The Dan Schneider Interview 32: Ed Godziszewski (first posted 2/8/12)



DS: Two of the DSIs this year will be with noted Godzilla film experts Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle; perhaps the two best known men in their ‘micro-field’: i.e.- sci fi, horror, monster, Japanese, kaiju, and specifically Godzilla films. The basic formats of these two interviews will be the same, with minor deviations on specifics of the two men’s lives. My hope is to document how two grown men came to love a much derided genre (as do I and many others) and why they have stuck with it long past puberty. Also, I have asked both men to not share their answers with each other, so that the two of them might learn something of the other’s love and interest in this subject matter that they may not have known before. Both men are frequent collaborators on projects, including DVD commentaries and bonus features, but both might also be considered rivals. Ryfle’s interview will run in the near future. This interview will focus on Ed Godziszewski, the founder of Japanese Giants, a website I have gone to in the past for specific information on technical and anecdotal information on kaiju films. The website is the offspring of a magazine founded in 1974 and is a wealth of information. Before I go on, for those readers who may never have seen a Godzilla film, lest any of the lesser lights of Japanese monsterdom, please give a brief introduction to who you are, what you do, and why you do it.


EG: Born and raised in Chicago, I grew up during the late 50’s and early 60’s, which was probably the ideal time for someone with a love for science fiction and films of imagination. I don’t mean to imply that growing up in another era means you can’t appreciate these films, but it was a much more innocent era. There were no mega-budget sfx films, no studio saturation marketing campaigns, no video releases. Films were modest of budget, most came and went within the span of a week or two, and marketing was localized and had a flavor of carnival salesmanship. They were mini-events, so they all seemed special…if you missed one, your only hope to see them again would be a possible tv showing in a few years. Imagination had to substitute for technology most of the time, so a deluge of hyper-realism never really jaded my generation. It makes it much easier to watch films of that era on their own terms, without falling back on the easy out of laughing at or dismissing them because they aren’t up to today’s “standards”. And out of all the films of this era, the ones that consistently appealed to me most were those from Japan. As a kid, it didn’t occur to me that I liked Japanese films better than others and I never thought about why this was so, it was just how it turned out. Looking back now, I can see it was a combination of their pure imagination, simple yet solid storytelling, and their miniature techniques. But unlike most kids from my era, I remained interested in these films as I grew older. And as an adult, once I discovered that these films were still alive and well in Japan, I had an opportunity to learn how they were made and by whom. That really fascinated me, and it gave me the urge to do research and start to write about what I had learned. But at the same time, for me, film is just a hobby, an outside interest, although one which I really enjoy.


DS: Are you a glorified ‘fanboy’ or a failed filmmaker? I.e.- did you dream of directing the Godzillas, Frankensteins, UFO films of yore, but simply could not make it, or did you start this all as an avocation, and let it blossom? Do you have a day job, or does Godzillabilia pay the bills? How did you start Japanese Giants? The website seems to be a couple years out of date. Does this mean Godzilla fans and interest are on the wane?


EG: I certainly don’t think of myself as a filmmaker even though I did get to work on one. I’ve always loved the movies, but I have always thought of them as entertainment rather than an avocation. From the first time my parents took me to see a movie as a little kid…I remember well that it was The Shaggy Dog…I was hooked. I felt transported away into a different world for 90 minutes (yes, films were ‘only’ 90 minutes in those days). This was something way better than watching tv at home--where the lights were always on, you could talk to whoever is in the room, and you could just get up and walk away or do something else at any time. The movies were immersive, and most of the films to which I was exposed were full of imagination. I really couldn’t wait to go again and again. But while enjoyable, I never gave much thought to making films. I think my place is in the audience. I am grateful that I got the chance to participate in creating Bringing Godzilla Down to Size and would like to do it again some day, but I hardly think of it as a potential source of employment.

  I also hope that I am not a glorified fanboy either. To me, being a fanboy implies an unhealthy obsession, and there’s no glory in that. I am a fan of films, I enjoy them, and I like to write about them and share my ideas. It’s one outlet for my energies. But at the same time, there’s a lot more to life than just film. I try to maintain a balance between film, which is one of my hobbies, and everything else, whether it be work, my family, or my other interests. Godzilla definitely does not pay the bills—if anything, he just creates them. My regular job is running a company that sells gas sensors that are manufactured by our parent company in Japan. Luckily, that means that I get to travel to Japan for business, which allows me to keep in touch with my friends in Japan and to devote free time there to my film hobby.

  Before graduating college in 1975, I really felt that I was the only one around who was interested in Japanese science fiction films. I think it’s a common feeling for those of us from that era…connecting with other like-minded people was not something easy to do back then. Many of us felt isolated, and there weren’t any publications I was aware of that covered this subject. Even something like Famous Monsters was not all that accessible—I probably saw one issue a year if I was lucky. But fortunately I did see Famous Monsters #114, their all-Japanese monster issue, and when it came out, a lot changed. I saw an address in it for a magazine called Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, so I wrote in and ordered whatever issues I could. At last, a magazine that covered my favorite films! It seemed too good to be true. It was through JFFJ and editor Greg Shoemaker that I was able to get in touch with other people who liked these films, some of whom lived in Chicago (where I live). As a result, I could make some new friends who shared my passion. One of them was Mark Rainey, who originated Japanese Giants magazine. Mark had already passed the magazine along to Brad Boyle, and by the time I had contacted Brad, he was also looking for someone to pass the magazine on to. JFFJ inspired me, making me think it would be fun to do a magazine. I didn’t have any illusions that I could do anything near as good as what Greg was doing with JFFJ since I had no sources in Japan at that time, nor did I have any graphic arts skills. But I thought it would be fun to do, so I took over the editorship. Like with most fan magazines, it was published on a highly irregular basis. Over time I was able to build my research capabilities and get in contact with a lot of valuable contributors, so the magazine evolved into what you see today. My aim was to offer a lot of unique content and rare photos, but to my disappointment that has never translated into sales, leaving me with a lot of unsold issues. Since JG has generated so much red ink for my personal finances, I have reluctantly put further issues on indefinite hold. Sadly, it seems as if fans in general are way more interested in vinyl toys than in learning about the actual films themselves. I’ve joked with friends that if I printed the magazine on vinyl rather than paper, it might sell better.


DS: Let me ask you of something I see as deleterious to both the appreciation of film, and the purveying of good criticism about it, and that’s what I call critical cribbing.’ It happens especially online, but started long before that, in print. This is when claims- pro or con- about something, or serious errors, are propounded again and again. If a Kenneth Turan or Roger Ebert said A, B, or C about Film X, then the same ideas, with the slightest variations, are propounded on hundreds of blogs and newspapers. I think about the misinformation in films, such as when I watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup; and the same nonsense about the characters having names cropped up, but there were none in the film. A similar thing re: the characters being called by letters occurred in Last Year In Marienbad; but that, too, was false. But, nowhere does this critical cribbing have a more deleterious effect than in what are considered B films- be they Japanese monsters, Roger Corman or Ray Harryhausen films, the Hammer or Universal horror films, 1950s monster and UFO films, or the later foreign horror films of someone like Paul Naschy. Yes, there are the MST3K worthy dogs, and names like Ed Wood, Coleman Francis, and others, are justifiably mocked. On the other hand, some very good and even films that could be labeled great, are overlooked. The original Gojira/Godzilla film is a good example. What happens is that one or two influential critics declaim A or B is bad, and no one ever really takes a closer look again. I’m not claiming that that, say The Creature From The Black Lagoon nor Forbidden Planet are films in a league with the best of Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, nor Stanley Kubrick, but they are far better than generally credited. To what degree do you think the Godzilla films have been unfairly critically damned?


EG: It sounds like you are addressing two separate issues—misinformation as far as factual matters, and misrepresentation as far as quality and reputation. I strongly believe that Japanese sf films in general suffer from both of these. In the case of factual misinformation, it’s not completely unexpected.  A very basic reason is that these are films made in Japan and almost all of the original sources of production information are in Japanese. A lot of critics and writers don’t know much about the subject or don’t even care to find out what they need to know. That leads to supposition and a lot of stuff being made up. The language itself is very difficult for Westerners to comprehend, and an added layer of complexity comes from the fact that the written form of the language is kanji, which is comprised of almost 2,000 pictographs that have different meanings in different combinations. Translation itself provides one source misinformation. Often times, the translator has but a minimal grasp of one language that leads to error. In addition, film terminology is quite technical, so often even an excellent translator will struggle to get things right. And translation itself is hardly an exact science. In addition to translation issues, there is also the fact that, as I have discovered repeatedly in my research, there are many contradictory stories out there. Production people will offer conflicting accounts of events, and there are even examples of the same person telling two (or more) different versions of the same story. It isn’t all that surprising when you consider that most of the research and interviews on the classic films of the 50s and 60s were not conducted until the 80s and onward. People are trying to recall events that happened 20…30…40…even 50 years ago, events that may not have even been particularly special to them at the time, so you shouldn’t be surprised that they can’t always get it right. Time dulls the memory, or sometimes people try to embellish their roles. And unfortunately some of the people with the real answers passed away before they could be heard. These kinds of problems are something you just have to accept. But what bothers me much more is the misinformation which propagates when people speculate about certain things without making it clear that it is just speculation, and later they or others start treating this speculation as fact. That happens rather frequently.

  As far as critical damnation, there’s plenty of prejudice and preconceptions among critics as well as the general public when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, never mind the Japanese kind. On a basic level, this genre is dismissed by some as merely kid stuff. It takes a rather remarkable effort for science fiction to be taken seriously, despite the fact that many such films are truly ambitious thematically and in presentation. Then amplify the situation with the prejudice against foreign films, and particularly Japanese films, which are automatically regarded as cheap and badly dubbed. It is patently unfair to judge these films harshly when a film has been radically changed from its original form, and poor dubbing is far more a reflection on the domestic releasing company than the original filmmakers. Look no further than the original Godzilla for the most obvious example of this. Granted, the first Godzilla was not as terribly handled as some the films that followed it, but as good as the US version may be, it still does not deliver the full impact of the original version. Gigantis (aka Godzilla Raids Again) was so drastically changed, with nonsensical footage inserted and thoroughly laughable dubbing, that it can hardly be considered to be the same film. And King Kong vs Godzilla had its musical score ripped out and its core satirical story gutted, replaced by generic library music and bridge scenes of dumbed down ‘news’ reports played by second class American actors. Such films are doomed to not getting a fair shake from critics from the start, and especially the early films were often victim of the prevailing attitude that something foreign, especially Japanese, was inherently inferior to good old American product. Japanese special effects were sometimes lambasted because ‘you can see the wires’, yet the wires in a classic like George Pal’s War of the Worlds were 10 times more obvious (almost like cables), yet hardly a critical eyebrow was raised. Barely a word of praise was bestowed on solid films like Rodan (a monster film with a nice horror undertone), the charming fantasy of Mothra, the wonderfully acted Atragon. In recent years, the old prejudices have faded somewhat, instead being replaced by a more subtle mocking via faint praise and faux nostalgia. Read the reviews of the original Japanese Godzilla from Rialto’s release here in 2004 for a case study. And the good films suffer guilt by association when truly bad films like Godzilla Final Wars, which deserve derision, deliver in spades all the faults that Japanese films are alleged to have. It is rare indeed that these films are judged on their own terms.


DS: What, to you, constitutes a good screenplay? And, I agree with John Huston, whom I believe is the original source for this paraphrase: that, ‘all good films start with the script.’ Give me an example of a good and bad screenplay in Godzilla films, or other B sci fi films, and explain why you think the better film is superior. Also, compare the critical reactions of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ films- screenplay wise.’ To what extent do you think major critics may have undercut the better film with generalizations and, basically, a phoned in review that made no distinction between it and the film you feel has a bad screenplay?


EG: I would wholeheartedly agree with John Huston’s comment, and I think it gets to the heart of why I prefer the older films in general—the stories are just so much better than most of what passes for a screenplay since the late 60s. Up until this time, the screenplays may have varied in ambition and scope, but the writers concentrated on telling simple, competent stories in a straight-forward manner, populating them with characters to which most any audience member could relate in some way. Regardless of their professions, they were still ordinary people, and they reacted to all these extraordinary situations just as you would expect a real person would act. The writers and the directors treated the situation seriously, however incredible the premise. I believe that it is this respect for the audience that makes the stories and direction for these films hold up over the decades while films such as those made in the 90s lose their appeal over time. 

  It’s easy to point to the original Godzilla as a good screenplay—it has a documentary tone that lends it believability, it has a serious subtext in its anti-nuclear theme, and it has a simple yet realistic triangle of interpersonal relationships on which the fate of the world depends. It has something important to say, and it does so within the context of a story that entertains. I believe that its success lies in director Honda’s mantra that no matter how unbelievable the situation may be, the staff had to take it seriously and try to portray how people would really act if confronted with such things. That respect for the audience would win them over, and indeed it does. The story’s high point, the confrontation in Serizawa’s lab, works dramatically because the audience is led to understand these people and believe that this dialogue is just what they would say. While the story may be simplified compared to the original version, the US version of this film still delivers a competent script, and director Terry Moore and star Raymond Burr maintain the documentary-like tone of Honda’s original. While the US version of Godzilla is often derided for its Americanization, without it, this film would likely never have been shown in this country and opened the door for so many more Japanese films to be seen here. Only at the 50th anniversary, when the original film made the rounds in a subtitled version, did anyone grant this movie any real respect, and even still there was still plenty of faint or begrudging praise sent its way.

  At the opposite end of the spectrum is Godzilla Final Wars. The director’s attitude from the start was that Godzilla is not to be taken seriously, it’s all a big joke, that there never had even been a good Godzilla film before his, it’s supposed to be “bad”. The script is a mess, filled with nonsensical action pieces that do not advance the story, and containing some of the most lazy, terrible storytelling you can imagine. A truly egregious example: towards the end of the film, the Earth president and several prisoners who disappeared throughout the film suddenly reappear, a true WTF moment. How? The president explains, “Somehow we escaped,”…one of several disingenuous ways the writers and director disrespect the audience. I get aggravated just thinking about it…there are so many examples of how poor the script is that I could go on for pages. And, oh, by the way, nearly all of Godzilla’s battles are written in the ‘one blow and its over’ manner, which is about as unexciting and disappointing as can be for an audience that has come to see the character in his 50th anniversary film. The story seems conceived from the viewpoint that Godzilla films are just silly trash and unworthy of clever or interesting writing. Well, the script delivers exactly what was promised in that way, but I find it hard to congratulate them for so perfectly achieving their goal when the intended goal is to be crap.


DS: I believe that all stories that succeed, are good, excellent, great, etc., start with character development. Get good characters, and the narrative writes itself. Start with simply a plot, and no ability to construct character, and you have a shallow mess. Also, character is built not on melodramatic high points, but in the dales of the ‘little moment’- what a character observes or is influence by. Is this anathema to most sci fi and monster films? Thoughts?


EG: Character development is not necessarily anathema to scifi and monster films. The problem that more often happens in this genre is that the monster or scifi concept becomes the driving force in creating the film, and characters are but a secondary consideration. Stories often get written backwards, where characters are invented and shoehorned into a story to serve its fantastic premise (giant monster, alien invasion, etc), rather than to carry the audience into and through the world where this premise is to take place. In the case of Japanese sf films, Battle In Outer Space is a good example of this problem…the alien invasion seems to have come first and foremost, with the human characters added as a mere afterthought. No human character serves as an anchor—the film would be no different if any character had been removed or replaced with a completely different person.


