Original Godzilla returns to Yokosuka base after over 50 years to watch new blockbuster film
Story and photos by Greg Mitchell, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs
Service members, civilians, family members and guests received a rare treat at the Benny Decker Theater with a meet and greet session featuring Japanese Kaiju (monster) legendary actor and original Godzilla himself, Haruo Nakajima, as a part of a Morale and Welfare Recreation (MWR) sponsored meet and great in conjunction with the viewing of the latest summer blockbuster from Legendary Pictures, Godzilla, May 17. Director Gareth Edwards’ film, with an all-star cast consisting of stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston, marks the 60th anniversary of the first arrival of the beast. Box office reports said the film generated $93.2 million domestic gross opening weekend, marking the biggest opening for the month of May, ever.
After being introduced by Edward Holland, captain of Monster Attack Team Productions, the coordinators of the event, Nakajima walked out on stage and mimicked one of his infamous poses as the ‘King of the Monsters,’ Godzilla (Known as Gojira in Japan). This was Nakajima’s first visit to Yokosuka base since he served in the Japan Imperial Army on board the base more than 50 years ago. Nakajima took the crowd on a historical journey back to the days of his youth well before his time acting. He enlisted in the Japanese Imperial Army at the age of 14 and began working at a machine factory on board Fleet Activities Yokosuka when it was named Yokosuka Naval Shipyard (Kaigun Kosho) under the Japanese Imperial Fleet. Nakajima recalled memories such as pilots’ stories of dogfights and a shop accident where personnel experimented with placing two engines inside a small plane model, causing a dangerous explosion. “I remember back then that we had really hard training,” said Nakajima. “I worked at drydock 6 and there was a Japanese battleship in the Yamato-class named Shinano, which was changed to an aircraft carrier during World War II and I remember that I used to work on that ship.” Upon the completion of his presentation, Nakajima accepted an honorary plaque from the Monster Attack Team, in recognition of his contribution to film and television, mainly for portraying the character Godzilla. Prizes were then handed out to some in the crowd. May 17th also happened to be Armed Forces Day, and Nakajima had a message for all the armed forces serving forward deployed in Japan. “Aye-aye Sir!” said Nakajima as he saluted the crowd. “Congratulations to everyone and thank you for having me here on this honorable day. Thank you all for your service.” Birth of ‘an icon’ The historical significance of the character of Godzilla dates back to the Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which signaled the end of World War II, and to the March 1, 1954 Lucky Dragon 5 (Daigo Fukuryū Maru) Japanese fishing boat incident, which was exposed and contaminated by nuclear fallout from the United States’ Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll near the Marshall Islands. Godzilla was viewed as a metaphor for the death and destruction which followed the use of nuclear weapons. The character was perceived to be a form of prehistoric sea creature violent in nature, awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation. Created out of emergency sake due to a previous project not falling through, Toho studio’s production team worked from the ground up on what was then known as also known as Kaihatsu Keikaku G (“Development Plan G”). The “G” of the title stood for “Giant”. Having budget and time restrictions, director Ishiro Honda opted to use a man in a suit instead of using the then industry preferred and tedious stop-motion animation special effects method used in American films like King Kong (1933) and The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms (1953). “The title of the movie was classified in the company and I was told that I was going to be in a movie called ‘G’,” said Nakajima. “I was casted as a suit actor before the suit was actually given the name, ‘Godzilla’. Even the director, (Ishiro) Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya, who did the special effects, did not know the name either.” Art director Akira Watanabe combined extinct dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus and Stegosaurus, to living a living species, the alligator to come up with Godzilla’s look. Even though in comic books, cartoons and movie posters Godzilla is portrayed as green in color, the costumes used in the films were usually charcoal grey with bone-white colored dorsal fins. Weighing over 200 pounds, the suit was dangerous for Nakajima to wear. It relied on an installed car battery for power, which also made it a fire hazard. It had very little ventilation and restricted his movement to approximately 30 feet before he was in need of rest. Even though later models were improved and made more comfortable for him, Nakajima still had to risk drowning in flooded sets, near-suffocation and electrocution, survive staged avalanches, falling from great heights, and severe burns from explosions. As a black belt in Karate, Nakajima relied on his expertise to help choreograph battle sequences. “When I first played Godzilla, as you may have seen in that first movie, Godzilla itself was melted in Tokyo Bay and I thought, ‘Oh, my role is finished,’” said Nakajima. “I thought that I would never play Godzilla again but, after that, the screen writers started a new Godzilla named Return of Godzilla/Godzilla Raids Again (1955). I was surprised I was able to play him again. Later after that, I was in Rodan (1956), and so my kaiju egon acting career began. I never expected it (the franchise) to continue on like this.” Completed in roughly three months and only eight months after the Bikini Atoll incident, Japanese film critics widely viewed it as merely being a b-rated film. But it sold more than 9 million tickets upon its release in 1954, and remains the second most viewed Godzilla film in the country behind King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). As time went on, Godzilla was eventually seen as one of the greatest Japanese films ever created. And so, an icon known worldwide began its birth. As the series further developed, Godzilla was portrayed as a hero to humanity and then in some cases, reverted back to his evil destructive demeanor. Then there were times where the creature became the lesser of two threats, playing the defender of the earth by accident, yet, still remaining a threat to all. The ‘King of Suits’ legend is pleased Upon completion of the new film, Nakajima said that he enjoyed the film very much. He proceeded to the theater lobby area to greet fans for photos and autographs before proceeding on a tour of base wide facilities. He stopped at different ships piers and even had the opportunity to see the crane ‘Gojira’ at his previous workplace on drydock no. 6. During the tour,Nakajima, who donned the suit of the monster in 12 films, most of all actors, was asked if he had any favorites out of any of his performances. “Godzilla vs. King Kong (1963) and War of the Gargantuas (1966) was another one,” said Nakajima. “But of course, my favorite has to be Godzilla (1954).” For those who were in attendance, to sit in the theater to see the new film and have the honor to watch it with the original Godzilla present was an experience that cannot be repeated. I really can’t put in words how awesome this moment is,” said Jeremy Hamilton, an Operations Specialist 2nd class petty officer aboard USS Stethem (DDG 63). “I am just blessed to be able to be a part of this. I feel sorry for my twin brother because he’s probably crying right now in Afghanistan. I wished he were here so I will get something for him. I’ll never forget; my dad had my twin brother and myself sit down in front of the TV screen back when we were in 3rd grade and had us watching Godzilla Marathon and ever since then we’ve been hooked. I had no idea, no idea I would come to Japan and see this guy. Like, this has to be one of the best moments in my life.” For information and inquiries on the MONSTER ATTACK TEAM, visit their website at: http://www.monsterattackteam.com/ and on their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/MATfightmonsters