Your new book Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men - The Fantastic
Cinema of Ishiro Honda ... I think it's pretty obvious what it is
about, but could you go into a little more detail anyways?
First of all, thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about my
book, which is the first book ever in English dealing with the life
and genre work of arguably the most-prolific fantasy filmmaker in
history: 21 films over a 25-year period, as well as the first to
analysis his movie-making methods, themes and concepts. There are
also excerpts from essays he wrote as well as interviews with those who
knew and worked with him.
As Ishiro Honda is a director rather underappreciated by Western
film criticism, I imagine there is not too much research material in
English language on him around. So how did you go about your research?
majority of my research came from Japanese sources such as the Toho
Sci-Fi Encylopedia and the books Godzilla and My Life
as well as The Complete (sic) Films of Ishiro Honda.
Getting this source material translated was costly and time-consuming but
ultimately worth it.
your research, what have you found out about Ishiro Honda, the man?
was a very kind and gentle man, somewhat ironic given that he directed
films of violence on a massive scale. He was also eternally grateful
to Toho for giving him the chance to direct films and suffered many disappointments
along the way, both personally and professionally, but with quiet
determination went about his business of making the best films he could.
How easy/difficult was it for you
to find a publisher for your book?
Very difficult as some publishers (such as Titan Press in the UK)
dismissed the project out-of-hand due to the subject matter which they
deemed unworthy of consideration. I contacted approximately two
dozen publishers and submitted some ten proposals to those that were interested,
such as McFarland (which did not consider the book to be
"scholarly" enough), Wesleyan University Press (which held
onto the manuscript for six months before deciding "this is not
something we would be interested in"), Santa Monica Press (which
ended after constant haggling over whether or not to include pictures),
and Midnight Marquee Press (which had the manuscript for three
months before they even knew they had it and did not see eye-to-eye
with me on the time-element needed to publish the book).
In the end I decided to publish it myself with AuthorHouse and
time-and-space limitations prevent me from detailing all the problems
I have had with them!
and when did your fascination with Ishiro Honda start?
When I first saw Godzilla, King of the
Monsters (1956) on
television when I was seven years old (this was in 1960). My
grandmother turned it on for me and I was transfixed; I had a vague idea
of what a "movie" was but this was unlike any movie I had seen up
till then; it didn't seem to be a movie at all but a documentary of
something that had actually happened but no one had told me about!
Incidentally, I was extremely fortunate to see six of Honda's
films during their initial American releases: Battle In Outer
Space (1960), Varan the Unbelievable (1962), King
Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964),
and Mothra (1962).
people often forget: Before striking gold with Godzilla:
King of the Monsters, Ishiro Honda had made films in various
genres for about five years. What can you tell us about those, and to what
extent do you cover them in your book?
Prior to Godzilla, Honda a film about women pearl divers called
The Blue Pearl (1951) and a film about farmers whose crops were
destroyed by floods called The Skin of the South (1952), a film
about whaling called The Man Who Went to Sea (1952), a juvenile
love story called Adolescence II (1953), as well as two war films, Eagle of the Pacific (1953) and
Farewell Rabaul (1954).
I covered these films in greater detail in earlier drafts of the book but
had to scale them back due to space limitations. In total Honda directed
over 40 feature films and assisted directed on at least 40 more.
Unfortunately the vast majority of Honda's non-fantasy films have
never been released on home video, so other than brief synopsis little
is known about them. If I could have one wish granted it would
be to see those films finally getting a DVD release.
For me, Ishiro
Honda's fantasy films seem to fall into two categories, the serious ones
like Godzilla: King of the
Monsters of course or Matango,
and the goofy ones like King
Kong vs Godzilla or Godzilla's
Revenge. Is that a verdict you are at all happy with, and could
you elaborate on this?
I completely agree with that statement. When Honda first started
directing fantasy films the subject matter was very grim, films such as Godzilla,
Half Human, Rodan,
The Mysterians, and The
H-Man are deadly serious without any humor whatsoever.