DS: What of the subjective axis of like and dislike of something versus the more objective good and bad? After all, one cannot objectively discuss likes, but one can debate the differences between a bad film and good film, tv show, or book. Thoughts?


EG: Separating good/bad from like/dislike is an age-old problem when debating film, and the distinction between the two is often lost on people during such discussions. A great example is when fans talk about Godzilla vs Megalon or Godzilla Final Wars, two of the worst made movies in the series. A lot of people love those films, and all they can talk about is why they are so good. I totally get how people can like them so much, but to argue that they are good films is ridiculous.

  That being said, there is every bit as much of a subjective aspect to good and bad. Much has to do with what one considers as the criteria for judging good and bad, and the relative weight assigned to each factor. In film, critic A attaches more weight to story and message, critic B may be more concerned with entertainment and cinematography, critic C may care less about the musical score, etc. This will certainly color their judgment as to what is considered to be good or bad, and who is to say that one is more or less right than the other. What is most important to me is that whatever one’s judgment, good or bad, like or dislike, is that you can articulate why you reach that conclusion. If all one can say is that they liked/disliked something because it was ‘awesome’/‘sucks’, it’s hard to have respect for their judgment. But that’s what passes for criticism in some circles these days.


DS: Give me an example of a film, Godzilla or otherwise, you think is bad, but find a guilty pleasure. Explain why you like the bad film. Give me an example of a good film that simply rubs you the wrong way. Why? Explain why you dislike the good film.


EG: In the realm of Godzilla, I would cite Godzilla vs Gigan as a guilty pleasure. In terms of quality, I have to admit that it really is pretty bad on many counts. The pace of the story is all wrong, with most of the first 45 minutes spent on tedious human drama, then switching to all monster battles so that the human drama is virtually forgotten. The writing is cliched and flat, the casting and performances are barely above tv level. It cheats the audience by relying heavily on stock footage for a good portion of the destruction and battle scenes—essentially giving you reruns for the parts that the audience has the most interest in seeing. Many of the effects are done sloppily or on the cheap because of the paltry budget, and the best efforts of the staff can’t cover them up. Godzilla’s mightiest foe, King Ghidorah, is reduced to but a shadow of his visual glory as they squeeze one last film out of a suit that is in terribly shabby condition. The monster action sometimes descends to silliness, and Godzilla even talks via word balloons. Ugh. So what’s to like? Mixed in with all the dreck are some really impressive things. First off, I really like the Gigan design—it looks powerful and dynamic. It has cyborg features, but they are integrated nicely into the body without going over the top so as to look ridiculous. And while there are any number of special effects clunkers in the film, buried inside are a number of incredible set pieces. The oil field battle is a pyrotechnic tour-de-force. Effects director Nakano uses widescreen composition to great effect in some of the battles, creating images that really stand out compared to his other work. In particular, I have to give Nakano and suit actor Haruo Nakajima a lot of credit for creating some exciting and realistic battle tactics, each filmed at high-speed which gives them the extra weight that makes them believable. It’s easy to overlook these scenes since they are buried amongst a lot of sloppy effects work and silly battle tactics, but they are there. When they hit the mark, it’s a home run. I also like the scene where Godzilla is lured into the alien trap and is gunned down by the lasers in Godzilla Tower…coupled with Ifukube’s stock musical cues, it really looks like Godzilla may be down for the count. Dramatically it works for me.

  On the other hand, I would point to something like Clockwork Orange as a ‘good’ film that I cannot stand. Technically, it is very well made, good production values, excellent acting. But I despise what it has to say and what it seems to stand for. Because a violent, sadistic rapist undergoes a form of brainwashing to ‘cure’ him, the audience is supposed to ultimately sympathize with him.  Intentional or not, it comes across like such extreme violence is glorified, which to me is a repulsive approach. Likewise (sorry Mr Kubrick), I don’t much care for 2001 A Space Odyssey. Technically, you will not see a better looking film. But it also strikes me as utterly pretentious to make a film with no real plot and an intentionally ambiguous ending which seems to rest on the conceit that a vague narrative automatically makes it profound.


DS: Let me ask a cultural question, re: the way films are distributed nowadays. When I was a child, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, film prints were often kept by movie houses years after they were released. Individual films often ran for a year or more on screens- first run and then cheap seats theaters. As example, I saw a number of films from the late 1950s and early 1960s in theaters (Ray Harryhausen and Hammer films, mostly) and these stuck with me because they were in color (my family did not get a color television until the late 1980s). Theaters also ran, in New York and other large cities for 24 hours. From 8 or 9 am till noon (especially in summer) kids films would be shown. From noon till 11 pm or midnight the feature films would play, from midnight till 5 or 6 am porno films would play, and from 5 or 6 till 8 or 9 am old B films would play. My pals and I would often sneak in to theaters (and I believe every child should experience that joy) or we would do some minor tasks or errands for the theater owners to get access to a free showing. To me, theaters were a place where one could see just about every sort of human being. While VHS, DVDs, and now streaming, have democratized films, they’ve also likely forever fractured the communal community of filmgoers. I think that’s a loss. Does any of this culture of film resonate with you, when you were growing up? Do you agree it’s something that will never exist again?


EG: I totally get where you are coming from. Back in the ancient times of my childhood, the pre-home video era, movies were a special treat. Most films were on roadshow, so they stuck around in your area for a week or two and then moved on to another city. Miss them, and you may be lucky years later if it shows up on tv, usually cut to ribbons. There were exceptions that stuck around for a months, usually big productions like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, 007. Checking the weekly listings in the paper was the first thing on my list to do every Friday. Going to the movies was an event, and you missed it at your own peril. Go to see one screening, and you had only your fond memories to fall back on after that…there were no magazines with saturation coverage, no making books, only a very rare tv special. You had reason to get excited when the next Godzilla film was coming, a dinosaur picture, 007, Disney, whatever it was that you liked. You were carried away to a different world for 3 hours (yes, most programs were double features, two 90 minute films for the price of one!). Then it was gone, perhaps forever. In that situation, you savor every moment, every film, and if you could, you’d go back to see it again. But with the advent of the video era, that all changed. Suddenly that film you might have seen once, or that showed up on tv once every couple years, you could just buy it and watch it whenever you wanted. The concept of being able to see it anytime was great in one sense, but when it’s always available, the excitement of seeing the film just isn’t there any longer. Now, with video released so close to a theatrical run, it hardly seems like a big deal to miss a movie in the theater altogether, and there is far less reason for repeat trips to the theater…you’ll always be able to catch up with it at home in a relatively short time. I’ve tried to make watching movies something special for my kids, but the omnipresence of video will never allow them to experience films in the same manner that I did. It’s kind of sad to me.


DS: Let’s get into the personal, for a while. Did you ever want to act or direct? Do you consider yourself just a glorified middle-aged ‘fanboy’?


EG: As I mentioned previously, I have always thought of my place as being in the audience, not in front of or behind the camera. I can appreciate the hard work and talent it takes to be good at these jobs, and I don’t know that my skills would really translate well into this field. It’s one thing to have enthusiasm for something, it’s another to be good enough to do it well. Having written and produced the documentary Bringing Godzilla Down to Size with my friend Steve Ryfle, I got an even better appreciation for how difficult it is to make films and how much of a collaborative process it needs to be if you intend to succeed. Considering the challenges we faced doing such a small scale project with a limited number of people, I am amazed that people can make huge film projects with hundreds of creative people, all of whose egos are constantly clashing, as they interact and create a finished project. It seems to be such a stressful business that suddenly accounting and finance (my specialty) seem a lot more attractive to me.


DS: When and where were you born? What were some of the major, or defining, issues during your youth, insofar as they affected your career path? Were you politically, socially, or artistically active when young? What films or television shows had an effect on you?


EG: As I am fond of saying, I am older than Godzilla…I was born in Chicago in September of 1953, more than a year before the first Godzilla was released. Sorry to say, but I think my youth was basically pretty dull. There aren’t any particular events that were especially formative from a career standpoint. My dad was quite outspoken on politics whenever he found someone who would listen to him, and I think the heated nature of such discussions that I observed contributed to internalizing my feelings as far as politics and social issues. I looked at almost all of the films and tv shows that I watched while a kid as entertainment first. There’s no doubt that they stimulated my imagination. But at the time I watched them, I can’t say that I was conscious of any specific effect on my thinking. However, thinking back on those times now, I recognize that there was a definite influence on me. You might think that I am just saying this because our discussion is about Japanese science fiction, but it is really true that in particular, Ishiro Honda’s science fiction films actually did affect my thinking. I can vividly recall that in the early 60s, there was a palpable fear that I could feel about the world situation. I saw Khrushchev on tv at the UN, banging his shoe on the podium and saying how Russia would bury the US. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis. In school we had air raid drills. I remember my uncle buying plans for a homemade bomb shelter. The Russians were this evil enemy to be feared, and I was genuinely scared that nuclear war would happen. There was a huge us-vs-them mentality. But then along comes The Mysterians, and later Battle In Outer Space on tv, and here I am seeing the Russians working together with the US and the rest of the world to defend Earth. That was pretty darn radical thinking back then. Maybe it was just the naiveté of a little kid’s mind, but they made me think of the world in a different way, that people all over the world could work together and make things better if they wanted to. ‘The other guys’ were also people who wanted to survive. Godzilla vs The Thing featured another of Honda’s themes of peace and shared humanity when our heroes come hat in hand to Infant Island to ask for help. The natives essentially say ‘you destroyed our home and created Godzilla, so it’s your problem.’ But our heroes humble themselves and speak of the brotherhood of man and how we are all responsible to each other. It was simple, direct, and it totally resonated with my 10-year old mind. I remembered that every bit as much as the monster parts. I never did see the original Godzilla until 1970, by which time I was already old enough to grasp the anti-nuclear message very clearly. The only US film that really had a similar impact on my thinking as a kid was The Day The Earth Stood Still. While I did watch Star Trek on its initial run, it really didn’t click with me nearly as much until I revisited it in reruns at the time I was in college.


DS: What did you want to be when you grew up? Who were your childhood heroes (outside of film) and why? Where did you go to high school, and to what college?


EG: As a kid, there was nothing I wanted more than to be a baseball player, but I also understood that it would be almost impossible. Through high school, I was always the shortest kid in my class every year. My size limited my physical abilities, so to make up for that, I always tried to not just play, but also play smarter. But when I tried out for Pony League or for my high school team, the coaches  just told me to forget it since I was too small. They wouldn’t even give me a look, which was really frustrating. If they watched me play and I wasn’t good enough, then no problem, I’d understand. But I never got a shot. Realizing I couldn’t make it as a ballplayer, at the time I thought I would like to be some kind of scientist since I was good at math.

  Heroes? Well, as someone really interested in sports, most of my heroes as a kid were ballplayers. I looked up the most to Mickey Mantle and Bart Starr. Finding out in recent years what kind of person Mickey Mantle really was, an alcoholic, it was such a bitter disappointment. But he played in a different era where a player’s personal faults were not open to pubic scrutiny, so the illusion of the great player who fought hard through so many injuries remained special to me for a long time. Likewise with Bart Starr, he always displayed class and worked hard. I felt he typified what someone with limited physical skills could accomplish if they studied hard and played smart…which was what I felt was the right way to do things. Outside of sports, the person I most admired was John Glenn. He accomplished something no one else had, he risked his life doing it, and he had a way of relating to the public that made him someone I wanted to be just like. Most importantly, he had gone into space, and that was something many kids of my era aspired to.

  I went to Gordon Technical High School in Chicago. I don’t recall there being any special reason for attending school there beyond the fact that this was where my brother was going to school. However I quickly found that technical classes weren’t really my thing…I was much better at math, but I wasn’t sure what I could do with that until one of my teachers presented some classes on career choices. I realized that probably my talents would be most useful in the business world. So I applied to business schools and was fortunate enough to be offered a full 4-year academic scholarship to Loyola University of Chicago. That’s a big incentive for deciding where to go to school!


DS: Given your surname, when kids found out of your love for Godzilla, you surely had to catch hell. Any anecdotes of teen angst over your name and Godzilla you’d care to share?


EG: I cannot tell you how many times over the last 25 years that I have had people ask me what my ‘real’ name is, especially in Japan (where the phonetic spelling of my last name matches with the first couple characters for Godzilla). Everyone assumes it is just a pen name. But it isn’t. It’s my real family name. But it certainly seems more than a coincidence, as if there was some kind of fate involved. That thought has occurred to me. But I get that mostly from people who are interested in Japanese films. I really did not get any grief about my interest in Godzilla from my friends when I was growing up. You have to understand that, while I definitely loved these films, it was just one part of my personality, one of many things I liked. I wasn’t consumed by it, and it would have been pretty hard to be thought of as a hard core fan by anyone else. Thinking back to the 60s, when I grew up, there was almost nothing to collect, nothing to read, the films showed maybe once a year on tv if you were lucky. All I had was a solitary Aurora Godzilla model kit. So, sorry that I can’t offer any interesting tales of teen angst on this account.


DS: What were some of the cultural touchstones in your life, the things, events, or people who graced your existence with those ‘I remember exactly where I was’ moments?


EG: The earliest event I can recall that shook my world was the Cuban Missile Crisis--October 1962. At age 9, I wouldn’t say I was terribly savvy in the ways of the world, but this was something that scared me to the bone. I didn’t quite get the whole thing, but I knew there were some bad people out there (Communists, i.e. Russians) who were going to put some weapons close to our country, and we were prepared to start a war over it. Nuclear bombs were always on the news, we had air raid practices in school, people were building bomb shelters in their yards, so I knew that if it happened, in my mind it could be the end of the world. And everything I saw made it seem like it REALLY might happen. This shaped my world view as a kid, which was good guys/America vs. bad guys/Russians.

  As you can imagine, the other events which almost anyone of my generation would have to bring up were the assassination of President Kennedy, John Glenn orbiting the Earth, and the landing on the moon. I can remember them all like they were yesterday, and that isn’t an exaggeration. Kennedy’s assassination really affected everyone emotionally--whether or not you were into politics. It was really the first time that I seriously thought about death and murder. Up till then, I’d see it in movies or tv, but it never felt real to me. Real people don’t actually do that, it’s just a story. That was my naïve thinking as a little kid. But faced with the reality of the event, made even worse by seeing Jack Ruby actually kill Oswald on live tv days later, I had to grow up a bit that day. The moon landing in particular was one of those things that seemed like it was a dream, it couldn’t actually be happening. It felt like a science fiction movie coming to life. At that time, it made me feel like I wanted to be a scientist, to somehow become a part of it. But taking science classes in high school, while I did ok, I quickly realized that this was not going to be an area in which I could succeed.


DS: Are you married? What does your wife do? And how did you meet? Is she a critic, writer, involved in Godzillabilia or film stuff, etc.?


EG: I have been married for 23 years now. While my wife is an incredibly talented artist and creative type, since we had kids, she has been a stay at home mom. We both felt that if we could make it work economically, that it would be much better for our kids if one of us could be around them as much as possible rather than let them grow up in a day care/babysitter/latchkey environment.

