their mark within society. Some have left their emblems of awe and adoration within the ever expanding field of knowledge, while others have decided to express their gifts within products of cinema. These iconic individuals have, in their own unique ways, touched the hearts of millions across the world. Thus, this very email has a designated intent to recognize one such individual who has touched my heart for many years. This incredible individual, in terms of identity, was none other than Haruo Nakajima. To this day, he has continued to amaze me with the many contributions that he imprinted into Japanese cimena. It was because of his capabilities that the process of suitmation became a favorable method of creating films all over the world, especially within the science fiction genre. Whether it was Neronga from the original Tsuburaya Productions television show called Ultraman or the green Gargantua known as Gaira from Toho Studios’ War of the Gargantuas, Nakajima gave life to each creature once the suit was put on and the cameras began filming. However, the one creature that Nakajima portrayed via suitmation has become a beloved cinema icon to millions of fans worldwide, including myself. A powerful metaphor for the horrors of nuclear energy, this creature set the stage for a whole new genre of films known as kaiju filmography. Taking the entire world by storm in 1954, Haruo Nakajima brought life into the many suits over the years of perhaps the most famous giant monster of film history. This monster was none other than Godzilla. Having been a huge Godzilla and kaiju fan for many years, I have always appreciated and honored those that took to the challenge of portraying the King of the Monsters. Haruo Nakajima was one such man. Whenever I shall watch a Godzilla film from the original Showa series in the future, I will always remember who it was that Godzilla appear to be so lifelike and real. My condolences go out to the family of Mr. Nakajima, for I shall always remember who truly was the king of daikaiju suitmation. God bless Mr. Nakajima, and may he rest in eternal peace.
– Zach Naugle
Haruo Nakajima is an unsung icon who helped revolutionize the film industry. People like Honda and Tsuburaya are worthy of praise for giving this series and genre of film life, but having outlasted both men in the franchise (for the most part), it was Nakajima who gave perhaps the biggest helping hand in giving this series the longevity it had and the recognition it rightfully deserves. So many lessons were learned from his experiences and passed down to later suit actors, and so many new ideas were brought to fruition by his performances from people outside of Toho and the Toku Genre. Meet this man in person in 2008 was an absolute honor and even though I didn’t meet him outside of a costume, in many ways, it felt suitable that I was in one when I did meet him as it felt like it was paying respect to a man who made a living out of doing so, a man who brought joy, sadness, fear, and above all else, true cinematic entertainment, to everyone for all of the world to see. Haruo Nakajima will truly be missed by all and without a doubt, he truly is KING of the Monsters.
When you have a hero in life, you think that they will always be there, but to you that special hero is invincible. Even when they grow older with time, you never stop to think about if they will still be there the next day. Because you don’t want to acknowledge that their days are numbered, that there is a mortality behind that invincibility.
Godzilla is always this giant monster that is unstoppable, never-ending, and tough. Even when he has been defeated or gone away, he will always come back, bigger and more powerful than before. I always saw Haruo Nakajima that way, he was tough, bigger than life, and always came back into the world with a bigger heart and brighter smile. Nakajima and his Godzilla were both my childhood, his performance gave the icon a certain life and charisma that made me a eternal fan to the franchise. First captivating me at the age of four in the movies “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” and “King Kong vs. Godzilla”. Two grand VHS tapes gifted to me by my grandfather, my family’s first and original Godzilla fan before me.
Back then it wasn’t popular to have a hero who wore a giant rubber monster suit and toppled beautiful modeled cities of Japan. Nah back then, your hero had to either wear a flowing cape, crawl like a spider, or wear a human-sized costume for a human-scale person. You weren’t allowed to like heroes who weren’t ordinary, commonly popular, or domestically created. But that just made Nakajima and his films all that more amazing and special to me, because he was something that I felt connected to that no one else around me understood. Godzilla isn’t natural, he doesn’t fit within today’s world, he’s otherworldly and something of an outcast to the realm of nature and its laws. So through Nakajima’s performance, hard-work, and investment into the franchise and its monsters, I found something that I could relate to through the icons that he brought to life.
Seeing Nakajima tower over Japan as Godzilla, Rodan, and other colossal beasts, seeing how he brought them to life and took on the world within their films. He was a man who inspired me to become the individual that I am today. To be someone who doesn’t back down, to be someone who isn’t afraid to reach the skies that he loomed over. To be someone who will always get back up after falling down.
