Haruo Nakajima—Godzilla. Satoshi Furuya—Ultraman. These are the men inside the suits of the most legendary icons in cinematic history, the “suit actors.” Men of mystery buried deep within their respective flamboyant outer armor, little has been known about them—until now. Invited as guests of honor to Kirk von Hammett’s Fear FestEvil in San Francisco, Nakajima and Furuya shed their skins for us to show a bit of their human side. Still, monstrous reputations lent them, even san suits, enormous presence. These are, after all, the founding fathers of the great tokusatsu tradition, far ahead of its time, even to this day. Would Godzilla and Ultraman finally get it on? And what was I doing there? Facing the greatest monster and superhero of all time, my instinct told me just to fight—in zombie costume.
Zombie: How’d you get into the world of acting?
Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla): I used to be a delivery truck driver for the US army after the war. After I got caught for speeding, I got fired. That’s around when I saw an ad in the paper about acting school, so I decided to apply for it.
Satoshi Furuya (Ultraman): I loved movies ever since I was a little kid. So I always wanted to become an actor. It was always my dream and a goal to accomplish.
Zombie: Have you two worked together in the same movie?
Ultraman: We’ve worked on hundreds of films together. I mean, he was my senpai at Toho, and it was a strict place. We shared the same backstage, but most of the younger actors were only allowed to say “hi” to him, and move on.
Godzilla: I remember him being this tall and skinny guy. He was sort of perfect for gangster roles. Me, I was more like a samurai. Anyway, we were all in the same business, so in that sense, we’re kind of the same.
Zombie: Do you remember the first time seeing your character suit?
Godzilla: To me, it was like any other movie costume. Any role that was given to me, I’d do my best. And depending on the role, I’d be wearing different costumes.
Ultraman: I’d seen the Ultraman costume in the design stage. But when I saw the real thing for the first time, it sort of looked like a Buddhist sculpture to me. The entire suit was made of rubber, so it made me want to to stay physically fit.
Zombie: Before Godzilla or Ultraman, there were no other monsters or superheroes like them. What did you study to get the ideas for the movements of your character? Did you study other films?
Godzilla: I was given a script with suggested action. All I could think about was trying not to screw up. For me, there’s only one shot in acting.
Ultraman: Ultraman was an original character, so there was no action to refer to. He wasn’t like any other superheroes, like Superman. So I talked to the director a lot, and then I used my imagination to think about what kind of action a martian would make. Eventually it became what’s known today.
Zombie: Do you like watching other movies?
Both: Yes, I do.
Godzilla: Sometimes, I just talk about movies all day.
Ultraman: Almost every actor likes movies, otherwise, they can’t do what they do.
Zombie: If you ever had a chance, would you want to come to Hollywood and make movies?
Ultraman: Well, sure! Growing up, I always dreamed about being in the same film as James Dean. When I was in junior high school, I watched a lot of of his films like Rebel without a Cause, and I loved his acting. So it was always my dream to be in a Hollywood film like that.
Godzilla: One time, the people who made King Kong came to Toho. They’ve asked me to come to Hollywood as a suit actor. But Eiji Tsuburaya (special effects director of both the Godzilla and Ultraman series) said I should be focused on the next movie here and turned down their offer immediately. But this meant that the company trusted me a lot, and there was a place for me. Besides, even if I went to Hollywood, I wouldn’t understand English. [laughs] I was actually glad to hear Tsuburaya had my back.
Zombie: When you started, did you ever think your character and its franchise would’ve been loved by fans all over the world for so long?
Godzilla: Godzilla was suppose to end with the very first movie. Then there was another, and another. It kept on coming back for revenge. [laughs] I guess I feel lucky something that was supposed to last only one year turned out to go on for sixty!
Ultraman: I had no clue. Even in the mid-season of the first year, we all thought that was the only season we’d get. But it’s been supported by the fans for forty-six years. We all loved that character, and hold it dearly to our hearts. There are fans of Ultraman who are now in their 40s and 50s. I hope it’ll keep on going forever.
Zombie: Any words for your fans in America?
Ultraman: It was exciting to meet and see the American fans doing shuwatch [with Ultraman motion]. I hope their kids, and their kids, will enjoy Ultraman as well. I really appreciate your support. Thank you!
Godzilla: You know, I’m really looking forward to the Hollywood version of Godzilla coming out this year. I really want to see the new Godzilla––I really want to see what they come up with this time.
“I really want to see the new Godzilla––I really want to see what they come up with this time.”
––Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla
Original suit actor for the lead role of Godzilla and many other monster sci-fi films from the 1950s to 1970s. He is also known to be the first Japanese stuntman to do the fire and wire stunt. Working closely with special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, he starred in the first twelve Godzilla movies and greatly contributed to the development of the franchise.
“I’ve never been interviewed by a zombie before.”
–– Satoshi “Bin” Furuya, the original Ultraman
Best known for the portrayal of the red and silver alien superhero Ultraman in the original 1966 TV series. No stranger to acting outside of costume, he also played a regular role as Special Agent Amagi in the Ultra Seven series. The sequels and spin-offs of Ultraman continue to this day on big and small screen.
About Misaki C. Kido:
The zombie interviewer who has been working in the manga and anime industry since 2007. To see more of her work, visit mckido.com
This article ran in Otaku USA Magazine July 2014 Issue.
@ 2013-2014 Satoshi Furuya All Rights Reserved
@2013-2014 Haruo Nakajima All Rights Reserved
Event Photos by Eric Ignacio