  My wife grew up in Japan and came over here when she was 17 years old—her father was opening a business here. It was a terribly tough time for her to be ripped away from her friends and everything she knew to come and live in a country where she could hardly speak the language (she hated English class in Japanese school). She felt very isolated and I can’t imagine how hard it was to try and adapt to American high school where she couldn’t understand what they were saying. College wasn’t as bad for her since she studied art, where the language is not nearly as critical to succeed. But after graduating, she really had her heart set on going back to Japan. Some family friends of my wife’s parents thought that if she met someone here, maybe she would want to stay, so they asked their daughter, a US-born Japanese girl, if she knew anyone who might be interested to meet a Japanese girl. This girl worked at my company, a large telecommunications corporation. She knew that I had been to Japan for a vacation a couple times, so based on only that, she asked me if I would be interested in meeting this girl. While I liked Japan and Japanese films, I never had given any special thought to going out with a Japanese girl. But when she asked, I thought ‘ok, why not?’ So we met and seemed to hit it off. After a few dates, she told me that she was probably going to go back to Japan…oh well, I thought; too bad since things were going well. But for some reason, she took enough of a liking to me that she decided to stay a little longer, and before you knew it, we got engaged. And now here we are, 23 years and 2 kids later.

  And no, my wife really has no particular interest in Godzilla or Japanese films in general. She understands it is one of my interests, she tolerates it, and she kindly helps me with research by translating things for me from time to time. But it’s not something she cares much about herself.


DS: What sort of child were you- a loner or center of attention? Did you get good grades? Were you a mama’s boy or a rebel?


EG: I would say that I don’t think I was either…I always had a couple friends to hang around with. Though I have always been somewhat on the quiet side, I didn’t spend a lot of time alone, but I wasn’t the leader of the pack either. As a kid, I was really into sports, especially baseball (and still am). I loved to play, and often spent morning, noon, and night playing. Not that I was especially talented, but I just loved the game. And it takes a bunch of kids to play, so I was seldom on my own. My passion for sports has always made me competitive, and that extended into my academic life. I was fortunate enough to get good grades in school, and part of the reason was that I treated school like a kind of competition. I always wanted to do my best and get a perfect score. I did work hard and took my schoolwork seriously, but I was far from a bookworm at the same time. I spent plenty of time playing sports and watching movies too. Luckily, I always had a special talent for math, so that helped a lot. I recognized that if I wanted to have a good job after school, I’d have to do well in school, so that always kept me on course. This paid off in a college scholarship and I was able to graduate summa cum laude, something I am proud of. I think personality-wise, I am rather center-of-the-road—I am definitely not a rebel.


DS: Any siblings? What paths in life have they followed?


EG: I have an older brother and a younger sister, and for the most part we are all quite different. My brother has always been quite outgoing and gregarious, a real people person. I think he has the perfect personality for sales, and that’s the career path he has taken, and done quite well at. Personality-wise, maybe my sister is more like me, quieter, but she has always had a talent for music, which I did not. She pursued a musical degree and did some teaching, but she didn’t find that to be a particularly good way to earn a living, so she went back to school and pursued a business degree.


DS: Any children? What paths have they followed in life? What are their interests?


EG: I have two daughters, ages 21 and 16. The oldest one is in college, working on a degree in theater arts. Her goal is to work as a costume designer in theater or film. She takes after my wife and is an incredibly talented artist, and she is really a fashionista as well, so it looks like this is line of work is well-suited to her. Once she figured out what she wanted to do, she applied herself and has worked hard and enthusiastically at it. I can’t ask for anything more.  She also was a figure skater for a long time before quitting due to injury--she had a lot of natural talent, and she really knew how to express music and perform for an audience. She managed to pick up a good working knowledge of Japanese from my wife and is very interested to go to Japan and experience living there for a year or so after graduating. My younger daughter was also a figure skater, and while perhaps not as naturally talented as her sister, she worked hard and did pretty well until just recently when progressively worse back pain got the better of her. She also is deep into the dance team at school. Like her sister, she really knows how to perform to an audience. It’s hard to say what she will eventually do, but she is thinking about using her skating skills to be a skating coach and she is hoping to have a career in dance.


DS: What of your parents? What were their professions? Did they encourage your pursuits?


EG: My parents were a product of the Depression era, and their parents were all immigrants from Poland. So they came from very poor backgrounds and didn’t have much schooling. My father was a salesman--he didn’t make a lot of money, but he did ok and was a steady provider for our family. My mom was your typical stay-at-home mom of the 50s and 60s. Taking care of the house and making sure us kids stayed in line was her life. They married a bit later in life than was the norm at that time, mostly because WWII interrupted their lives. Doesn’t sound very exciting to today’s generation, but that was what their generation felt was the way things should be, and they were proud of what they could provide for us…a life that wasn’t the struggle for existence that they experienced as kids. As long as us kids kept out of trouble, which we did (mostly), they left us to our own ways. The fact that I always got good grades in school certainly also worked in my favor--they knew I was serious about being successful, so they didn’t try to steer me in any direction. That probably helped them to tolerate my enthusiasm for sports and movies.


DS: Film critic Ray Carney once stated, in an interview,I mean that the root of the problem is that every film reviewer I know defines his job incorrectly. Without realizing it, they have all internalized the Hollywood value system. They define reviewing completely cynically as a form of advertising....But criticism is not about recommending or not recommending something. Or that's only it's most trivial, unimportant function.’ I agree. This includes the addition of the MPAA ratings system. What are your thoughts on the film ratings system? What objections have you? Mine are basically that it’s an attempt at censorship used as a marketing tool, but one that is often wholly inapt to the product at hand. And, do you agree with Carney that most ‘criticism’ is merely advertising?


EG: As a consumer, but mostly as a parent, I can appreciate the concept of the rating system. For most people, they aren’t avid film fans or know all that much about all the various films out there, so it is helpful to have some basis on which to judge what a film may be like or especially if it is appropriate for little kids. So I can buy the rating system from that viewpoint. But the way it is run and the manner in which it has been used, that’s another matter. There is very little sense or consistency in how the ratings are applied. For the most part, the system is concerned only with three things…sex, violence, or cursing. And the standards for each just seem weirdly weighted and so out of whack with reality…you can have people murdered left and right in a variety of gruesome or cruel ways and still manage a PG, while a film like The King’s Speech has a couple isolated f-bombs that are totally within the context of the story and not a pandering usage of language, but that gets an R. Compare the two cases, and what is it that I as a parent should be protecting my kids from? But the ratings say otherwise. And therefore they do not fulfill what should be their intended purpose.

  I don’t necessarily agree that most criticism is advertising. I think that is far too broad of a generalization. Sure, some critics fall into that trap—they believe they are providing a service by recommending or not. But unless the audience/reader buys into this game, it doesn’t work that way. I think most reviewers do not write under the illusion that they will influence someone’s decision to see a film, nor would they want to. I believe, that like myself when I review something, they are just sharing their opinions on a film. I do not expect people to agree with me, nor do I wish to persuade them that I am right. The best thing for me as a writer is to get feedback on what I write, positive or negative. It is the exchange of ideas that I see as the legitimate purpose of reviews. Likewise, as a reader of reviews, I am interested to see other peoples’ perspectives, to enhance my experience or learn something new. I don’t read them to figure out what I should or shouldn’t see.


DS: Let me now get specific and turn to the Godzilla filmography, with queries on specific films of note. First, let me go over the entire history, as I grew up with the films of the 50s through 70s, aka the Showa Era films. Since then there have been two other eras. What are they, why are they, and how are they defined vis-à-vis the films I grew up with, because, after the Showa films, the only more recent films I’ve seen are the 1985 film, with Raymond Burr, and the 1998 Hollywood version of Godzilla.


EG: I always find it odd that Americans will talk about these films using terms like ‘Showa Era’, ‘Heisei Era’, ‘kaiju’, and so on. They are Japanese terms with no accompanying frame of reference for anyone in this country other than fans who are deep into the subject. I find it exclusionary to anyone but a die hard fan, so I really do not see the point of using them, especially when perfectly acceptable alternative terms are available. Why refer to the reign of the various Japanese emperors to describe one decade vs another? (and I also wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if many who used these terms don’t even know that they refer to the reign of the Japanese emperor) What’s wrong with saying ‘giant monster’ instead of ‘kaiju’? That digression aside, let me address the question…

  There are three eras in Godzilla’s career: the period up to 1975 (Terror of MechaGodzilla), the 80s and 90s, and the Millennium era. The early series of films was really a series in the loosest sense of the word. The 1954 film is the root, and Gigantis The Fire Monster (aka Godzilla Raids Again) follows it as a direct sequel, using Dr Yamane from the first film to show a flashback and scientifically link this new monster to the original. Aside from this and Terror of MechaGodzilla (which builds on the previous year’s Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla), the films that follow do not hold to a clearly defined continuity. Except for a mention in Ghidrah The Three-Headed Monster that one of the Mothras died when it fought Godzilla the year before, and an acknowledgement in Monster Zero that King Ghidorah was once driven from Earth by Godzilla and Rodan, there are no self-referential story elements. The films all feel like a series, but you can watch them out of sequence and not miss a thing. There was no story arc or recurring human characters.

  Contrast this to the era of the 80s and 90s. When Toho revived Godzilla in 1984 after a 9 year hiatus, a conscious decision was made to ignore all the films previously made except for the 1954 version. Relying upon the tried-and-true axiom that no one is ever really dead in science fiction, Toho simply declared that Godzilla had returned, despite the fact that the oxygen destroyer had done him in. They didn’t try to explain how he came back, you are just left to accept that he was back. Unlike the previous era, all the films from this era hewed to a continuing story arc, and there were recurring characters. There was even an appearance by Emiko Yamane, a character from the 1954 film. One of the interesting aspects of this series was that a lot of Toho-science (aka technobabble, if you follow Star Trek) was introduced to explain Godzilla’s origins and his biology, and this played a key role in the story arc.

  The last era of Godzilla can rightly be called the Millennium Era, as it took place after the turn of the century. Each of these films stand completely on their own…the only common link is that Toho had laid down the premise that only the 1954 Godzilla could be used as a starting point. So this era produced several unique chapters in Godzilla lore, each creating a self-contained continuity (well, actually the two MechaGodzilla films are directly related to each other). The era started out with Godzilla facing new and original adversaries, but when that trend did not produce big box office, Toho again resorted to reusing the old standby characters like MechaGodzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, etc. This era concluded with a resounding thud in Godzilla Final Wars, the 50th anniversary film which held promise of being the modern day equivalent of Destroy All Monsters…a wide array of previous opponents as well as super weapons and other references from the original era were brought back. But it turned out to be a wasted opportunity when placed in the hands of a self-indulgent director who had little respect for his material.


DS: Before I return to chronologically tackle the Showa films from the beginning, let me briefly query you of the two other films I mentioned, and the later films. Godzilla 1985 (the American title) is the start of the Heisei Era films. What changes did this film and series bring upon the Godzilla character?


EG: As I mentioned before, Toho made the decision that everything after the first film never happened, that the first Godzilla (somehow) still exists, and everything goes from there. The biggest change they made at this time was to increase Godzilla’s size from 50 to 80 meters. This was due to the fact that in the world of 1984, there were huge skyscrapers that literally dwarfed Godzilla. They producers thought that Godzilla would look too small, too puny if they maintained the original size. So they made him bigger. Even still, by 1984, the buildings in a city like Tokyo dwarfed the beast, so I am not sure they really succeeded much in changing the impression of the audience. But by making Godzilla that much taller, the miniatures got smaller and there was a resulting loss of realism, especially when sets were not carefully filmed. From the viewpoint of the story, this film tried to mimic the original by making the anti-nuclear theme front and center again, and this time they added a bit more in the way of the international politics of nuclear power. One offshoot of this emphasis on the nuclear aspect was that the writers came up with pseudo-scientific explanations for Godzilla and his powers. They established that Godzilla actually sought out and fed on radiation, making the linkage to the dangers of radiation all the more clear. And this would lead to subsequent films taking this a step further, fingering radiation as the mechanism to explain Godzilla’s perceived immortality, linking it to his cells regenerating even after sustaining terrible injuries in battle. This explanation of his powers opened the door to humanity trying to cope with Godzilla by attacking his radioactive energy core, a far more logical plan than endless ineffective attacks on him with conventional weaponry.


DS: It seems this film, to that point, sort of occupies a place with Godzilla Raids Again and Godzilla’s Revenge as films that break the internal Godzilla chronology. Godzilla Raids Again is the actual sequel to the original Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, yet I never saw it until it came out around 1990 on VHS, therefore most Godzilla fans assumed King Kong Vs. Godzilla was the first sequel to the original film. Godzilla’s Revenge is the only film in the Showa films that treats Godzilla as a fictive entity (i.e.- the kid in the film seems to know of kaiju only from monster films, not the internal diegesis of the series), thus becoming Postmodern. Later films, I believe Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, show a kid playing with a Godzilla doll, but we later see the ‘real’ Godzilla exists in his world. Then we skip ahead to the ’85 film, and this seems to be a direct sequel to the original film, with Burr reprising his Steve Martin role. Why was this done? And do the later films of the Heisei and Millennium series similarly rewrite the Godzilla chronology, or do they basically go ’54 Godzilla, ’85 Godzilla, and on? Why were there several retconning attempts?


EG: I think I have answered your question to some extent in the previous answer as to why they did this. Rewriting ‘history’, as in ignoring all the other films besides the first, was just their way of making it easier on themselves to start all over again. And since the continuity of the earlier films was tenuous at best, it really did not seem to be a big deal. If they wanted to revisit previous characters, they could do so, or they could also go in new directions. Story-wise, it made things easier on Toho. Pretty much the same can be said of the Millenium films and each of them rewriting Godzilla history. Continuity has seldom been a priority for Toho. Fans seem to be the only ones who are overly concerned with continuity between films.

  As for using Raymond Burr in 1985, remember that this is something that was done only for the US market. Burr is not in the Japanese cut. I think it was actually a clever idea to use him and his character in the US version since it gave New World Pictures, who released the film here, a recognizable Hollywood name to link the film to, one which had a real connection to Godzilla. I am sure it made the film more marketable as a result, and as a fan, I appreciated the effort.


DS: In reading some of the plot points of the later films, they seem to have some intrigue, but are they the ‘campy fun’ the Showa films were? Which are the best films of the two later series, and why?


EG: The films of the later series never took a cue from the films you refer to as campy fun. Toho recognized that they had run Godzilla into early retirement by making their films completely geared towards kids, so they did not think it wise to go in that direction again. Some people may like a ‘campy’ approach, but the filmmakers assuredly did not. I have never met one who did. While their success may have been spotty, the people who made the films of these later eras wanted to go back to the original concept, that these films were to made for and enjoyed by all ages. You can’t do that by winking at the audience or making fun of your own subject. That was the approach taken in Godzilla Final Wars, and the results were disastrous. For the most part, that film is quite popular amongst people who like ‘bad’ or ‘campy’ films, but it is also despised by a large segment of the fan base for that same reason. The broader audience, i.e. the general public, stayed away in droves from this film, pointing to the fact that perhaps the filmmakers were on to something in attempting to treat the audience with some respect.

  For the era of the 80s-90s, I believe that Godzilla vs Biollante was the best of the lot. The story takes Godzilla into new territory, exploring the new and timely topic of bioengineering. While the execution of the script and its direction are a decidedly mixed bag, the film was ambitious in scope and tried its best to introduce new ideas. Likewise, on the special effects side, this film injected a shot of creativity into the series.  All sorts of new and inventive camera angles were employed, they created a muppet Godzilla head that could act and emote like no previous version of the monster, and Biollante presented a completely new style of opponent. It seemed a fresh and exciting twist on traditional effects work. The only area in which the film flops is the musical score, save for a couple moments in which stock Akira Ifukube cues were used.