I owe a lot to this man, for the strength he has given me, and the memories of amazement, laughter, and joy. It sucks waking each day knowing that he is no longer with us. It sucks knowing that your hero is gone. The pain of his passing will never leave me, but neither will the days that his films had brighten throughout my entire life.
His presence will be greatly missed, but the memories he has made within the hearts of many. The days he had brighten across various generations, in both the past and over. Haruo Nakajima is a great man who will live on forever, both in the hearts that he has touched, and the immortality of his eternal films. Rest in peace old King, long live forever loved and unforgotten. Haruo Nakajima, a great performer and beloved actor. He will always be my hero, and will always be our destroyer of worlds.
– R.D.Davis (Gormaru/Gormaru Omega), Gormaru Island
Haruo Nakajima, the man who brought Godzilla to life. Thanks to his time and effort he put into the movie productions, Nakajima brought the Godzilla franchise to millions around the world. Without Haruo Nakajima Godzilla wouldn’t be the pop culture icon he is now.
R.I.P. Haruo Nakajima, you will be missed by many.
– Ethan Stine
I would like to say ‘thank you’ to Mr. Nakajima for his work as Godzilla and other kaiju, which brought joy to my life as a fan of Toho sci-fi from the time I was little kid. R.I.P. and Sayonara.
– Matt Bowyer
My name is Jake and I’ve been a Godzilla fan for almost my whole life. I love everything from the movies, to the monsters and Godzilla himself. But the character might not feel alive had it not been for one man and that it the man behind the monster, Haruo Nakajima. I first became aware of Mr. Nakajima thanks to an old Chestwood Monster book I borrowed (and never returned 🙂 from my local library. I remember seeing his picture for the first time in a Fangoria magazine talking about the 1998 film. I was too young to appreciate the talent, but I grew to really love it as I got older. One of the things I loved about Godzilla as a character was his ability to convey emotion through body language and Mr. Nakajima pulled it off greatly. Many of favorite actions of Godzilla came from Mr. Nakajima in the original films. Such as the iconic victory dance from “Monster Zero.” Another great moment that most fans forget is Godzilla scratching his nose after fighting the giant Condor in “Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster,” it’s such a small but an amazing display of Godzilla’s attitude. I also loved Godzilla taunting Ebirah with his own claw after getting it torn off. All of those actions were amazingly brought to life thanks to Haruo Nakajima!! He help make Godzilla more than just a monster, he made Godzilla an amazing character. With his passing, it marks an end of a time when movies were made with more love and was like magic. Thank you Mr. Nakajima, you are the heart of Godzilla!!!
– Jacob F.
From the start, Godzilla wasn’t just any old monster. As a young viewer, I rooted for him, cheered for him – even in the films where he was the antagonist, which made for some awkward viewing experiences of the original film, Mothra vs. Godzilla, et al. This is because he had a personality – a soul. And it is Nakajima Haruo’s bravura performance that started this trend.
To all the monsters he played, Nakajima brought a special spark. Even when they are villains, we feel sympathy for Godzilla and Rodan when they meet their fates in their debut films. We feel Godzilla’s frustration and confusion when he slams into Osaka Castle; his determination, bafflement, and cunning when he faces off against Hedorah; his sternness as he coaches Minilla against his bullies; his playfulness and triumph as he scores blows against Kong, Rodan, Ebirah, and especially King Ghidorah. What other creative team than Nakajima and Tsuburaya would have created something so gloriously silly as the Godzilla victory dance, the moment we have to thank for all the wonderfully goofy moments to come? You wouldn’t catch King Kong or Giger’s Alien dead performing that!
Nakajima was never just the guy in the suit. He was a performer and actor…and his performances were a delight, plain and simple, worthy of consideration with any human cast.
Rest in peace, Mr. Nakajima. Perpetual thanks for all the joy you brought us, and for giving me my favorite heroes: Godzilla, Rodan, Baragon, and more.
– Christopher Brown
I didn’t make this, the original image is by DecayingArt, but it emphasizes my undying love for Haruo Nakajima and Godzilla as a whole.
