Japanese actor Kenpachiro Satsuma died earlier today, according to a translated post from Matomedane, from what’s said to be interstitial pneumonia. The 76-year-old actor is best known for portraying various monsters during Godzilla’s Heisei era, including the lead monster himself.
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Satsuma was born May 27, 1947 under the name Yasuaki Maeda. He started acting in the 1960s in bit parts for movies like Incident at Blood Pass. In 1971, he made his debut in the monster movie scene with Godzilla vs. Hedorah, where he played the latter monster. He would then go on to be the suit actor for Gigan in Godzilla vs. Gigan the following year, along with 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon and the tokusatsu series Zone Fighter.
In 1972, Godzilla’s then-actor (and original) Haruo Nakajima retired. Following a number of substitutes for the next two years, Satsuma took over the role with 1984’s The Return of Godzilla. This film was both a direct sequel to the original 1954 movie and a reboot that junked everything from the last 30 years worth of sequels, then known as the Shōwa era. Return was a darker movie on par with the original Godzilla and returned him to an antagonist role rather than a force for good who would protect humans and fight other monsters. Satsuma would continue playing Godzilla from 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante up until 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destroyah, during which he’d regularly pass out while wearing the suit due to alack of oxygen. He highlighted vs. Destroyah as the worst culprit of this, once saying in the late 90s that he “could see the gates of Hell several times!”
Outside of the Godzilla movies, Satsuma continued to take on roles in films like Hong Kil-dong and Japanese Hell. One of the most notorious is the 1985 North Korean kaiju film Pulgasari, based on the lost 1962 film Bulgasari (which is believed to be the first-ever Korean kaiju movie). The new film was directed by South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok, who was kidnapped in 1978 along with his wife Choi Eun-hee by supreme leader Kim Jong Il to make fantasy/propaganda films for North Korea. During production, Kim flew in the Japanese SFX team for the Godzilla films, Satsuma included; the actor (who’d go to play on Pulgasari) and the other members were under the impression they were brought on for a film that was shooting in China. Years later, Satsuma admitted that he preferred Pulgasari to Hollywood’s Godzilla, specifically the 1998 movie from director Roland Emmerich.
Per IMDB, Satsuma’s final roles were in 2001’s Blind Beast vs. Dwarf and 2002’s Kawana Mariko: Sakuragi no amai mizu. Our thoughts go out to his family at this time.
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