  In the Millenium era, I believe that Godzilla-All Monsters Attack (aka GMK) stands head and shoulders above the others from that period. Story and script are the first things I think of when considering quality, and this is an area where this film stands out. It takes a very interesting approach to the Godzilla character--it presents Godzilla in the context of an anti-war theme, as Godzilla’s rage against humanity is fueled by the vengeful souls of the Japanese war dead that have coalesced inside the beast. This strong script, combined with solid direction by Shusuke Kaneko, elevates this film above the other more conventional films of this era. They all have their share of interesting special effects, but in this day and age, even with the limited budgets afforded them, you can do most anything you want with special effects as long as you have money--the era of quantum breakthroughs and creative leaps in special effects has passed.  The real talent is in storytelling, and that is GMK’s strength.


DS: In looking online it seems that a new CG Godzilla film is in the works for 2012. It seems that, finally, the rubber costume era is done for. Is that a good or bad thing?


EG: Hopefully that era is not finished, as the physical performance afforded by suit acting still offers a realism that the best CG cannot achieve. By combining CG and suit acting techniques, that is probably where you will achieve the best results. Motion capture, which has become a good technique for making CG performances natural, is a logical extension of this idea. Leaving the era of actual physical motion behind, no matter how you capture it on film, is to relegate effects to artificiality. That’s not a good thing.


DS: How long do you think the Godzilla franchise can go on?


EG: Like any really good concept, I think you are limited in terms of continuing only by access to funds. The genre is one that has so many imaginative possibilities, so ideas and stories should not be the problem (assuming you can find competent people to do them). But does anyone have the financial appetite to throw money at Godzilla? Godzilla Final Wars was such a huge flop that it seemed to kill Godzilla more effectively than any weapon could have, at least for the moment. Toho no longer seems to think they can go it alone, so it will take some kind of partnership with other companies, likely outside of Japan, for future films to be realized.


DS: Let me return to the 1998 film, made in Hollywood. I saw that on the big screen, and got the DVD later. I think it’s a good, solid monster film (despite making Godzilla a female) and was amazed at the bad reviews (after all, Godzilla films are supposed to be campy, and not great dramas of searing human depth). After all, Godzilla is a glorified mutated lizard or dinosaur that destroys things. Toho later, in clips I’ve seen online, had their Godzilla kick the ass of the Hollywood Godzilla (redubbed Zilla, and called GINO- Godzilla In Name Only, by fans of the original) in the 2004 film Godzilla: Final Wars, thus far the last of the Godzilla series (#28, and the 50th Anniversary film). I know you were not high on the 1998 film. Why? And really, what did you expect, given that they were attempting a more physically plausible creature? It had some nice bits of humor, and being set in New York actually had a few moments of homage to the original King Kong.


EG: While I take exception to the idea that Godzilla films are ‘supposed’ to be campy, let’s leave that issue aside for the moment. There are a number of things which I found to be a problem in the Hollywood film. One of the biggest questions I have is, if this is the kind of film you want to make and you want to make the creature in this manner, then what is the point of calling it Godzilla? Is it merely a name that you can use for marketing purposes, or does it represent something more than that? I would submit that the Hollywood film treated Godzilla just as a name. I had no illusion that they would retain the exact shape and form, all the physical characteristics of the Japanese creature, its personality, the story continuity.  It is perfectly reasonable to expect them to make their own version rather than a carbon copy. I’m ok with that. But they discarded everything and kept nothing. The character that they purchased the rights to was a dinosaur-like species, aggressive, destructive, powerful, near indestructible, with unique powers (the atomic breath), and representing an anti-nuclear theme. What they gave us was a modern day iguana mutation, a creature which spent most of the movie running away from the military, causing destruction mostly by accident, able to be killed with a single shot of a very ordinary weapon, with no atomic breath, and carrying no underlying theme. Aside from that, it was the same as Toho’s Godzilla (sarcasm emphasized). They made a Hollywood version of the name, not the creature itself. Audiences came to see a new Godzilla, but they didn’t get Godzilla on any level, unless you consider that being a large reptile was enough.

  Had they not called it Godzilla, I suppose it would have been easier to like, but still the film had its problems. For one thing, casting so many comic actors in the main roles just tells the audience ‘we aren’t taking this seriously, so neither should you.’ That alone doesn’t make the film amusing or funny…you need a clever script to do that, and this film doesn’t have one. Maria Patilla is excruciatingly awful in this film. She might be good in other things (I can’t say that I have seen her in anything else), but she is embarrassingly bad here. For a major motion picture, this is about as bad a performance by a main character as I have ever seen.

  One of the major set pieces of the film is the Madison Square Garden sequence, but the fact is that it is really just a retread of the raptor attacks in Jurassic Park and The Lost World. There’s very little excitement when you watch this and think, ‘Haven’t I just seen this done elsewhere, and better?’

  You may not know it, but I was an extra in the film, and I went to LA to spend a couple of waterlogged nights filming scenes at the film’s conclusion. I think one of the most telling stories about how badly this film failed even the general audience comes from what I experienced while working with the other extras. These people were all professional actors hired to play parts as tv reporters, cameramen (my role), and so on. They really did not know much about Godzilla as a film property and they really could have cared less. For them this was just another job. They just knew about Godzilla in very general terms. So the assistant directors give us instructions, setting up a scene where we are reacting to Godzilla coming across the Brooklyn Bridge. Lights on top of the bridge are supposed to flash, and the ADs say that these flashes are a couple missiles striking Godzilla, who then falls dead over the bridge and into the river. Several of the extras start grumbling, “What? Are you kidding? That’s all it takes to kill him?” Of course that is what I am thinking, but even people who don’t know or care about Godzilla are saying this. It just shows how badly they misjudged the character and how undramatic the conclusion is.

  Remove the name Godzilla, and you probably have an average or below average monster film. I think the filmmakers erred by going overboard on making a so-called realistic creature rather than something exciting and interesting.


DS: Let’s now start at the beginning, and get back more into the wheelhouse of films I know much of. 1954: the original Gojira and its American version. In my review: I wrote:It may be heresy to Godzilla fanatics, but the American Godzilla is not really a worse film than Gojira. If this were a battle to be filmed, it would end up like King Kong Vs. Godzilla, the American version, where the ape seems to come out on top slightly, yet we know Godzilla isn’t really the loser. Nor is the American version any more a bastardization of the original because of the Burr inserts than the original is bastardization because it uses stock military footage from Japanese World War Two propaganda films. Gojira also can be seen not as merely an anti-war or anti-atomic bomb film, but a film on the changing 1950s Japanese culture, right alongside the great later films of Yasujiro Ozu. In those films, as well as Gojira, there are always young Japanese challenging seemingly silly social traditions, such as Emiko daring to not marry her arranged husband, Serizawa.’ I also wrote, of the Serizawa scene where he burns his work: ‘It is scenes like this which make critics say the original is far better than the Americanized Godzilla. Yet, the American version, while it severely cuts that scene, and loses its power, compensates amply by not having Serizawa’s suicide so manifestly foreshadowed. In the Japanese film, once we see Serizawa destroy his life’s work, we know his life’s end will not be far behind. These sorts of wise screenplay and directing choices keep the American film not too far behind the original in overall artistic quality. Also, the fact that the American version plays out from a reporter’s perspective, and is told from an unnamed future, naturally allows for a narrative condensation of many of the Japanese scenes because the Martin character sums up many of the plot points brought out by extra characters. The American film would have dragged on too long had this not occurred.’ In brief, I think the American version is severely shortchanged. Burr’s inserts, and the approach of that film as a memory, cuts out many scenes from the original that are of marginal interest, and more easily allows for the filmic flaws of the creature’s changing physical portrayal to be written off as faulty memory. Since it’s been a few years since you did the commentary for the original film, are there things you stated on it that you now feel differently about? Have you changed opinions on any of the other DVD commentaries you’ve done? When I interviewed screenwriter Lem Dobbs he found himself disagreeing with some of his opinions, as stated from DVD commentaries he did.


EG: I feel quite comfortable with the opinions and comments which we made on our dvd commentaries. I have found my feeling evolving on films of the later eras, but those from the earliest films have remained pretty constant over time. I don’t know that I am always happy about how I expressed my thoughts, but those thoughts remain pretty much the same.

  I think you will find that we have respect for the US version, and we do not think that it is an abomination as many would suggest. I don’t think I would go as far as saying that any of the Americanization really improved on the original version, and I certainly don’t agree in any way that the scenes cut from the original versions were of ‘marginal interest’. I would also like to point out that the change to the Serizawa-Ogata scene, which didn’t so directly foreshadow the scientist’s suicide, is probably a good change for Western audiences, but keep in mind that this is a Japanese film, made for a Japanese audience. I hesitate to say suicide is more acceptable in Japanese society, but certainly is more common and perhaps even not judged as harshly as it is in the West. It is a part of Japanese culture. I do not believe it is shocking or a surprise to the Japanese audience that suicide would be Serizawa’s response to the situation, so ‘tipping’ it at this point in the film isn’t giving away something that Japanese audiences wouldn’t see coming. It’s a cultural difference.


DS: The second film in the series is Godzilla Raids Again. You did the featurette on that DVD and Steve Ryfle did the commentary which I felt really ignored the positives of the American version of the film. Would you have been as harsh on the film if you did the commentary? Do you think it’s as bad as he does? I actually found that each successive Godzilla film got worse from the first until Godzilla’s Revenge. Thus I think it’s actually a good film, even the American version. Yes, the Keye Luke narration is noisome, but it otherwise contains probably the best mano a mano fight scene in, at least, the Showa films, it has (because it’s a black and white film) some of the most indelible nightmare imagery, and the ending does not rely on dei ex machina or sci fi melodramatic techniques. It’s an elegant little solution devised. Comments?


EG: Although I did not do the full commentary on this one, I did work with Steve on parts of the script, and basically I would say we are on the same page as far as this film goes. For me, it’s the Americanization that just kills the film. You just can’t get around it. The dubbing is so bad—bad voices, badly acted—and the dubbing script is even worse, so much so that when I saw the film as a little kid, even at that age I thought it was poorly done. When you are 10 years old and you actually notice that, it’s a sure sign that things are not what they should be. The narration is beyond annoying…as a kid it didn’t affect me much, but seeing it as an adult, you get the feeling that it was done by someone who thought everyone who watched this film would be so brain impaired that every moment had to be explained verbally. After ‘The End’ comes on screen, I half expected that the narration just continued on into the next feature. And cutting in all that nonsensical stock footage, especially in the scene where Dr Yamane shows film of the first Godzilla, it makes the film laughable. None of this is the fault of the Japanese filmmakers—it is sloppy and poor work in presenting the film to the Western audiences that merits such scorn, and mostly that was the point Steve was making in his commentary. While I think the original version of the film is far better than what became Gigantis, it still is a somewhat lackluster film at the same time. The pacing is not very good, and the human characters are not terribly interesting, the script is rather bland. The battle scenes are mostly pretty good, though I find the speeded up motion in parts (the result of a cameraman’s mistake) to be annoying and out of place. The monsters fight like animals, not like humans (as in KKvsG), and thus the results are much more interesting. I would completely agree that this film has one of the very best conclusions of any film in the series. No contrivance, no vague resolution—just a clear, logical, believable way to dispose of Godzilla, and one with some emotional impact. But as we discussed earlier, script and characters are what make a good film, not monsters or sfx, and neither version of this film is strong in that area.


DS: Of that film I wrote: This then leads into the question of whether this is the Godzilla from the first film. I’d argue yes, although the scientists in the film believe it is not. Later films contradicted themselves, with some claiming the original Godzilla’s bones were used to construct the cartoonish Mechagodzilla of later films, wherein other films maintain that the Godzilla of their film is the one who trashed Tokyo in 1954. I’d argue that, at least in the Showa era films, all the Godzillas are one and the same, despite slight appearance changes in the costumes. If Godzilla can survive eons entombed before being awakened by nuclear testing, he can certainly survive an Oxygen Destroyer. Even seeing the bones is not enough as he may simply have regenerated. Anguiras seems to have, after near death or death in this film, so why not his presumed killer? Godzilla, and all the giant monsters, seem to be, in the kaiju genre, immortals- monster versions of the Greek Olympians.’ Where do you stand in this deep existential debate? And, I know the later series were even more cavalier with continuity.


EG: This discussion is really just the playground of fans. If you stick by what is offered in the films, the Godzilla in all the other films of the original series after the first is just another of the same species. We can make up all sorts scenarios as to what these monsters are, how they live, their biology, and so on. It’s fun to discuss, but no one can point to one version or another of these things and say ‘this is the way it is.’ It’s fiction about fiction. Using the example of Angilas, it died in Gigantis, but later we see him in Destroy All Monsters. Without any explanation made in the films, you can just as easily say it is another of the same species as you could say it was the same monster, come back to life (after all, as I am fond of saying, no one is ever really dead in science fiction). Books often list this creature as a second generation Angilas, but those books are written by fans who come up with their own explanations. Fun to discuss and debate, but ultimately meaningless. Even better, what about Baragon and Gorosuarus? Those monsters were not only killed, but originally half the size that they were in Destroy All Monsters. How did they suddenly reappear, and now at different sizes? You can devise any explanation you like. As I have mentioned before, continuity wasn’t of much concern to Toho…it’s fans who seem much more concerned with it. I enjoy it, but do not take it very seriously.


DS: Then there’s a several year gap and the 3rd film in the series is King Kong Vs. Godzilla. On the DVD commentary for Mothra Vs. Godzilla (in America called Godzilla Vs. The Thing, but to all my buddies known by its original title simply because The Thing was such a lame name for Mothra), film #4, you and Steve love the latter film, but diss the former. I think, and most Godzilla fans agree, that the Kong film beats the Mothra one for a number of reasons. Although Godzilla ostensibly ‘loses’ both fights, the Kong film has more humor (even in the American version), it set the template for Godzilla films being in their own universe, and Kong is just a better foe. As the American insert on ‘science’ shows, Kong is a ‘thinking animal,’ while Mothra’s a brainless bug. Also, while the ape suit has problems, Mothra is the least convincing monster in the Godzilla Rogues Gallery (and they are all rogues since, in Godzilla films, all who oppose Godzilla are evil), with absolutely no way to convey emotion, given its crystalline eyes. By contrast, the Mothra film is rather staid, predictable, the fairies are intensely annoying (albeit the technology to put them into scenes with the ‘normal sized’ characters is well done for its time), and while one might see Kong somehow divebombing Godzilla into the sea and somehow prevailing as plausible, the idea that two caterpillars could wrap Godzilla up, without his burning off the silk with his fire breath, is just unconvincing. I literally recall seeing the film on the big screen, when 5 or 6, and all the kids I was with in the theater, saying the film sucked because it was unbelievable that two caterpillars could ever beat Godzilla. So, why do you think Mothra’s film is better than Kong’s?