Meeting Haruo Nakajima in my home state of Indiana was a memory I’ll cherish forever. Getting to meet the man who brought my childhood hero Godzilla to life was a dream come true. Not only did he bring Godzilla to life but also many of my other favorite monsters including, Rodan, King Kong, Mothra, Baragon, Green Gargantua and so many others. Nakajima was truly the best to ever do it and he will be extremely missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. RIP Haruo Nakajima and thank you again for everything.
For a long time, I’ve always appreciated Toho’s science fiction and fantasy films, whether they were good or bad. Even if the films didn’t stand up to scrutiny, I could always count on the monster appearances to deliver. The suits were never convincing by themselves, but the performances that were brought out through them have entertained me all my life and made me forget the effects method used. Most notably in the Showa series, they were used to portray both forces of destruction and warfare, or characters that showed what we could do at our best. And Haruo Nakajima was one of the men behind that. He set the standard for Japanese monster performances, making some unforgettable characters, despite the heavy suits and setbacks involved. Everybody can remember Godzilla suddenly rising from the dirt, Gaira terrorizing an airport, or Rodan landing onto the train station. I’m grateful that moments like this are ingrained in the minds of millions, and I will never forget the man who was inside the suits. While I never knew who was in the suits growing up, the moment I knew the name attached to the man who brought some of them to life, I knew who to thank. Thank you, Haruo Nakajima, for all of your hard work in making some of my favorite films come to life.
The main credits for Toho’s iconic special effects films naturally highlight both the talented production team that worked to bring so many of these films together so quickly, as well as the leading actors seen throughout. The true leading man of Toho’s monster films, however, has always been Haruo Nakajima. Hired and credited as a stuntman, Nakajima humbly endured dangerous work – from suits made of not rubber, but concrete, to suffering stomach injuries from fake bombs on set, to nearly drowning on multiple occasions and rarely being able to breathe well in the heavy suits. Nakajima’s efforts went well beyond performing stuntwork, however – he studied real animals at the zoo and helped choreograph fight scenes with other stuntmen.
One of the reasons Toho’s kaiju films have endured so long has been because every monster retains a distinct character. While it would be easy to manipulate every puppet and suit along the same basic idea, Toho’s monsters retain personality, much of it imbued by men such as Nakajima, as well as those who worked alongside him and those who have followed in his enormous footsteps ever since. Nakajima overcame the pressure and stress of the hot and heavy suits to nonetheless convey meaning and lend expression to dozens of creatures, and his work brought to life dozens of monsters, from Baragon to Varan. Rather than a two-dimensional mass of monsters, Nakajima could make viewers just as easily fear the bloodthirsty Gaira as to cheer on and empathize with the lovable Kong, or feel both emotions and more in a dozen films as the King of the Monsters, Godzilla, his most famous creation.
More than the fine and dedicated stuntman, special effects pioneer, or the incredibly humble man he nonetheless was, Haruo Nakajima was an actor, a skilled performer working on a bigger stage, able to impress, terrify, delight, and make us feel, working through the skin of the suits, and a lot of blood, sweat, tears, to develop surprisingly memorable characters who will continue to capture the attention of audiences for generations to come. As long as there are people around the world who enjoy kaiju films, Nakajima-san’s memory will still be with us.
– John R. VoylesGeneral // August 22, 2017
The recent passing of Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) director Yoshimitsu Banno and the expected refocus on his limited involvement in Toho’s iconic monster movie franchise brought to mind two things regarding this series and the way fans react to it. The first concerns the making-of stories surrounding these movies and how they are, so very often, swamped in a messy bog of truths and half-truths. In regards to how the front office at Toho reacted to Godzilla vs. Hedorah, the legend reiterated to most people depicts an ambitious young filmmaker teeming with fresh ideas, whose career was mercilessly cut down by a narrow-minded tyrant just when it seemed to be getting started and whose only crimes were exerting his imagination and daring to stray from the norm. It’s become one of the most popular tales in Godzilla lore, and just about every fan in the last few decades has heard it.
Alas, I must put a spin on that classic adage: this half-truth has gone around the globe twice, and the truth is still in the process of putting its shoes on.
