How do I love thee, Godzilla? Let me count the ways…
For a monster-loving kid like me growing up in the ‘70s, giant Japanese monsters represented the pinnacle of entertainment. Those glorious films were just about the only thing worth staying inside for back at a time when kids actually wanted to be outdoors. Of all the notable behemoths to have ever graced the silver screen, there were none I revered more than the “King of Monsters” himself, Godzilla. The moment his iconic roar filled my living room I’d be transfixed, especially if he was up against my second favorite kaiju, King Ghidorah (sorry, Gamera, but you were a distant third). Back then it never occurred to me that I was cheering on a guy in a costume as I’d fully embraced the idea of giant monsters roaming the earth and Japan just happening to be the only ones “lucky” enough to see them. Adolescence ushered in the grim reality about “men in rubber suits” and it wouldn’t be until years later that I’d gain a true appreciation for them. The reality is, these folks gave rubber-suited monsters an edge in the personality department that many of the stop-motion ones lacked. This was especially true for those played by the quintessential suit actor himself, Harou Nakajima. Nakajima has the distinction of playing the original Rodan, one of the Gargantuas (which I did a retro piece on last year), and Godzilla from 1954-1972 among others. Needless to say, when I learned that the eighty-eight-year-old legend would be attending Days of the Dead’s 2017 Indianapolis show, I knew I had to be there!
I’d already had the pleasure of meeting Nakajima back in 2008 here in Chicago. He was being honored at G-FEST XV and I remember standing in line with my two young sons, Alex and Luke, to see him.
At the time, poor Luke was way too young to remember the experience but, in truth, I didn’t tell him who he was standing with either for fear of ruining Godzilla for him. I laugh thinking about it now but this daddy was way more concerned with preserving his kid’s belief in Godzilla than he ever was in Santa Claus! Now that both of my boys are of age, and still Godzilla fans, Days of the Dead would offer a second chance…at least for the now thirteen-year-old, Luke, as eighteen-year-old Alex would have to stay green with Godzilla envy back at his Air Force base in North Dakota.
Days of the Dead also offered a professional photo op with Nakajima which I took full advantage of; packing along a big Gojira model specifically for it. I also brought a much smaller X-Plus Godzilla 1964 figure for the signing photo as Godzilla vs Mothra (1964) had always been my favorite movie growing up with Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (also in ’64) a close second.
We found Nakajima’s signing area in the first vendor room. Sitting at the booth to the left of him was yet another Godzilla, Tsutomu Kitagawa who wore the suit during the Millennium series (1999-2004). So, just to put things into perspective, my son and I both got to see the Godzillas we grew up with, sitting right next to each other! I noticed one of the organizers of G-FEST, Tim Bean, assisting Nakajima which made me feel better as it meant he was being looked after by someone who truly appreciated his importance in film history and legitimately cared about him.
After taking a good look at the frail Nakajima, I was certain I’d made the right decision in coming here. Traveling from Japan to Chicago would take its toll on anyone let alone a man nearing his nineties. Having an opportunity to see him again was a true gift and one I’ll always be grateful to Days of the Dead for providing me. I had a small poster of Gojira (1954) which I had its lead actor, Akira Takarada, sign at G-FEST XXIII five years ago. Once blessed by Nakajima, it would have the classic film’s main antagonist and protagonist’s signature and be ready for a permanent frame. I felt a sense of sadness as I watched his daughter gently guide his hand while Bean held the poster in place. Although the fan in me would have liked to have brought a box full of things to have signed, I was glad I only brought one. I’d already felt guilty enough putting him through this!
After meeting with Nakajima, we moved over to Tsutomu Kitagawa. He was very spry and friendly and even offered fans some of his own original artwork which I must say was pretty incredible!
A couple of Christmas’ ago, the other Dave bought me a framed sketch of the Millennial Godzilla from Basil Gogos. Unfortunately, the frame shattered on its way from Rhode Island so I carefully removed the drawing and rolled it up for safe keeping. I’d forgotten all about it until a week before this event when I was digging through poster tubes in search of the Gojira print. It was almost as if it had been waiting for this moment all along.
Tsutomu took one look at it and lit up. He had a big smile and patted me on the shoulder enthusiastically. Looking back, I’m thinking he probably thought I was the artist and, being one himself, appreciated “my” skills. If only!
With just thirty minutes before our scheduled professional photo op with Nakajima, Jason headed over to see a film screening (The Night of the Virgin and covered in our last post) while Luke and I took off to change our shirts and grab the larger Godzilla at our hotel across the street. Unfortunately, we were halted by a force of nature akin to Godzilla himself. To say it was raining outside would be a gross understatement as the word deluge seemed much more appropriate! We had two choices: face the elements and look like drowned rats in our photo op, or just stay where we were and get another photo with him (albeit a much better quality one) wearing the same clothes and holding the smaller Godzilla toy. Actually it wasn’t much of a choice at all – Luke and I both looked at each other before sitting down in the lobby.
When it was time to get in line, I grabbed myself a vanilla bean Frappuccino from the Wyndham’s Starbucks and headed over with Luke. The volunteer crew member handling the area redefined the word obnoxious but it did seem a lot more organized than the Alice Cooper line from the Chicago show last November. At first Luke seemed a bit overwhelmed but I explained that once the line starts moving it’s a fast process and that would definitely be the case here.
Afterwards we returned to the vendor’s area and looked around before picking up our photo which was ready on time. By then it stopped raining and I brought Luke back to the hotel and fed him some dinner. Jason texted me as soon as his movie was over and I rejoined him at the event. We did more shopping before calling it a night early. After all, tomorrow there was so much more to do.
Coming Up…Days of the Dead’s “Dawn of the Dead” panel!