EG: Where to start? Sorry, but there is just so much that you assert here that I cannot agree with. On a basic level, I do not buy that most Godzilla fans find KKvsG beats Godzilla vs The Thing to be better. Each film has its fans, lots of people like both. In my considerable experience in speaking to fans, reading opinions and reviews, and so on, I believe that Godzilla vs The Thing is probably held in higher regard overall. But at the same time I would not go so far as to say that is an uncontested fact. KKvsG is the undisputed box office champ, but in the court of public opinion, I believe the result is the reverse.

  Be that as it may, while I don’t see that Godzilla lost to Kong, ostensibly or not, he certainly does lose to Mothra. I do not see what that has to do with making one film better than the other--what makes a bigger difference to me is how do you get there. Likewise, the fact that the Kong film has more humor has no bearing on whether or not it is a better film. Sounds like the like/dislike vs good/bad topic we discussed earlier. Even if you accept that humor is an important factor, how you achieve it makes a big difference.  If you are talking about the Japanese version of KKvsG, I would say that it is well made as far as integrating humor into the story. Honda’s original is a kind of satire on greed, something that is completely gutted in the US version. The script delivers on that premise, and the leads (Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujiki, and Ichiro Arashima) really deliver with their performances. This humor naturally evolves from the story, and it really is quite amusing. There is also humor which creeps into the monster battles, and that is something you either like or do not like. I think the monster humor works against what Honda tries to achieve with the human drama, something with which he himself was also not happy. Godzilla vs the Thing is a more serious story, yet it contains some great comic moments thanks to a witty bit of scripting and comical Yu Fukiji playing against Jun Tazaki’s stern boss character. I’ll grant you that there is no humor in the monster scenes—and I consider that a great asset to the film.

  I am glad you mention the American inserts in KKvsG. I think the Americanization of this film is nearly as bad as what was done for Gigantis. While the dubbing is pretty good, the fact is that they changed the story completely, taking out all the satire and replacing it with laughably bad insert scenes that are so cheaply produced. The backgrounds for these ‘news reports’ are pathetic, and they even place wrinkled photos on the set’s viewscreens. The whole lecture given by Dr Arnold Johnson is a groaner. Here’s a supposedly distinguished scientist using an elementary school dinosaur book to explain Godzilla. I will admit that when I was 8 years old, I didn’t think anything of it. But beyond that age, I found it ridiculous. In any case, all these American insert scenes just seem so obviously shoehorned into the film. They repeatedly take the viewer out of the story. They are not part of the actual narrative. That’s plain bad storytelling. And an additional insult of the US version is the removal of Ifukube’s score in favor of some generic library music from Universal films. Before ever seeing the Japanese version, I felt it odd that this film had such a bland, sparse musical score.

  Back to your contention that Kong is better than Mothra because it is a thinking animal compared to a brainless bug. Just because Kong can think, I do not see why that makes him so superior. In fact, by that logic, Godzilla must be a pretty lousy character because, as the esteemed Dr Arnold Johnson says, he has a brain the size of a marble and is just brute force. In other words, he doesn't think much. And saying that Mothra is a brainless bug…well nothing could be further from the truth. Of all of Toho’s creations, Mothra is probably the one that exhibits the most intelligence, and in fact it frequently communicates with humanity through the twin fairies, and is somewhat of a spiritual force. Mothra’s actions all have proper motivations, it agrees to help mankind and consciously sacrifices itself, and the larvae devise a strategy to beat Godzilla despite being helplessly outmatched. I would contend that Mothra conveys much more emotion and performance than Kong ever did. About all Kong can do more than Mothra is to flutter its eyelids on its otherwise immobile and poorly formed face, and the effect is just to make him look dopey. Mothra’s motivations are clear to the audience. When the adult Mothra is blasted by Godzilla’s ray, its head gyrates wildly and the wings flap, showing obvious pain. When it flies off to die, you see it breathing ever so slightly, and then as it expires, the breathing stops and the lights in its eyes fade away. It’s a great performance from an inanimate object, and one that elicits a genuine emotional response from the audience. Kong doesn’t do anything of the sort. Especially in the way Mothra is realized in Godzilla vs The Thing, with its large and highly articulated model which is filmed in high speed, I would contend that it is one of the most convincing monsters that Toho ever created.

  I find it difficult how to respond to the contention that Godzilla vs The Thing is staid and predictable. I don’t see it that way at all. If anything, it goes against expectations in that Godzilla initially kills the adult Mothra--good is defeated by evil--which the audience does not really expect. And when the two babies are hatched, again you think that it would be impossible for them to prevail against Godzilla, but through some clever strategy, they are able to beat a clearly superior foe. The human drama sets up an interesting study of self-destructive greed and delivers a strong statement on humanity setting aside its differences to work towards a common goal, while also maintaining an anti nuclear message (as shown in the plight of the natives of Infant Island). The story nicely interweaves the human drama with both monster action and some of the most logical and well executed plans of humanity to counter Godzilla. Contrary to being staid and predictable, this story entertains, never bogs down, and delivers some social commentary. Add to that the fact that this is probably the peak of Toho’s sfx work and that Ifukube delivers one of his top scores, and you have the complete package. It’s one drawback is that the final act uses a manufactured threat to extend the human drama beyond the scenes on Infant Island.

  While you and your friends may have found the climax of Godzilla vs The Thing a letdown, I can say that my friends pretty much reacted in the opposite way. Granted, we were a few years older (10 or 11 years old at the time). But we all found it to be a cool, unexpected way to finish the film. And everyone thought it was more interesting than KKvsG, which had what was basically a non-ending. The monsters tumble over a cliff after fighting for a while, and for no reason in particular, they just decide to stop and go their own ways. Nothing happened which would have really made you think that the battle should have ended here. It just did. I found that somewhat unsatisfying. That Godzilla could have been trapped in Mothra’s cocoon never struck me as hard to believe. I certainly never thought Godzilla would try to burn the cocoon from his own body…if you accept that the atomic breath is so powerful, Godzilla is not going to inflict this terrible damage on himself. That would make no sense. I find it easy to accept that Godzilla cannot easily break through the cocoon…like the web of a spider, it is sticky and strong enough to ensnare large prey. It’s something anyone can understand from the real world. And when he gets blinded by the cocoon forming over his head, which he cannot remove with his breath in any case, it is easy to imagine the monster getting angrier and more disoriented.

  So in summary, why do I think Godzilla vs The Thing is better than KKvsG? I think it is better scripted, especially compared to the poorly edited US version, it has more compelling themes, is much more dramatic, has one of the very best scores of the series, and it also represents the pinnacle of Toho’s sfx work. KKvsG is just too inconsistent in it tone as well as in its sfx work.


DS: How did the Godzilla wins in the Japanese version of King Kong Vs. Godzillameme get started? Personally, I liked the Godzilla costume in the Kong film, as he looks quite menacing. Which of the Showa Era Godzilla costumes is your favorite, and why?


EG: As far as I know, that misinformation originated in Famous Monsters and just spread from there. Back in the 60’s, FM was it as far as a source of information on such films, so it was influential for both fans and the media. But I think that the whole thing is really just a matter of perception anyway…did Kong win? I never felt so. Kong surfaces and swims off…he needs to breathe, so of course he would have to surface if he wasn’t killed. That doesn’t make him a victor. There’s no need for Godzilla to surface since he lives underwater, so it just makes sense that he swims off as well, just underwater. It wouldn’t do for them both to surface since that just invites a continuation of the fighting, which is clearly over. I see the whole thing as just a draw, and that was certainly the filmmaker’s intention.

  As far as Godzilla designs, the KKvsG Godzilla is probably my second favorite version. It is massive and has a very sinister expression on its serpentine face. The back fins are changed from earlier versions, a large middle row flanked by very small secondary fins, which I feel is the most attractive back fin design. I can vividly recall that when I first saw this Godzilla in a trailer…that back fin design is what really made me think that this monster was something special. He’s much more than a dinosaur, and then when the fins glowed before Godzilla shot his atomic breath, well that was the final straw to push me over the edge. I was hooked. But as much as I like this version of Godzilla, I think they reached perfection the following year in Godzilla vs The Thing. That Godzilla has it all…the body proportions are perfectly balanced, skin texture is improved and more pronounced, the face is evil personified, and Nakajima’s performance is very animal-like. The performance in particular is what sets this Godzilla above the KKvsG version. That version (KKvsG) suffers from more human-like movement and the filming was mostly at normal speed, somewhat diminishing the image of a giant monster.


DS: Another problem with the early Godzilla opponents, up until film #5, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, is that Anguiras, Kong, and Mothra, would all have literally been toast, within 10-15 seconds had Godzilla just fried them. This early version of the ‘Dumbest Possible Action’ trope that got named during the slasher flick craze of the 1980s really brings down many Godzilla films. Comments?


EG: I can’t agree with this premise at all. There’s any number of problems with it. First of all, I think it’s a faulty premise that these opponents couldn’t stand up to Godzilla’s breath to a certain extent. This is science fiction and giant monsters, and there are no clear rules in effect--the filmmakers are well within their rights to make up their own rules in order to create some dramatic balance. I think it does not stretch believability at all that Angilas and Kong could withstand Godzilla’s atomic breath--sure, they would take damage, but they can still fight on (and that’s exactly what happens to Kong during their battle). The mutations which caused them to grow to this size, just as happened with Godzilla, makes it reasonable to expect they have some ability to withstand damage from a nuclear-based weapon. Not so with Mothra because by nature it is much more vulnerable as an insect, and indeed Godzilla does exactly what you suggest by attacking Mothra mainly by trying to shoot it with his ray. Mothra survives only by keeping Godzilla at bay with its agility and wind attacks. That works for a while, but all it takes is one lucky shot by Godzilla and Mothra is finished. It’s a mismatch, but Mothra makes a fight of it with a smart battle plan, and that’s dramatically much more interesting than a one-shot-and-it’s-over battle. I give credit to the filmmakers for finding a way to make a mismatch into a dramatic situation. Secondly, getting into a much more speculative area, I have always imagined that when Godzilla uses his atomic breath, it saps his strength to some extent, so to just use his breath incessantly would only weaken him. Dramatically and strategically, it should be used only when most effective. I also picture Godzilla as a very aggressive and physical creature, so it always seemed natural to me that he would prefer to attack physically rather than just stand back and fire away.

  Bottom line for me, as great a power as the atomic breath is, I don’t want to see Godzilla use it as an invincible one-and-done weapon. If you assume no opponent can withstand it at all, then you set yourself up for battles that are quick and unimaginative, completely undramatic. That’s one of many reasons why Godzilla Final Wars is such a miserable, unenjoyable mess. It’s akin to asking why Superman just doesn’t use his heat vision to lobotomize every villain he faces…sure, he’s powerful enough to do it in two seconds. But it’s not fun, it’s not interesting. I’d rather not see a film that is made that way.


DS: Most Godzilla fans loathe Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster and its sequel, Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero, because Ghidorah is such a palpably silly monster, yet Godzilla seems to need ‘help’ to defeat him, and the help comes from lesser monsters he’s defeated. As mentioned above, there is a Law in the Godzillaverse that all Godzilla fans, especially young boys, know instinctively: ‘Godzilla is always the star of the films he appears in, and is always the good guy, even in the earliest films where he is shown as almost a force of nature. The viewer always wants to see him stomp on and fry the Japs as they run in terror. Godzilla always has our sympathies, even in the first film, where one weeps for the dead monster, not the scientist who dies to kill him. This rooting for Godzilla, by any means, and for any reason, is part of the thrill of these films; especially the earlier ones. Therefore, by dramatic necessity, all who oppose Godzilla, are evil, and villains.’ Do you think it took the heads of Toho time to realize that this law had coalesced, otherwise, how does one explain Godzilla’s mid-1960s losing streak to such clearly inferior opponents?


EG: Once again, I am sorry but I don’t agree at all that fans loathe Ghidorah’s films or think King Ghidorah is a silly monster, or that there is any universally accepted thinking that Godzilla is always the good guy. I am sure that some people might feel that way, but it’s hardly universal or even a majority opinion. My opinion has always been 100% opposite, and when I was a kid, none of my friends felt the way you suggest. So many of the contemporary Godzilla fans and filmmakers in Japan that I have met also feel the same. To us, seeing Ghidorah was one of the most exciting and formative experiences we had. King Ghidorah was one of the most amazing creatures we had ever seen—several times I have seen it described in Japan as the ‘ultimate in monster beauty’. I agree. Most of the kids who were fans with me in the 60s drifted away from Godzilla specifically because he started to morph into a good guy. I can understand why. For me, that transformation was hard to swallow. We fell in love with a monster, not a humanized superhero. As long as Godzilla’s status was ambiguous, up through Destroy All Monsters, I was fine with things. As he changed in the 70s, it was my strong attachment to the character that made me hang on through the many cringe-worthy moments. I never have embraced Godzilla as a hero or good guy character. I liked him best as the villain, a powerful threat to mankind. Just because he fought against an alien invader like Ghidorah, I didn’t think of him as a hero…he was just defending his turf, not necessarily us. He was still just as dangerous to humanity once the invader was vanquished. When I think how the monsters are portrayed in Destroy All Monsters, when the Kilaaks take control, I don’t feel like the aliens manipulate them like puppets, they just let them loose and point them in a certain direction, letting them do what comes naturally.

  In any case, I don’t think you can have it both ways with Godzilla…you can’t want him to stomp on an innocent populace and simultaneously have our sympathies. Maybe my sensibilities are old-fashioned, but these two things seem diametrically opposed to me. I appreciate a good villain the best…they are the driving force of the story. The more powerful they are, the more drama a story can generate (how can it be defeated?). Was Star Wars a big hit because it had one of the greatest screen villains of all time or because Luke was such a compelling hero? Everyone won’t feel this way, but this is what works best for me with Godzilla. Then add something like Ghidorah, arguably even more dangerous than Godzilla, and the drama increases.

  Toho’s handling of Godzilla had much less to do with any recognition of a philosophy surrounding the character’s appeal than it did with money. Once tv invaded the turf of the movies and audiences started dwindling at a rapid rate in the mid-60s, the studio made the decision that these movies would begin to be aimed more and more at kids than at a general audience, as they had been up to this point. A number of the staff that were making films at this time did not agree at all with this approach, but to maximize the box office, the company thought this was the best way to go. That’s the power of the producer at work…any producer who is honest will admit that he is out to make money for the studio, which does not necessarily mean making good films. Just exploitable films.

  I do not see how Godzilla was losing to clearly inferior opponents throughout the 60s. Godzilla loses only once, and that is to Mothra, and not coincidentally, I think that remains the best and most dramatic conclusion to a Godzilla film of that era. The clearly superior force is overcome by clever strategy—you can’t see it coming--and good triumphs over evil, just as it should. Otherwise, Godzilla has a draw with Kong, three times he bests King Ghidorah, Ebirah goes down to defeat, and he kills Kumonga and the Kamakiras. I don’t see any other losses in there.

  Does Godzilla get help in some of these films? Sure he does—King Ghidorah is his only opponent where he gets help, and why not? While you may not agree, I see Ghidorah as more powerful than Godzilla, which I believe is one reason why he is so popular in Godzilla lore. Godzilla may be able to hold his own against Ghidorah, but individually I don’t see how he could defeat him at the same time. I thought one of the cleverest things about Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster was having the three Earth monsters combine their talents to win in the end. As a kid, I found that amazing and quite satisfying. Dramatically, I am totally fine with that. Godzilla’s character is not diminished in any way just because he didn’t win all by himself.