History, indeed, demonstrates that Yoshimitsu Banno never took charge of a Godzilla film after his 1971 foray, though he did acquire the rights to the character in the early 2000s (for an unrealized short IMAX movie) which eventually led to him receiving credit as executive producer for the feature-length 2014 Godzilla film by Legendary Pictures. It is similarly true, regarding Godzilla vs. Hedorah, that producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (who had been hospitalized in the middle of production) was anything but enthusiastic when he eventually saw the completed film. No one has ever claimed he liked the picture. (It should be noted, however, that Tanaka at least had some idea of what to expect. By Banno’s own admission, the producer had visited the set during the shoot of the infamous nightclub sequence, in which Toshio Shiba hallucinated to see all the people around him topped with fish heads. As the director recalled, Tanaka merely stood off the side and didn’t speak to anyone before silently leaving the set. But even in the aftermath of this, production was not shut down and Banno was not replaced. Tanaka had seen, first-hand, what sort of film was being made and nonetheless allowed shooting to continue.)
Now, accounts vary as to how the producer reacted after screening the finished product. Special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano reported the now-famous “You’ve ruined Godzilla!” quote; Banno himself recalled anger-free acceptance that the film couldn’t be changed. Regardless, either way, Banno was never again given directorial control of a Godzilla movie: a fact which only seems to support the notion of his career being ended overnight. Then again, in the face of the actual evidence, these claims, memorable as they are, have been exaggerated, to say the least.
For a man supposedly shut out of the movie-making business, Banno maintained quite an active output post-1971. Among the (numerous) documentaries he worked on throughout the remainder of the decade was Cruel Famine Continent, about drought-ridden Africa, which saw a theatrical release in 1972, one year after his “banishment.” In the 1980s, following a stint of producing animated features for Toho, he developed a new IMAX format called JAPAX; and in 2000, he founded his own company for the purpose of making JAPAX films, selling projection equipment, creating festival exhibits, and other similar ventures.
But more revealing is the backstory behind his involvement in the 1974 anti-pollution disaster epic Prophecies of Nostradamus. During pre-production, Tomoyuki Tanaka cited the film’s message and remembered Banno’s passion for the environment, and then approached the man he “banned,” requesting and recruiting his services as co-screenwriter and assistant director. An important note: Prophecies of Nostradamus wasn’t exactly a throwaway enterprise cranked out by the studio to make a little dough in the interim. The film was based on a popular book and made in hopes of mimicking the immense box office success of Shiro Moritani’s Submersion of Japan (1973). Not only was Banno handpicked to work on another special effects production, he was selected to help out with a project that, it was hoped, would top box office charts in Japan.
And, sure enough, those hopes became reality when Prophecies of Nostradamus, despite some notorious controversy and subsequent re-editing during its theatrical release, became the highest-grossing Toho-produced feature of 1974. To put it briefly: Tanaka might not have been the world’s biggest fan of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, but clearly he recognized Banno’s virtues. What’s more, in watching Prophecies of Nostradamus, one can sense its writer’s presence in the story.
And this brings me to my second, more interesting point: whatever one thinks of his monster movie, Yoshimitsu Banno was, without question, one of the more distinctive talents ever to emerge from Toho. He had a flavor that was uniquely his and instantly recognizable to anyone even remotely familiar with his career. And even though the recurring anti-pollution theme is noteworthy, I would argue it’s merely the base for what made Banno sui generis. (Other filmmakers have made statements against pollution before and since 1971, after all.) The key factor, I feel, is the creativity, intelligence, and natural craftsmanship he used to articulate his message.
Let’s consider the first few minutes of Godzilla vs. Hedorah. The main credits appear over a montage consisting of psychedelic images and sheets of garbage drifting across the ocean surface—complemented by a lively rendition of the film’s song Give Back the Sun! A creative opening, but then again, didn’t Ishiro Honda do something similar in All Monsters Attack (1969) two years earlier, with a song playing over images of a heavily polluted industrial environment? That said, let’s contemplate the method through which Banno films the pollution in this intro.
