CATEGORY: WORDS: Joshua Kelhoffer

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Eiji Tsuburaya served as the Special Effects Director on 1954′s Godzilla, also known as Gojira. Initially, Tsuburaya wanted to follow in the footsteps of Willis O’ Brien’s work on King Kong, by using stop motion animation to bring Godzilla to life. The concept, as well constraints in both time and in the budget, would prove that method to be impractical. Thus, the technique that would later be nicknamed “suitimation,” the process of using a man in suit and a miniature set, was adopted.

Artists all over Japan were commissioned to send in their designs. The most noteworthy of these designs was a creature, described by Godzilla historian Ed Godziszewski in his documentary The Making of the Godzilla Suit as “simian in nature with a head like a mushroom cloud.”  Eventually, combining traits of a tyrannosaurus rex, a stegosaurus, and an iguanodon, the “King of the Monsters”  would find its shape.

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The form of the initial monster suit was created using thin wires and bamboo wrapped in chicken wire, which would be covered in fabric. Liquified latex was applied to the costume to complete Godzilla’s skin. It was 6.5 feet tall and charcoal grey. A stunt actor, Haruo Nakajimi, was hired to play Japan’s most famous titan of terror.

“I was a contract player at Toho. Mr. Honda, the director of GODZILLA knew from other films I acted in that I was very strong, and could endure such physical stress.” – Haruo Nakajimi, in an interview with Films In Review.

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Nakajimi would enter and exit the suit through a slit that used a series of hooks (and sometimes wires) so it could be snapped shut. His head would be leveled with Godzilla’s neck, where tiny holes were made so that Nakajimi could see and breath, though not always so well. The suit was designed to fit snugly with the actor inside. It was heavy, and the materials used the make it, namely the latex, complicated the actors ability to move in the costume.

“The Godzilla suit weighed over 200 pounds. It was very difficult to move around in the costume in the beginning. The first time I wore the suit, I had no experience for this type of acting. I had to try very hard.” -Nakajimi

The initial suit was essentially scrapped as a full body costume. It was then cut in half, with suspenders added so that an actor could conveniently wear it for shots when the monster’s foot would trample onto miniatures.

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A second full body suit was then created, using urethane foam, bamboo, cotton, and, for the skin, liquid plastic. It was better, by not by much. Godzilla’s tail movements were created using an overhead wire, while its facial movements were wire controlled. Despite the many bruises and cuts he endured, Nakajimi’s blood, sweat, and tears would pay off. Godzilla became a cult phenomenon, with the actor playing Godzilla in a total of 12 films, retiring in 1972 with Godzilla Vs. Gigan.

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