DS: Then came three straight mediocre films, at best: Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster, Son Of Godzilla, and Destroy All Monsters. While I saw these films numerous times, they were clearly a step down from the earlier films, in all ways. In fact, they are, at best, charitably, ‘children’s films.’ Any positives to say on these films?


EG: For starters, I don’t look at these films as being merely children’s films nor a clear step down. Of the three, I think that Son of Godzilla was the most child-friendly with its story centering around the Minya character, but I do not think of them as children’s films, and I can say that the people that made them did not think in that way either. The script writers still took a basically serious approach to the human dramas in each film, and certainly the human characters were hardly what you would expect from a children’s film. Sea Monster has an erstwhile bank robber and a guy who is out to find his shipwrecked brother as the main characters, and they come across a covert military operation which seems bent on causing nuclear havoc in the world. Hardly what I would call kiddie material. Likewise, with Son of Godzilla, the framing story is about a weather control experiment, told with straight-laced scientists and a reporter as the main characters. The only kiddie-friendly factor is Minya itself. Destroy All Monsters offers a vision of the future and an alien invasion, told through a group of astronauts and scientists. The scripts for these films pay enough respect to the adults in the audience that they can still enjoy the proceedings without feeling like there is nothing for them. In the case of Destroy All Monsters, Honda’s direction is straightforward and serious. Even in the face of a much more fantastic (some may say absurd) premise, he keeps the human drama on track. It never winks at the audience or dumbs things down. You may or may not agree with his approach or think it is successful, but this is why I believe that these films, like others that came before it, stand the test of time far better than many of the films that followed. Their scripts respected the full spectrum of the audience, they were simple but solid stories, and were accessible on some level to all ages. They are accessible to kids rather than made just for them. This is something I appreciate about films of this era, that they were made with all ages in mind, even if there was a slant towards kids. If these films are to be regarded as kids films, then by that logic, most every 50s and 60s scifi film with scientists, reporters, and military guys should be considered as kid stuff.

  Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla are often derided because they were a somewhat abrupt change in direction for the series. Both take place away from civilization, where Godzilla has always appeared previously. Their smaller scale was a conscious choice by the studio to not only reduce the budgets during a period when general box office returns were dwindling, but also to pump some fresh blood into the series. Director Honda was replaced with Jun Fukuda, sfx man Eiji Tsuburaya gave way to Sadamasa Arikawa (although Tsuburaya maintained supervisory credit more out of respect than time spent), and Akira Ifukube surrendered the baton to Masaru Sato. After two films pitting Godzilla against the super powerful Ghidorah and bringing in alien invasion, steering in a different direction seemed much wiser than trying to outdo Monster Zero. Putting Arikawa in charge of the effects work also proved a good move, as it prompted some innovation in effects. In an effort to distinguish his work from that of his mentor, he sought to try new things on the effects stage. His work on the insect monsters in Son of Godzilla was remarkable, depending on wire works almost exclusively to bring these creatures to life. It didn’t always work 100%, but on balance the results are impressive, especially in the case of Kumonga. When given the chance in Destroy All Monsters, Arikawa stages what is perhaps the most impressive monster attack on a city to date, and he pulls off an ending battle that is unparalleled in ambition. This battle has what I consider to be one of the single best effects ever pulled off in a Godzilla film, the landing of King Ghidorah amidst all of the Earth monsters at the beginning of the battle. Here the King Ghidorah suit, with an actor inside, is lowered to the set as several other suited actors scatter. The great number of wires needed to execute the effect are not seen, smoke billows up at just the right time, the actor inside Ghidorah sells the landing perfectly. It looks like a living creature has dropped from the sky and is ready to fight. I never fail to be impressed by this scene no matter how many times I see it.

  One thing I should mention is that, while I always thought that Son of Godzilla had a good basic story, I never had much liking for the film mainly because of the title character. I just don’t care for the concept of Minya. And this Godzilla suit has to be one of the very worst ever, so baggy and droopy, with a dopey expression on its face. But my estimation of the film increased dramatically when I had the chance to see it on the big screen in 2000—you really cannot appreciate the effects work and cinematography just watching on tv, regardless of how good the print may be. What had always seemed to me as claustrophobic, small scale production was nothing of the type when seen on the big screen.

  There are all sorts of things I can talk about in each film that I like, which would turn this into a magazine article rather than an interview. Suffice it to say I do not share the same disdain for them.


DS: Then we arrive at 1969, and the film I think, along with the original film, represents the film series (at least the Showa Era I’m familiar with) at its zenith, is the only other film that can lay claims on greatness, and that’s Godzilla's Revenge (and it should be noted I use mainly the American titles I grew up with). Yet, somehow this film is reviled for the very things that make it such a standout: it’s writing, acting, its portrayal of Godzilla as a strictly ‘film monster’ and, in a trope that very few have ever commented upon, its oblique handling of the dangers latchkey and lonely children face when confronted with pedophiles. In fact, it’s not the bullies nor the bank robbers that are the true threat in the film, but the old toymaker with too keen an ‘interest’ in the little boy. I wrote: But, there are real world dangers that face Ichiro. Aside from the bully Gabara, there are a pair of dimwitted bank robbers (Sachio Sakai and Kazuo Suzuki) that he will contend with (in a version of Home Alone over two decades before the far lesser American film opened) and, naturally, defeat, and then there is the greatest danger- one very subtly implied, but never stated (hence no other critics have ever picked up on its prescience), and that is the presence of a manipulative older neighbor, a toymaker named Mr. Inami (Hideyo ‘Eisei’ Amamoto), who may very well be a pedophile (note the overaffections of his looks and lingering gestures toward the young boy). This is not my PC overreaction, but a clear-eyed look at a reality that faced almost all latchkey kids at some point, and, given the year of its release, could only be implied, not overtly shown nor stated. There was always a recurring subtext of possible pedophilia in many Japanese monster films- a young boy and an overly-protective grandfatherly figure- but no film gives off those creepy vibes like this one. It’s nothing in the script, per se, just the way certain scenes play out. The old man’s affections for Ichiro are simply too much. The old man is also just too concerned about the boy, and always there, at inappropriate moments. Intentional or not, it contributes to the empathy most viewers feel for Ichiro, especially when confronted by tormenting peers. At several points the old toymaker solicits Ichiro to spend more time with him, and Ichiro always instinctively pulls away (just as most pedophilia victims do), with an odd mix of natural hyperactivity and almost preternatural recognition that something is not quite right with the old man, nor his staying too long with him. Having watched this film literally dozens of times over the years, across all formats, I’m amazed at how, on each watching, I pick up on some small nuance in the relationship between Ichiro and Inami that I never noticed earlier. This is great screenwriting and acting resulting from great direction. Other attempts at pedophilia onscreen come off as clunky, in comparison. That Honda does it so subtly, and ends the film with the bully and criminals vanquished, whereas the old man is still free to plot and scheme to corrupt Ichiro is both realistic and brilliant, ending the film on a gloomy note; albeit it a very good one that is reinforced by another trope Ichiro is shown to have- budding sociopathy.’ In his commentary on the film, Richard Pusateri just barely hints at this trope, then never brings it up again. Is there still something taboo about even mentioning this? Or do the Toho studio suits simply want to deny the content, because Honda was way ahead of his time? You have spoken before of Toho’s need for DVD commentary approval- do you think they ‘muzzled’ Pusateri on the pedophilia trope?


EG: Honestly, I think this pedophilia angle is really overreaching. I could never see a person like Ishiro Honda putting something like that into a film of his, overtly or subtly, and doubly so when the film in which it is contained is one clearly aimed at small kids. It is completely against Honda’s personality, and the few people I have mentioned this theory to are dumbfounded to hear that anyone would think it possible. Maybe you are influenced by Amamoto’s eccentric appearance or the odd dubbing voice that his character gets in the US version, but I see nothing whatsoever to indicate that there is any pedophilia aspect to this film. I find that a 2011, over-reactive ‘everyone and everything is out to get you’ sort of attitude. Amamoto himself was a quirky guy who Honda and other directors used in these kinds of roles. Sometimes a kind but weird old toy inventor really is just a kind but weird old toy inventor. I think what Richard says in this commentary is really just his dry sense of humor coming through. I should also point out that Ishiro Honda was, as his assistant director Seiji Tani describes him, a straight-shooter as a director. He wasn’t much for hidden meanings and always played straight with the audience. What you see is what he intended. Honda often expressed amusement at how people tried to read so much meaning into his films that wasn’t actually there.


DS: I also wrote: No, the two films that best penetrate a child’s mind are actually both B science fiction films, and both are sequels. The first is Robert Wise’s 1944 debut directorial effort, the black and white The Curse Of The Cat People, and the second is 1969’s mere 69 minute long color film, Godzilla’s Revenge (aka All Monsters Attack, Oru Kaiju Dai Shingeki- admittedly all bad titles). Both films were made on shoe string budgets, employed narrative arcs vastly different than their predecessor films, but both really got in to the logical nub and center of a child’s POV on the world. It’s no surprise that both films are usually dismissed by fans of the original films in the series. Yet, The Curse Of The Cat People is a better film than Cat People and Godzilla’s Revenge is clearly the best film in the whole Godzilla series, save for the first film, Godzilla, King Of The Monsters (and its Japanese source film, Gojira), and, in reality, given the actual narrative inventiveness of this film, good arguments can be made that it is the best film in the series, and possibly the best film of director Ishiro Honda’s career.’ Have you seen The Curse Of The Cat People? If so, would you agree with my comparison?


EG: I would hardly say that this was one of Honda’s best or the series best. I can admit these days that it is underrated, but I don’t see it in the same league as many other films in the series. I will agree that it does a great job of tapping the child’s point of view, which is one reason why I can now give this film a lot more respect than I used to. It’s a nice little film, same as Curse of the Cat People (which I have seen and enjoyed). They are good for what they are, modest films with some imagination and interesting viewpoints. 


DS: I also feel Godzilla’s Revenge makes the best repurposed use of stock footage I can recall in a film. Perhaps only Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey, which uses footage from Ken Loach’s Poor Cow, may equal or exceed it. But that reuse is not as integral to that film as the Godzilla stock footage is to conveying that the boy lives in his Godzillaverse gleaned from film. What is your take on this film? If you think as highly of it as I do, do you think it’s unjust reputation falls on the benighted shoulders of fanboy types?


EG: I have gone through a complete 180 on my opinion of this film. Understand that the first time I saw this film was in 1971, not too long after seeing Destroy All Monsters and Monster Zero. These were two of my favorites, and just hearing the title of this new film, I had no reason to expect that this film would be any kind of radical departure from the others. I had just graduated from high school. I don’t think there could have been a worse time for me to be introduced to this film, completely unaware of what kind of film it was going to be. I went in expecting another destruction filled Godzilla epic. And to add insult to injury, I had dragged my father out on a bitterly cold, subzero evening to take me to see this film at a drive-in. It was the only place showing the film, and I didn’t have my own car at the time. Thank God that the film was paired with Monster Zero and War of the Gargantuas, both which my Dad enjoyed. But 30 minutes into Godzilla’s Revenge, not only was I stunned by this pre-school kiddie adventure featuring my least favorite monster, Minya, but I was also mortified to have to sit through this with my Dad as we had both been freezing out butts off for more than 3 hours at that point. I remember after Ichiro’s second dream that I just told my Dad, “Let’s go. There’s no point in watching any more.” The film finally came to a regular indoor theater a couple weeks later, so I went again to give it another try, but there really wasn’t anything that would have changed my basic opinion of the film at that time. I was stunned at the shameless and excessive use of stock footage, the comic tone, and the total kiddie approach. This was the worst possible time for me to see it. Subsequent years didn’t change my opinion much, and to show you the level of my disdain for the film, it was probably the only one that I never made a special effort to watch if it came on tv.

  So what happened? It was once I had my own kid and I showed the film to her when she was maybe 3 or 4 years of age that I had a sort of epiphany about it. Watching with her, seeing her response to it, suddenly I could see the film through the eyes of its intended audience. It opened my eyes in several ways. Because of my initial negative experience with this film, I didn’t really even think to consider what Honda’s intention was in making the film. But now I could see that first of all, it was Toho’s attempt to respond to Daiei’s Gamera series, which by this point had been directed squarely at kids under 10. Looking at it in that way, I could see this was far better and actually more sophisticated than what Daiei was doing. Daiei had made a succession of silly adventures where the kids were smart, the adults all uniformly dumb, and Gamera engaged in battles with lots of bloodshed and comedic actions. Honda made a film that appealed to the same age group and had plenty of monster action, but set in a more real world situation which covered some interesting ideas…the plight of latchkey kids, bullying, isolation. They were all themes which not only little kids watching but also the adults could relate to. Ichiro was a little kids everyman, and dreaming about making friends with Godzilla was a really appealing hook to kids. It’s unfortunate that they had to resort to cheating the audience with so much stock footage, but given the budget, Honda had no other choice. Toho may have thought they could get away with it since kids wouldn’t notice they were seeing reruns from older films, especially really small kids. But that doesn’t give kids enough credit. They do notice. The first thing my little girl (she was 3 or 4 at the time) said was that we already have seen this movie because she remembered the fights with Ebirah and Kamakiras. In any case, the film does work for little kids, and if it works for the intended audience as well as this one does while also offering something to the adults to think about, then I have to give it a big compliment.


DS: Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster is really the last of the Showa Era films that has any merit. Hedorah is sort of a next generation Godzilla, in that Godzilla was an embodiment of nuclear fears, and Hedorah an embodiment of the fears of pollution and over-consumption. The opening, psychedelic song, Save The Earth, in the opening credits montage, is one of the most lasting memories I have from the whole series. Yet, I have read that Toho removed it, and replaced it with another song when they scrapped the AIP version of the film, which can be seen here. As with Godzilla’s Revenge, it seems that Toho studio executives simply don’t realize what is good or memorable. As example, I actually also think Godzilla’s Revenge is a superior film to the Japanese original:Even better is the film’s musical scoring, by Kunio Miyauchi - in the American version. The Japanese version is much more bizarre and less apt. Equally so, the dubbed American version far better captures the vocal intonations of children (few of the original Japanese child actors could emote well) and makes most of the adult characters a bit more buffoonish, which works as a stylization that emphasizes the child-like take on things. But, the biggest improvement, soundwise, in the American version, comes with the voice used for Godzilla’s son, Minya. In the original Japanese it’s an almost robotic sounding feminine voice, whereas in the American version it’s a far more friendly and goofy male voice, and one that actually displays a range of emotion, unlike the original Japanese version. One might think because I grew up with the dubbed version that I prefer it for that reason. No, it’s just that the Japanese vocalizations all seem oddly flat and unemotive, whereas, if the film is but a memory of a child, the Americanized voices are all individuated, thereby memorable, thus giving a reason why some rather banal moments of the film are recalled. Also, the very physical reactions of the Minya character are not effeminate, but goofy, thus the goofier American voice meshes far better with the physicality of Minya than the shrill, effeminate Japanese voice.’ I would guess that many times more people have seen the American dubbed versions of the films, worldwide, than the subtitled Japanese originals, so this sort of denying of history, as in the removal of Save The Earth, to me, is a diss to non-Japanese fans. Comments?