In addition to muck and dead fish, we see the gnarled figure of a doll drifting in the sludge. It’s not too dissimilar from the gnarled human corpses seen later in the film as Hedorah—a monster thriving off pollution—wreaks havoc on civilization. And as the song comes to a close, Banno presents us with another item in the swamp-like water: a clock, obviously dysfunctional but nonetheless accompanied by ticks and chimes on the soundtrack, as though signaling man’s time is running out. And then, in a stroke of editorial genius, the film promptly cuts to a close-up of some vibrant, healthy flowers. This in turn is followed by shots of (unbroken) toys near the garden and (living) fish in an aquarium. We have been introduced to the house of Dr. Yano and his family, where a good deal of the human drama takes place. In doing so, the director establishes a new environment while simultaneously providing contrast against the depressing drabness seen previous. And when the director shows us these refreshingly pleasant images, he knows he will have use for them later. When Hedorah passes the house later in the film, those same flowers wilt in the toxic fumes, those same toys are pulverized by acidic sludge, those same fish are quenched of life.
In addition to revolting imagery, Banno used his anti-pollution theme as a means of commenting on then-contemporary social issues. In one notable scene, Hedorah, having recently garnered the ability to fly, passes over a school yard, where a teacher and her students are practicing calisthenics. The vapors spewing from the smog monster’s body send the girls reeling to the ground, clutching at their throats: a direct reference to a then-recent headline, in which a group of schoolgirls in July 1970 fainted in the exercise yard due to the heavily polluted air hanging over them. A little later, in one of the film’s animated segments, we see the market has opened on “anti-Hedorah oxygen masks” to protect citizens from the creature’s poisonous mist. At the time of the film’s release, it wasn’t uncommon for cities to establish oxygen stations on public streets in case pedestrians found themselves short of breath. (The pollution in Japan was that bad!) The use of seemingly random bits such as these animation scenes have contributed to Godzilla vs. Hedorah’s reputation as a ‘trip movie,’ but these elements are not strange for the sake of being strange—not different for the sake of being different. Unusual as they are, they nevertheless embody a means through which Banno enhances his message and social commentary.
At this point, I would like to start drawing comparisons to other projects Banno worked on, namely Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974). With assistance from director Toshio Masuda and some basic inspiration from Toshio Yasumi’s script for The Last War (1961), Banno metastasized his theme to an apocalyptic scale. In this film, unrestrained pollution results in: giant mutated animals; widening holes in the ozone layer; entire portions of Japan scalded by intense heat; worldwide flooding; a shortage of supplies and—by extension—riots, mass suicide, and a steadily growing possibility of global nuclear war. The world going up in atomic fire is where the film derives the most from Yasumi’s script for The Last War, but it takes the gruesome detail to an extreme that its 1961 counterpart never dreamed of.
Prophecies of Nostradamus ends with a hypothetical horror show: after civilization has blown itself to smithereens, we flash forward to see the future “residents” of Tokyo, itself now a barren desert. Here it is heavily implied that humankind has devolved into “strange creatures”—physically deformed, dwelling in subterranean caverns, gnawing on snakes for nourishment, wrestling with each other over the puniest of meals. And let’s not forget the other highly controversial sequence of the film: the Papua New Guinea sequence. (The setup concerns a massive amount of radiation descending upon the island country.) For this mid-movie section, assistant director Banno was given complete control, taking the cast and crew on-location to film a grisly sequence in which a scientific rescue team encounters giant carnivorous flora, mutated bats, oversized leaches, and savage cannibalistic natives. The local people in the jungle have developed resistance to the radiation, but seemingly at the cost of their humanity.
And it doesn’t stop there. This time, no one, not even children, are spared the morbid consequences brought about by man’s follies. In fact, children are sometimes presented as the ones who suffer the most, even paying with their lives. We see youngsters being supplied with protective masks, as the smog cloaking their city has become thick to the point of posing a safety hazard to their still-developing lungs—another real-life parallel. Ostensibly healthy parents (who are expecting) breathe in polluted air and consume contaminated goods, resulting in infants with abhorrent deformations. Other children ingest contaminated water and develop extraordinary physical and mental abilities…only to die from complications. I have no way of knowing or sure, but these sequences—despite the exaggerated science fiction elements—regarding contaminated environments and their effects on local populaces continually reminded me of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan, three of which had experienced major outbreaks within twenty years of the picture’s release, all of which were spawned by reckless disposal of pollutants.
Jumping eight years into the future, one can sense Banno’s presence in the main credits sequence of Techno Police 21C, an anime he produced in 1982. Our protagonist is commuting to a dense, crime-ridden metropolis; while en route, he drives down a stretch of road bordered on both sides by massive heaps of junk. In true Banno fashion, the protagonist regards the surrounding garbage piles with utter disgust.
