On the spaceship Gamma 3 in the not-to-distant future (in the 1968 sci-fi classic The Green Slime) a quintet of crewmen face a horde of tentacled green monsters. In the center, one man stands tall, clearly in command.
Poised, serene, and ready to kill, he’s played by Robert Dunham, one of Buzzards Bay’s unsung filmmakers, an actor with an astonishing movie career.
Dunham lived in Japan in the mid-twentieth century, where he strode through one of the most celebrated world film genres – Japan’s kaiju movies, that feature giant monsters stomping on the human race.
Today, Dunham lies at rest at the head of Buzzards Bay, beneath a modest headstone in the National Military Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts. With its screening of The Green Slime on November, 11, 2012. the Buzzards Bay Film Festival salutes this actor, director, race car driver and lover of Cape Cod.
Born in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, in 1953 Dunham graduated from Williams College and enlisted in the Marines. For two years he served as an MP in Yokohama. The post-World War II American Occupation was officially over, but thousands of American soldiers were still based there, and the nation was the chief R&R way station for America’s weary Korean War soldiers – and in Japan, American GIs could party like kings.
After an honorable discharge, Dunham returned to the States, but in nine months he was back in Tokyo. There he launched an export business and mastered Japanese.
At the time a new movie star, Godzilla, was strutting the world stage. He had come to life in a 1954 Japanese blockbuster that was released in the United States two years later as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! It had a dubbed English soundtrack and now starred a Caucasian, thanks to spliced-in footage of Raymond Burr, who played an American reporter.
Godzilla forged the kaiju template: a giant monster, grievously harmed by modern civilization, wreaks havoc on mankind. Often these destructive beasts were avenging injury inflicted by a-bomb radiation, in a not so subtle cinematic lesson on the evils that lurk within mankind.
Toho Studios was the home of the kaiju, and Dunham was soon in demand, thanks to his fluent Japanese, open, friendly face, easy athleticism, and an onscreen aura of steady strength. He appeared in some kaiju classics – Mothra (1961), Dogora the Space Monster (1964), and Godzilla vs Megalon (1973), where, as Antonio, emperor of the submarine civilization Seatopia, he unleashes the Seatopian god Megalon on the surface world to protect his people from nuclear bomb tests.
Dunham acted in films by noted directors Ishiro Honda, Jun Fukuda and Kinji Fukasaku. He also appeared in The Last War (1961), Raoul Walsh’s Marines, Let’s Go (1961), A Flight from Ashiya (1964) with Yul Brynner and Richard Widmark, The Face of Another (1966), and ESPY(1974) a band of mind reading supersleuths. In 1966, he wrote, directed and produced his own film, The Time Travelers.
In his spare time Dunahm raced cars for Hino Motors, worked as a stunt driver, and pitched soda pop on Japanese TV. He wrote three satirical novels -- Tokyo Unzipped, The Art of Being Japanese and Alice in Blunderland – that took light hearted looks at the cultural divide between the Japanese and the American tourists, businessmen and soldiers who flooded post-war Japan.
Dunham married three times and was the father of four children. In 1975, after 22 years in Japan, he moved his family back to the United States to Truro, Massachusetts, and subsequently to other Cape Cod towns. He worked as a freelance writer, publishing in Car and Driver, Road and Track and The Saturday Evening Post. For a brief time he owned a fish smokehouse, and for a few years was the Harbor Master for Truro’s Pamet Harbor. In 1998, he directed Samantha, a film based on one of his own short stories.
In 2001, Dunham, 70, passed away in Sarasota, Fl. His daughter, Emiko Jade Dunham Frost, brought him back to New England, for internment at the Bourne cemetery. He now resides in the Buzzards Bay watershed, and we are proud to call him one of our own.