EG: Well, first of all, Save the Earth was not removed from the film. That translated song, as sung by Adryan Russ, was in the original theatrical AIP version. The same song exists in every version of the film, the only difference is that it is the original untranslated song as voiced by the original artist. There is nothing nefarious about it--just a fact that the original US theatrical version is not something that Toho has the rights to, so any non-AIP version of the film will not have it. Toho has not scrapped the AIP version. They just choose to license their own dubbed version because that is what they own the rights to. What is good or memorable to a small group of fans is of no concern to them--what they own and have legal rights to use is much more important to them. The current version of this film which Toho has licensed does not suffer nearly as much in comparison to the AIP version as it does for Destroy All Monsters. Toho has been licensing what is referred to as the International version of this film, with a script and dubbing which they had done themselves back in 1968 to sell the film overseas. That version is absolutely terrible. The dubbing voices are very poor, the voice acting is terrible, and the dubbing script is awful. In comparison, the AIP dubbing job for this film is one of the very best ever done for a Japanese sf film. Had I seen the International version of this film first, I would probably have thought this film was terrible. It would have been one of my least favorites. But fortunately I saw the AIP version, and instead I find this film to be one of my favorites. It all comes down to the script and acting as I have said previously…top drawer for the AIP version, bottom shelf for the International version. It is a real shame that many people today have only seen or had their first exposure to the International version, and thus their opinion of the film has been shaped by that. Personally, I would be happy if every copy of the International version of Destroy All Monsters disappeared from the face of the Earth for eternity. Sorry for the digression, but I think it was an important point to make.

  Back to the matter at hand. I should point out that the musical score for Godzilla’s Revenge is basically the same in both versions. The only difference is the main theme song--a different theme was composed for the opening of the US version. It’s pretty wild, but it certainly fits at the same time.

  As far as the dubbing, I do not think it is fair to judge a dubbed version of the film against the original Japanese unless you have a fluent understanding of both languages and cultures. What may sound perfectly natural in Japanese can be perceived much differently in English and vice versa. I do not know how you can accurately judge intonation or emotion without a thorough understanding of both languages. I believe it is perfectly valid to say what you think is good or bad about the English dubbing, but you cannot judge it superior/inferior to the Japanese language track on the basis of sound alone. Likewise, culturally your point about the female voice may be valid in the West, but that is not necessarily so in Japanese culture. Voice acting is a whole different game in Japan. It is an accepted norm for women to dub the voices of children--the most famous example would be Mighty Atom, aka Astro Boy. The Japanese would consider it an aberration if it were not dubbed that way. I do not think it is right to deny the choice of the original filmmakers just because it doesn’t ‘sound’ as appropriate in the context of a different language and culture. I agree that the US dubbing track is good and works well for foreign audiences, but I do not accept the premise that it is superior to the original unless you can similarly judge the Japanese within the context of that language and culture.


DS: The Showa Era then ended with a run of inferior comic book level films: Godzilla On Monster Island, Godzilla Vs. Megalon, Godzilla Vs. MechaGodzilla, and Terror Of MechaGodzilla. Is there anything positive you can say of any of these films, other than possibly the Jet Jaguar character had some possibilities?


EG: Well, there’s a reason that they decided to stop making Godzilla films after 1975. They ran out of ideas and the audience was dwindling, and these films were responsible for that. They had the misfortune of being made when the Japanese film industry had just undergone a tremendous upheaval. Around 1970, the studios let go of almost all their actors and much of their staff. Contracted employment became largely a thing of the past. This was a way for them to cut costs drastically, as the studios were all suffering financially. Tv had really eaten into the box office for film in general, not just for monster films. It was that much worse in the monster film area because the ‘monster boom’ of this era had created so much in the way of monster content that was available to be seen for free on tv. It was hard for the movies to compete. The only way they could continue to make movies was to cut costs to the bone…that meant simpler scripts, lesser actors, a lot less money for special effects. The special effects guys from that era have all lamented how hard it was to make films at that time, their frustration at not being able to do anything remotely close to what they wanted. So in came the era of stock footage, less effects, increasingly juvenile scripting. There are still individual moments of brilliance buried in these films, but you have to sit through an awful lot of painful stuff to find them. For the people who revel in ‘bad’ films, these were the salad days. For the rest of us, it was time to suffer.

  As I said, there were still a few gems to be found amid these films. Gigan and MechaGodzilla were exciting designs and interesting opponents for Godzilla. Sfx man Teruyoshi Nakano, who excelled at fire effects, created some amazing set pieces (oil field battles in Gigan and MechaGodzilla, the dam destruction in Megalon). But even the return of Ishiro Honda in 1975 couldn’t save the series from itself, and wisely they shut things down for a while. I can’t say that I share your enthusiasm for Jet Jaguar, as the idea of putting a humanoid character on the screen with Godzilla has always been one of my least favorite concepts. It points out to the audience that the monsters are actually humans in suits and kills any potential suspension of disbelief that these are giant monsters. Plus, I thought the design wasn’t particularly appealing—the big toothy grin on the helmet reminded me more of then President Jimmy Carter than a giant hero.


DS: From all three series of films, what would you name as your Top 5 films, qualitatively? I would go (in descending order) with Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, Godzilla’s Revenge, Godzilla Raids Again, King Kong Vs. Godzilla, and Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster (a slight edge over Mothra Vs. Godzilla, for its camp factor and social relevance).


EG: That’s not as easy a question as I first thought. My mind is always geared towards considering what are my favorite films. For quality, the top couple are easy, but then it gets really hard to separate what I like from what has the best quality of production. After some internal debate, I would go with:
1) Godzilla (54)

2) Godzilla vs The Thing

3) Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster

4) GMK-All Monsters Attack

5) King Kong vs Godzilla

  Putting together a ‘quality’ list still involves a lot of subjective factors. How do you define ‘quality’? For me, I would have to say it is a combination of the competence of the script, direction, the acting, and the execution of the special effects. I can’t see how camp can be a factor in rating quality—they seem to be diametrically opposed terms. While I don’t enjoy camp at all, I understand that a lot of people love it, which is totally ok. Everyone likes different things. But I don’t see how you can mention it in the same breath as quality.

  As for naming my favorites, that’s easy. Without any hesitation, I can say:

1) Godzilla vs The Thing

2) Godzilla (54)

3) Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster

4) Destroy All Monsters

5) Monster Zero


DS: Another digression, while we speak of foreign films. Perhaps it’s because I grew up sneaking into theaters in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to see the latest Godzilla release that hit stateside, but I cannot stand subtitling. Dubbing is so vastly superior, yet when I hear others complain about being distracted by unsynchronized lip motions, I ask, ‘Well, are you not distracted by having up to a third of the visual medium covered?’ With DVDs, luckily, when I watch a film again, to review a commentary, I often pick up on visuals covered by the words. I simply do not get how any rational being could prefer subtitles. To mention Bergman, I recall watching his Spider Trilogy of films, and the dubbing actually helped the film because the different actor voices for, say, Max Von Sydow, helped differentiate the different characters he played in Through A Glass, Darkly and Winter Light. Plus, as cartoons have shown, the easiest portion of acting to replicate, and to convey emotion, is the voice. The great actors are always separated from the mortals by their ability to act with their bodies, faces, or just a body part- and that’s all retained in dubbing. And modern animation voice actors have shown how effective a good voice can be, often ‘improving’ the original acting in a film. Which camp do you fall into, and why?


EG: Dubbing is a hit or miss proposition. There are good jobs and lousy jobs. A good job can make a good film shine and elevate a mediocre film. A poor effort can destroy even a good film. Is that fair to the makers of the original film, who have absolutely no control over this process? Look no further than all the disdain heaped upon Japanese films over dubbing. A lot of Japanese films were dubbed well, but all it takes is a stinker or two, like Battle In Outer Space or Gigantis, and out comes the broad brush that paints all these films as hack jobs. To do a good dubbing job, you not only need good voice actors, you have to match the voices with the physical characteristics of the characters on screen. Those actors need to have a good voice director, and then you need a good dubbing script. Not a literal translation from another language, which is invariably klunky and stilted. You need someone competent enough to take the original, process it for nuance yet not change the original too much, and make it work in a new language and culture. It’s not easy, and it is not done well very often. As I mentioned above, I think it is highly presumptuous to say that a dubbed voice improves on the original…unless you know the original language and understand the culture and context in which the original is made, how can you begin to say it is superior or inferior? And when you do a dubbing script, how far do you go in adapting it for the new audience? At some point, you change the intention of the director, which makes the film into something else entirely. I consider that as disrespectful to the author of the work, unless they themselves have approved the changes. Likewise with actors…their work can be completely undone just by using a badly matched voice or a poor voice actor. Look no further than world class actors like Takashi Shimura and Minoru Chiaki, fresh off of their brilliant roles in Seven Samurai, made to sound foolish by inane voice acting in Gigantis. I completely disagree that their bodily acting is all retained and unaffected by the dubbing…it may be with a good voice, but make a bad choice on the voice or the actor, and the rest is out the window. Give a character a Yogi Bear voice, and no matter who it is or how great an actor they are, you can’t take him very seriously.

  I respect that you and others prefer dubbing, and IF it is done well, it can be satisfying and an accurate reflection of the makers’ true talents. The dubbing of Japanese sf films by Titra Studios in the 60s is a good example of how to do it right, and I love those versions. But dubbing also introduces a lot of variables that can harm or change the original work, which is not fair to the makers. Even subtitling can have its problems—a lot depends on the approach of the subtitler. How well do they know the language, how do they deal with cultural idioms that do not translate well, etc. There are good subtitles and bad subtitles. But overall, I prefer subtitles because I like to see the film the way it was actually made, not a version with much of the creative process taken away from the original creators and redone according to what may be a different set of ideas.


DS: Also, to digress, I’ve always raged about how one can get the latest Hollywood schlockbuster film for far less than a quality foreign film from DVD companies like The Criterion Collection, Kino, or Anchor Bay. Do foreign film DVD distributors simply not want to get into this market? It seems like an artificial wall designed to keep those ‘Philistine American plebeians’ from accessing great art. Why has Toho not made its catalog more readily available outside of Japan? And when will King Kong Vs. Godzilla be released in a quality DVD with features and a commentary?


EG: Toho has its own way of doing business. As a businessman, I often find their manner to be quite peculiar. But without any official statement from Toho, we can only speculate as to why they handle things the way they do. A lot of people like to claim various things about Toho’s thinking, but really it is only their perception of what they think they are doing. Answering with that in mind, I believe that Toho assigns a much greater value to their products than anyone in the international community does. Many have speculated that they sold the rights to many of their films back in the early days at ‘low’ prices, and years later they have suffered from seller’s remorse, feeling they were taken advantage of. I believe there is some truth to that idea, which is the only way I can rationalize how they act sometimes. Their approach is that their product is worth $XX (usually a high number) and they will not budge. Think of it like selling cars…you can price a car at $10k and make $1k profit per car, which means you might be able to sell a bunch of cars and make some decent money. But the Toho manner is to price that same car at $1 million in order to make what they perceive as their deserved profit margin. As a result you will never sell anything, and therefore you make nothing. My belief is that they want what they feel they are owed, not that they have any desire to deny the world access to any of their products.

  As for KKvsG, Toho has nothing to do with that. That film is entirely owned by Universal in the US market. Toho has no rights here. Unless Universal decides the time is right to issue this film with extras, it will never happen. Toho has no right to distribute their version here without going through Universal. Considering how hard it was to get the US version KKvsG released on dvd to begin with, it seems highly unlikely they would look to spend a bunch of money to reissue and upgrade their disc. If they wanted to get the Japanese version released, they would also have to go to Toho and negotiate that with them. If I was a betting man, I would say Universal will never bother to do it. It’s not on their radar.


DS: Another thing that films tend to do is overuse close-ups and musical scoring to highlight particular moments or points they want to make. Yet, detachment and silence has a power; think of the end of the original 1968 The Planet Of The Apes. After the Charlton Heston character sees the half-buried (or shattered) Statue of Liberty, he falls to his knees in the surf, pounds the sand, and wails of the idiocy of mankind. But, there’s no musical cue that says, ‘Aha, he was on earth all along!’ Just the utter indifference of the cosmos to Heston’s character’s colossal loss, as represented by the ongoing sound of ocean waves. Putting aside the great psychosexual and political imagery, the ending is great because it just stands naked. Thoughts on that ending, and why so many films refuse to let their merits stand alone?


EG: It’s a brilliant cinematic moment, and silence from Jerry Goldsmith is absolutely the right choice to accent the moment. Silence itself is a sound, and this is the right sound choice. It focuses all your attention on this shocking revelation. The moment needs no amplification or distraction. Silence actually emphasizes Taylor’s true isolation.

  Why is this the exception rather than the norm? There is no easy answer. Every film is different, and there are lots of different personalities involved in making decisions on these matters. As a basic idea, I believe that many composers look at it as their job to provide aural narration, and unless they recognize that silence is one of the many sounds that they can employ, they will opt for music whenever they can. And a lot of composers feel the need to justify their existence, as if leaving a scene silent might invite people to think their jobs are not needed, or at least not as important as they should be. Directors and composers will clash over when/where/if to use music, and even if a composer feels the need to go with silence, a director can override that choice and add music anyway. If you talk about modern filmmaking, as a general tendency their seems to be the feeling that more is better, so things tend to get overproduced. It’s like George Lucas’s approach to the later Star Wars films. One spaceship is cool, 20 spaceship attacking at once in Return of the Jedi was really cool, so 100 spaceships on screen at once must be even better. But it’s not, it’s just stimulus overload. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should or that it is required.


DS: That leads me to Akira Ifukube, whose music for Godzilla films is often dismissed. I think he’s one of the better film composers of the last 60 years- maybe not there with Nino Rota, but what would Godzilla be without the music? Next to Ishiro Honda, he’s the key man in the film series’ success. Agree or not?


EG: I can’t rate who is more or less important in terms of the success of Godzilla films. I think these films have hit the mark because of the unique combination of talents of the various staff members. Ifukube is certainly a vital piece in that puzzle. He created a sound for Godzilla that is unlike any other in the annals of motion pictures. You can almost literally say he is the voice of Godzilla. His music creates a mood which no one else has come close to duplicating. It’s almost impossible to think of Godzilla without thinking of Ifukube’s music. I think that he is held in pretty high regard in film music circles, although if there is a criticism to be made of his work, it is that he tends to borrow from himself often. While that has to be expected to some extent since he was involved in scoring a series with recurring characters, there are times where he does fall into the trap of excessively relying on his previous works. But as far as giant monsters go, there is no one in the same league as Ifukube.


DS: Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director, by contrast, was much less important, as the suitmation technique had serious limitations. By any standard, Godzilla films are notorious for their poor special effects, yet, as with desynchronized dubbing, this lends the films a sort of likeability they’d otherwise lack. Agree or not? Why?


EG: Sorry to be such a contrarian, but I just cannot agree with this patronizing characterization of Tsuburaya and his work. I do not understand why Tsuburaya’s work is always dissed. He created a whole genre of special effects, not because he had less talent than the next guy, but because he had less resources. I think he actually should be receiving special recognition for having the wherewithal to make something from essentially nothing. As he once said, “Our technique was born from our poverty.” If he had the time, money, and technology, he would have probably made Godzilla with stop motion. But he didn’t, and like a true creative professional, he still found a way to make it happen. I always wonder what a supposed genius like Kubrick would have been able to achieve on 2001 had he been given only the resources that a Tsuburaya had. Who knows, it’s just a hypothetical situation, but do you think people would still be falling all over themselves to praise his visionary work in that situation? Probably not, because talent without resource could not have accomplished the same thing. Without Tsuburaya, there probably would never have been a genre of Japanese sf and monster movies, so I consider him every bit as important as Honda and Ifukube. And having met and talked with many of the art department guys who actually designed and built things for these films, I understand and respect the sincere effort they made to do things as well as they could, the passion behind their work. I believe they accomplished quite a lot.

