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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kaiju Heroes: Men in Rubber Suits

Haruo Nakajima taking a break between takes.

NEW YORK, November 9 – In Japanese kaiju (怪獣) films, the faces of the most memorable players are never seen on the silver screen. They are the kaiju actors who breathe life into fantastic monsters like Godzilla (ゴジラ) and Gamera (ガメラ). Suffering underneath thick layers of latex rubber, they lumbered around complex miniature cityscapes in order to create movie magic. They are literally where “the rubber meets the road.”

Haruo Nakajima

In addition to some bit roles in Akira Kurosawa’s (黒澤 明) films, Haruo Nakajima has worn the honored mantle of Godzilla in several major Toho movies including the original Godzilla film (along with Katsumi Tezuka), King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Gigan, and others. Nakajima is perhaps one of the most memorable kaiju actors in the history of Japanese cinema credited with over forty films. Beyond the Godzilla franchaise, some of his best roles feature other bizarre monsters like Baran, Gezora, and Gaira.

Working closely with special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya (円谷 英一), Nakajima helped to pioneer a new form of physical acting called suit acting. The broad physical miming gestures used by him came to define the entire genre.

Teruo Aragaki

Despite being uncredited on the original Gamera film, Teruo Aragaki (荒垣輝雄) would continue to portrayed the giant flying bipedal tortoise in three additional sequels. His role as Gamera was physically demanding with elaborate action sequences and intense fighting scenes. In addition to the Showa era Gamera films, Aragaki was also featured in several episodes of the Ultraman television show.

Akira Ohashi

In the more recent Heisei era, Akira Ohashi (大橋明) has several outstanding performances underneath the latex rubber. He played major roles in both Gamera and Godzilla franchises. His most notable role was Gamera in Gamera 2: Attack of Legion. He was also featured in the Godzilla franchise as the three headed space dragon named King Ghidorah (キングギドラ) in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. On the small screen, Ohashi is credited for a couple of seasons of the Kamen Rider television series.

Tsutomu Kitagawa

The current inheritor of the Godzilla title is Tsutomu Kitagawa (喜多川務). Kitagawa has played the role of the giant atomic dinosaur in the last five films including Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla: Final Wars. As a highly trained stuntman, he brings a new energetic physicality to the role. His suit acting has to match the intensity of the new computer generated visuals of the heisei era films.

For more kaiju cinema, check out August Ragone's The Good, The Bad, and Godzilla 続・夕陽の呉爾羅 and Toho Kingdom.

This blog post is a part of the Japanese Film Blogathon 2010.

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