Gradually the films changed to accommodate a broader audience, but the
real change came with King Kong vs. Godzilla, a comedy which
was Honda's biggest financial success. When the following film Godzilla
vs. The Thing (another serious film considered by many as the best of
the sequels) did not make as much money, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided
that since the mature audiences were tiring of the novelty that his films
should be altered to make them more juvenile for a younger audience with
silly plots and funny monster battles.
Thus we have this amazing transition from serious adult fare to silly
kid films. Needless to say Honda was very upset with this
How would you rate
the importance of special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya for the bulk of
Honda's fantasy work?
He made a tremendous contribution
which Honda always acknowledged. Honda adored Tsuburaya and considered him
as his true mentor and respected him to such an extent that he would let
Tsuburaya get away with certain concepts (such as Godzilla dancing a jig
on Planet X in Monster Zero) that he did not necessarily
Your personal favourite and least
favourite Ishiro Honda films?
Well the original Godzilla has always been my favorite film
while Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster I never
How would you, in a few
words, compare Honda's classic Godzilla: King of the
Monsters to its immediate sequel, Gigantis
the Fire Monster by Motoyoshi Oda?
The first film
was a treatise on man's tampering with atomic power and the self-searching
of a nation decimated by war, whereas Gigantis is simply a
monster-vs-monster movie with no other intended meaning.
Your opinions about the
monster movies by Jun Fukuda, the director who eventually took over the
from Ishiro Honda?
They are very entertaining. Honda always tried to incorporate
a human subtext into his stories and after watching them one inevitably
feels a sense of loss, whereas Fukuda's are simply fun to watch and enjoy.
were relaunched in the 1980's and 90's, respectively. Your thoughts about
the new films, and is there still some of Ishiro Honda's spirit left in
Honda often remarked his dissapointment with the newer films as he felt
that the spirit of integrity and involvement that was so much a
part of the earlier pictures was somehow missing, once commenting that
the younger actors in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991) didn't
seem to be committed to their parts. I thought those made in the
1990s were quite good, particularly Godzilla vs King Ghidorah
(1991), Godzilla vs Mothra (1992) and
MechaGodzilla II (1993). However, Boon Joon-Ho's
brilliant The Host (2006) was a film which embodied everything
Honda stood-for as a director.
Is it true that you have also written a
novelisation of the Bela Lugosi-vehicle The
Devil Bat [Bela Lugosi bio - click
Yes it is based on the 1940 film but with certain embellishments as told
by Johnny Layton (played in the movie by Dave O'Brien). It was
great fun to write and I hope to have it available by the end of May.
If you would ever write a book about
another director, who would it be?
Possibly Nathan Juran or Eugene Lourie.
Your favourite movies
(apart from Ishiro Honda's output)?
Well there's quite a
list but to keep it short: King Kong (1933),
Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), Seven
Samurai (1954), Destination Moon (1950),
The Baron of
Arizona (1950), Reptilicus (1962) and Gorgo (1961).
Incidentally, my favorite non-Honda Godzilla film is Godzilla vs.
... and of course,
films you deplored?
I'll have to pass on that because once I list them sure enough someone
will get upset with me, although I was outraged with Final Wars
(2004) as I saw that as a deliberate parody of a Godzilla-film.
I never saw the American Godzilla (1998).
Your and your book's website,
Facebook, whatever else?
I have two Facebook sites: one is
under Peter Hayes Brothers and the other is under Mushroom Clouds and
Mushroom Men, and my website is
Anything else you are dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
I feel very
fortunate to have published the first American book on Ishiro Honda (it is
also the first book in the history of the genre to be available as an
"e-book"), particularly during his Centennial which for me
turned out to be a delightful coincidence (another nice coincidence as
that the book went "live" on October 20th, the birthday of my
idol, Bela Lugosi). For many years I have seen Honda's films dragged
through the mud and it is a wonderful thing to see them finally getting
their proper credit.