Banno shares his Godzilla vs. Hedorah screenwriting credit with Takeshi Kimura—at this point using his pseudonym Kaoru Mabuchi—who might have had some small influence on the director’s recurring scrutiny of authority figures. (I use the word ‘might’ because Banno, in a 2005 interview, confessed to having been dismayed with Kimura’s screenplay for the film and proceeded to rewrite the entire thing himself. In the same interview, he admits Kimura gradually became more enthusiastic with the project, but just how much of the final script is his, I cannot say.) In any event, Kimura, who liked to portray policemen in a vacuous light, must have approved of their representation here. When the smog monster ventures ashore for the first time, the landing is reported to the local police station. And the officer answering the phone foolishly scoffs: “Knock it off! Hedorah is a sea monster!”
Upper-tier authority figures come off just as bad or even worse. The city authorities in the film leap to the assumption that because Hedorah attacked after sunset, he must therefore be a nocturnal creature—only to witness the monster come ashore again on a bright, sunny day. And then there’s the Self Defense Forces, here portrayed as bungling incompetents whose inability to successfully wire their own electrodes sends Godzilla shaking his head in frustrated disbelief before he activates their devices for them.
Having described all that, it’s oddly poetic (though more than likely just coincidence) that Banno would go on to produce a fairly purist adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This animated feature maintains the book’s portrayal of its eponymous wizard as a charlatan quick to send his visitors into peril rather than admit to what he is—and who ends up being whisked away to who-knows-where due to his inability to handle his own hot air balloon.
Police, government officials, and soldiers were not the only groups to be skewered in a Banno production. Another noticeable similarity between Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Prophecies of Nostradamus is a condemnation of counterculture youth. The depiction of young people in the 1971 Godzilla movie is particularly cynical: the twenty-somethings in this film are presented as self-destructive do-nothings who would rather party than take an active role in changing the world. In the wake of Hedorah’s second attack, they arrange for a huge gala atop Japan’s famous volcano, Mt. Fuji. The pretense is a Woodstock-esque movement for a better world but comes across, instead, as a deliberately suicidal last hurrah. These people are aware of the prediction that Hedorah will climb Mt. Fuji, and yet they stage their party in that very locale. They know the government has put limitations on automobile travel (because tailpipe fumes are a source of pollution), and yet they use their vehicles to reach their destination, leaving a convenient trail of exhaust up the mountainside. Not to mention the guy who organized this whole counterproductive soirée knows from experience that Hedorah’s attracted to exhaust fumes, as he nearly became a victim when the monster swallowed up a highway’s worth of cars during a previous attack; and yet, not once does he offer a word of warning to anyone.
After some initial disappointment that more people didn’t show up, the young people on Mt. Fuji construct a huge bonfire (producing a plainly visible source of light as well as atmosphere-wrecking carbon dioxide). And when Hedorah eventually touches down on Mt. Fuji, they pick up torches, foolishly hurl these comically ineffective weapons at the advancing creature, and are quickly slain in a wave of corrosive sludge. Their whole charade accomplished nothing and brought on exactly what they had coming.
Early in this sequence, as the young people are partying, the camera abruptly cuts to a group of ghostly, older men watching from a distance. Just who they are, the film never specifies, and this touches on something else I appreciated about Banno as a director. Instead of spelling out the answer to every tiny detail in the film, he would sometimes simply present a perplexing image and leave the audience to come to their own conclusions. (I, for one, view these specter-like figures as a metaphor of Japan’s older self, saddened but powerless to stop the modern generation from destroying itself.)
This unflattering look at counterculture can be seen again in Prophecies of Nostradamus: large groups of young people, in the face of a global apocalypse, rather than confront the issue, opt for mass suicide.
In wrapping things up, I want to make a few more observations regarding Banno’s place in the tokusatsu genre. Although the director was never given charge of another Godzilla movie, I do feel his influence remains prevalent in kaiju eiga, even to this day. The anti-pollution message has arguably become even more popular since 1971; and the concept of pollution-eating kaiju has occasionally reappeared as well, the monster Dagahra in Kunio Miyoshi’s Rebirth of Mothra II (1997) being one such example. And when I watched Godzilla Resurgence (2016) last year, I felt a much stronger influence of Yoshimitsu Banno than I did of Ishiro Honda. The constantly evolving monster in that film brought back more memories, for me, of Godzilla vs. Hedorah than it did of Godzilla (1954), as did the relentless mockery of authority figures.
And then there’s the response from the audience. I doubt there will ever be a general consensus regarding Godzilla vs. Hedorah, except in that it makes for an unforgettable experience. Fans remain split in terms of whether they enjoy the infamous flying sequence, or the psychedelic imagery, or the regular animated interludes—or, to address a larger issue, the superhero Godzilla phase, the dawn of which this film marked. But the film does leave its viewers with a lasting impression. And it speaks volumes to Banno’s uniqueness as a director that his sole entry in the Godzilla franchise would remain, forty-six years after its release, among the most intensely discussed, debated, critiqued, and analyzed films in the series.General // May 28, 2017
I found out about the death of Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) director Kensho Yamashita about a month and a half after the actual day of his passing (heart failure claimed his life at the age of 72 on August 16, 2016), and the moment I realized he was no longer with us, a small part of me cried out with sorrow and regret. In the previous few years, I’d been harboring, in the most sentimental depths of my heart, a desire to meet Yamashita in person, shake his hand, and let him know how much his Godzilla movie has meant to me over the years.
I will review Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) for the site one of these days, so I’ll save most of my detailed thoughts until then, but Yamashita’s film is, in my sincere opinion, pretty close to the forefront of the most underrated films in the franchise. And more to the point of this article, it was one of my go-to sources of innocuous, feel-good entertainment when I was a kid. I will never forget recording Godzilla’s 40th anniversary film off the SyFy Channel in the early 2000s and subsequently watching and re-watching it to the point where, in hindsight, I’m shocked the VHS tape didn’t wear out.
In spite of its evidently rushed production, the movie continually won me over with its lighthearted atmosphere, memorable characters, sublime musical score, and picturesque cinematography. (The scene where Megumi Odaka and Jun Hashizumi stand before the sunset on Birth Island embodies pretty much all of the qualities that have endured with me since childhood.) And having re-watched Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) twice earlier this year, I can safely say the movie still works its magic on me. How rewarding it is to look back on something from one’s childhood and realize it still holds up on an emotional level.
Kensho Yamashita only directed three films—he primarily worked as an assistant director—and many have described him as, essentially, a gun-for-hire as far as the 1994 Godzilla film was concerned. To an extent, he could be considered the Motoyoshi Oda (director of Godzilla Raids Again) of the Heisei series: a man with some experience hired to quickly shell out a product for the studio. I do feel, however, that Yamashita demonstrated a little more of a personal touch in his monster movie than some have given him credit for. His background in directing in the teen idol movie genre is evident on the screen, with heavy emphasis on the bonding between male and female characters, and how love has the potential to mold and change a person’s outlook. This aspect alone distinguishes the film from most Godzilla movies, in which romance seems more obligatory and inconsequential, more ‘at-arms-length’ than anything else. Teaming up with screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara, as well as reuniting with actors from previous projects of his, Yamashita was given the chance—and took the chance—to go beyond simply pointing a camera at the performers; in an issue of Fangoria magazine, he is quoted saying, “I just tried to express my own spirit the best I could.”
If there is a dominant theme in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla(1994), you could say it’s a twist on Make Love, Not War—with a nice dash of humor thrown in for good measure. One of the final shots stands out as a directorial thumbprint. Godzilla is in the distance, wading out to sea after the final battle; our heroes stand on a boardwalk in the foreground; one couple situates themselves on the right side of the screen; another couple is positioned on the left side; and the single guy of the group—the odd man out—comically stands between them. As film historian David Kalat points out in his book A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series, the two soldiers who have found love are through fighting. Love has allowed them to forget desires of the past (in the case of one character, thirst for vengeance) and move on with what’s more important in their lives. (Meanwhile, the fifth wheel hollers after Godzilla, declaring they’ll battle again someday.)
Whether or not Yamashita’s efforts yielded good results depends on the individual tastes and perceptions of the viewer, but he did leave a signature on his one entry in a popular film franchise. And there is something to be said for that.
Rest In Peace, Kensho Yamashita. And thank you for all the wonderful, feel-good hours your Godzilla movie has given me, and will continue to give me in the years to come.General // September 30, 2016