  I really enjoy Tsuburaya’s technique and the industry which grew out of it. Miniature work is something that, as I look back on my childhood, was one of the things that drew me to Japanese sf films more than other kinds of films of the era. The physical nature of the effects, the unique alternate reality that they create, that is far more fascinating to me than other kinds of effects. As I kid, I was unaware of what technique was what, I really didn’t even pay much attention to whether a film was Japanese or not. The look of miniature effects just clicked with me. To this day, I enjoy watching good miniature effects much more than other kinds of effects. That alternate reality is much more interesting than the ‘real’ thing. Japanese films are ‘notorious’ for poor effects mostly because that is a prejudice that a lot of people buy into before even starting to watch. All these effects are not great, but they are on whole far more respectable than anyone gives the credit for. A poorly done film like X From Outer Space or Godzilla vs Megalon provides plenty of fodder for the public to paint the effects in these films with a broad brush.

  In any case, I can understand that not everyone goes for miniature work. That’s ok. We all have our preferences, which are neither right or wrong. I don’t find the bad ones likeable in any way. I guess that in general I do not take enjoyment from incompetent work, but your mileage may vary.


DS: How and when did you and Steve Ryfle meet? How do you decide on what sorts of projects to pursue? How do you decide to collaborate or not?


EG: If I recall correctly, Steve and I first met back in September 1994 at the initial unofficial gathering of fans held by G-Fan magazine in Chicago. It’s memorable because it was just a month after my second child was born, and a couple days after I had snapped my ankle in half playing baseball. Steve knew of me from my magazine, Japanese Giants, and was interested to meet and interview me. So he came to Chicago for that fateful weekend and we seemed to hit it off well. When I went out to LA for subsequent business trips, I would always try to hook up with him. One of the great things I appreciated about Steve was that we could talk about lots of things besides just monster movies, so our friendship grew. He also asked me for advice and to proofread different things when he was writing his Godzilla book. When I went to LA in 1997 for doing a couple days of work on the US Godzilla film as an extra, I managed to get him onto the location, so we were able to share that experience for a night—that was a great time. Over the next few years, we kept in pretty close contact, and Steve contributed some of his interviews with Japanese actors to my magazine. Then in 2003, the British Film Institute contacted us together with Keith Aiken, asking if we would like to do a dvd commentary on their release of the original Godzilla. Each of us had given help to Bruce Goldstein at Rialto Pictures regarding their theatrical release of this film, and it was he who recommended us for the job. This was our first chance to really work together. The experience was so good, so rewarding, and we really seemed to click working together. So when Classic Media asked us to do commentaries for their discs, we were all too happy to be able to work together again. Since that time, it just seems natural that we work together. At this point, if there is some big project to work on, I think I would much prefer to work with Steve than alone. I think our skill sets complement each other nicely and together we can produce something better than we could individually. And it’s a lot more fun doing things together.


DS: In this interview, Steve Ryfle laments the possible end of DVD commentaries and features as much of filmdom switches over to streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and such sites. I agree that the Golden Age of DVDs may be over, and film knowledge and history may never be as again aware of itself as it was in this first decade of the 21st Century. What’s your take on this? If true, how does this affect the ability of men like you and Steve to earn a living? Is this like the loss of the old film theater culture of the 1960s and 1970s that I mentioned earlier in this interview?


EG: I would agree with what Steve has to say. As the delivery of films moves towards new media, these extras will be deemphasized. Unless a new market opens up for such extra features where people are willing to pay for them, which I think is highly unlikely, there will be less and less. There will probably always be some making featurettes that will be used to hype films on their release, but less and less of the kinds of things that examine films in detail, recount their history, and examine their historical significance.

  We have never tried to make a living doing this, so while we both see this as a highly regrettable trend, it’s something that we can deal with. It’s not like there have been a plethora of jobs for dvd extras to begin with. It just means that we will have to spend a bit more time and effort to find ways to take on similar projects. Perhaps it means we will need to shift our focus more to writing.


DS: The two of you did a documentary called Bringing Godzilla Down To Size. What was it about and where is it available?


EG: Having been fortunate to provide some of the commentaries and extras on Classic Media's dvds of Godzilla films in 2006, we now pitched new special content to the company for inclusion in a planned box set. Steve and I brainstormed a lot of ideas about projects we'd like to work together on, and one was a documentary film. So we decided we had nothing to lose by tossing out that idea in response to Classic Media's inquiry, and to our delight, they took us up on the offer. That was great, but we also had no experience in making a film, so we had our work cut out for us. But already I felt that we had a rich subject to mine for a film. We agreed from the start that we did not want to do what had already been done many times over, i.e. a simple history of Godzilla or examination of his character. Yet at the same time, it was clear that to be marketable, Godzilla had to be central to the project. Having met members of the Toho sfx art department, I had learned a lot of things from them about the making of Toho sf films, and they had generously shared their time and archive of materials with me. Despite their vital role in the creation of Toho films, their stories were virtually unknown, even in Japan. Thinking of the art department guys, this presented us a fresh angle that we could approach in a film, yet still pay close attention to the history of Godzilla and Toho sf films. So our angle was not to tell the story of Godzilla, but of the world in which he was brought to life--the miniature world of Toho films. In addition to Eiji Tsuburaya, whose name was already well known, the other main players in this world would be former sfx art director Yasuyuki Inoue and his staff. So the unique brand of special effects from Japan was the framing story, with Godzilla and friends providing the anchor point.

  At the time our film was in editing, Classic Media underwent a change in ownership, and by the time we were finished, it was obvious that the new owners didn’t know or care much about what we had done. It was not their project. Our film, as well as the last two Toho films they had the rights to release, War of the Gargantuas and Rodan, were properties on which they just did not want to spend any time or money to promote or to add any extras. So they put the two features onto a double feature release and threw our film on that set as a bonus. Despite our film being an exploitable asset that they paid for and the excellent feedback we got from them upon turning it in, the company crammed it onto the set with just a one-line blurb on the back of the dvd case indicating it was included. That was the sum total of their promotion. Steve and I volunteered to do a variety of promotions for it, but they asked us not to do that. So the film hardly had any visibility. We did eventually convince them to allow a premier of the film at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood as a sales promotion for the dvd, which was a nice event. The only other time we could get a public screening was at the Fantasia film festival in Montreal, and arranging that was a Herculean task. That year, Fantasia had arranged to show the world premier of Tarantino’s  Inglorious Bastards…the people involved in the festival said it was much easier to arrange that screening than to get Classic Media to allow our film to be shown.

  So if you would like to see our film, you’ll find it on the Classic Media dvd set of War of the Gargantuas and Rodan.


DS: Are the two of you still collaborating on an Ishiro Honda biography? It’s often mentioned online, but seems yet to be published. When will it be finished and released? Will it be published in America and Japan?


EG: The book is in progress, and our goal is to produce the best book we can rather than to just rush it into print. Fortunately we have a publisher in Weslyan that agrees with our idea and has allowed us sufficient time. There is just so much translation required for the hours of interviews we have conducted, and that takes a lot of time. In addition, we are making a concerted effort to see all of Honda’s non-sf films. There has been a lot of effort expended towards that goal, and then there is the process of working through each film to get an understanding of them…none have English language versions available. We have gotten an enormous amount of help from Honda’s granddaughter Yuuko, who is helping to guide us through this process. We consider a thorough study of these films to be essential to writing Honda’s biography…they make up almost half of his body of work. To ignore or gloss over them, as typically has been the case with books and articles written about him both here and in Japan, is to paint an incomplete picture of the man, which we feel would be a disservice to the readers. We have now seen all but one of these films, and it has revealed to us a lot of things that people may never have realized about Mr Honda. This has also been one of the most rewarding aspects of the project, discovering this previously untapped collection of works by one of our favorite artists.

  The manuscript should be finished during 2012 and we hope it will be published sometime next year. It is also planned to be published in Japan.


DS: Do you read other books on Godzilla, such as William Tsutsui’s Godzilla On My Mind? What did you think of that book?


EG: Of course I have read a lot of other books on the subject. I have read parts of Godzilla On My Mind, but I have not read the entire book. It’s not that it’s badly done or anything like that, it’s just that his approach to the subject just isn’t the angle I am looking to read about. I am looking for information on the character and the films rather than a subjective look at what possible appeal the character has or its cultural significance. It’s a legitimate subject, just not my thing. I did read through his other book, In Godzilla’s Footsteps, as it presented many different viewpoints on the character from a diverse set of writers. Some of it was pretty interesting, other parts looked like serious overreaching to find meaning and symbolism where there just isn’t any.


DS: In your own book, 1994’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Godzilla, you write of several scripted but unproduced Godzilla films. What were they? Why were they not made? Costs? Did Honda not sign on? From the screenplays, did they seem to be solid films or merely more of the comic book level crap of the later Showa Era?


EG: There are actually a lot of other unproduced scripts and ideas that are out there, but it isn’t all that easy to find them or get them translated. One of the things to keep in mind when talking about these things is that there are dozens of ideas that get floated out there for consideration, some of them make it to the point of becoming a script, but finally choices are made and most are relegated to a dusty shelf. It’s amazing to me that these things still hang around and I find it fascinating to learn about what might have been. But usually there are good reasons why these things weren’t made, and in many cases it is painfully obvious why. I have a hard time thinking of one unproduced story that would have made a better film than what was eventually made. Typically, it is not a matter that a director didn’t sign on—it is the studio’s decision to go in a different direction. By the time a project gets presented to the director, a script is usually ready and the director may offer input on fixing it up. But I am not aware of a director rejecting finished scripts.

  One of the biggest concepts that was scripted but ultimately turned down was Frankenstein vs Godzilla. Just like King Kong vs Godzilla, it made sense in that it was a pairing of two famous icons. But in my opinion, the ultimate downfall of the idea was that it would make the fatal flaw of putting Godzilla on screen with a non-costumed human actor. No matter how well filmed, the image of Godzilla as a giant creature would irreparably be damaged. And while you can suspend disbelief and imagine a creature like Kong might be able to withstand Godzilla’s ray to some extent, that’s a much tougher sell with a human figure. I think it was a wise move to tweak this story into what eventually became Frankenstein Conquers the World. The Frankenstein monster was wisely downsized by half of what he would have been if he had faced Godzilla, and they created Baragon as a more evenly-matched opponent. Since Frankenstein was not a costumed actor, the change in scale actually benefitted the film since it was an easier sell the image of a human monster as believable in 1/12 scale.

  A couple of potential scripts from the 70s have been preserved, and most of them are of the caliber you would expect from that era. They are just variations on the superhero fare that was produced during the decade of the 70s. Starting in the era of the 80s and 90s, there was so much more interest in chronicling the making of films that story proposals that may have otherwise been easily discarded became research assets, so there are a lot of them are around if you know where to look. I have seen several scripts that were pitched during the 90s that were amazing…as in amazing that someone thought them worth writing down, making me feel bad for the trees that were sacrificed to make the paper they were printed on.


DS: In other interviews you have spoken of Toho’s requiring DVD commentaries to be scripted. Initially you objected, but then found it helpful. To me, the best commentaries are those that have a foundation, but allow some extemporaneous stuff when a particular scene or actor comes on, and an anecdote comes to mind. Otherwise you end up with dry, critical masturbation or self-congratulatory fellatio, especially on director or cast and crew commentaries, where everything is ‘great’ and ‘wonderful,’ even on bad films. Comments?


EG: There are several different types of commentaries, and what works best for each type is different. If you have a commentary done by someone who actually worked on the film, an organic conversation with that person is usually the most interesting thing. But even with that, if the person talking is not well-prepared or is not ready to tell some scene specific stories, the results can be disastrous. If you are able to understand some of the commentary tracks on Toho’s Japanese market dvds, you will know what I mean. Most (though not all) times, they bring in someone who has not watched the movie for decades and is not prepared at all, and they talk with a host who spends more time showing off what he knows rather than getting the guests to tell their stories. You get lots of ‘that was great’, ‘I enjoyed that’, or ‘that was so long ago, I can’t remember’, lots of irrelevant diversions, and precious few anecdotes about the film itself. It’s so frustrating that you wonder why they bothered at all. Their tracks seem like they are done in real time, once through, and if you get anything useful, it’s a miracle. Talking about the about the actual film which the commentary is done for is seldom, if ever, done.

  In general, the quality of a commentary done by filmmakers depends on that person’s speaking ability. There are great talents out there that can’t really express themselves very well on their own, even if they have a lot to say. And there are others who are great storytellers and can speak extemporaneously without trouble.

  In the case of Steve and myself, we are not professionals, especially in public speaking, so I think the only way to approach this kind of work is to thoroughly prepare a script, and then try to deliver it as naturally as possible. We strive to make sure that there is no dead air and to fill the time with information rather than a lot of generic ‘this is great’ or ‘that wasn’t very good’ comments which most anyone can come up with. The first time we did a commentary was for the British Film Institute presentation of the original Godzilla. We came in with a script primarily because that was what the contract with Toho stipulated…we had to have a script and Toho would be approving it. But after recording the script, our producer reran the city attack and asked us to just go ahead and talk off the cuff about it, just to see what we could get. I thought to myself, no sweat, I know this film really well, there is just so much to say. And that ultimately was the problem…there was so much to say that it was easy to say too much. As a result, things you want to say got passed over because something else crowded it out by taking too much time to explain, or you forgot to make a point because you were distracted by something else. It was so easy to take twice as long to make a point as was necessary without the discipline of a script…when you talk conversationally, economy of words is not on your mind. So when we were all done, I felt thoroughly dissatisfied with the ad lib session because we only said about 1/3 of what I thought we should have. I have no doubt that there are some people who can do things this way with great success, but I think they are the exception rather than the rule.

  I agree that you want to hit those special moments with a scene specific story or special anecdote. In our approach we strive to do that by doing intense preparation. We watch the film first and gather all the things which we want to talk about, we identify the anecdotes, the little asides that we believe are of interest, and then we develop a script which is timed to correspond to the right moments. We try to deliver the script as naturally as we can, but we have found that the recording process sometimes wears you down. You can read something beautifully, but flub a word or a Japanese name, and you have to do the whole segment again. And the more you redo it, the less natural it becomes. But while I can’t say I am that satisfied with how I have delivered some of the scripts, I feel good about our overall approach and the content we have presented. We try to get a lot of information that hard core fans will appreciate, but at the same time we recognize that the commentary should be accessible to everyone, including people who know very little about the subject but want to learn. If you are too hard-core, you lose half the audience right away.


DS: Other than Godzilla, what other films, in the Japanese monster, or sci fi vein, do you think of as classics, and why? Other than Godzilla, which is your favorite kaiju? Why?


EG: I like all types of science fiction. One of my favorites is Star Trek, though I suppose that I look at that franchise differently than many people. I liked the tv series for its optimism and ability to do what science fiction does best, mix social themes with imaginative entertainment. As a result, Star Trek The Motion Picture stands head and shoulders above all the rest in my opinion—I like most of the others (except 4 and 5), but this is the one that embodies what Star Trek really is all about. It is the only film made on a grand scale, with grand ideas, and great character interaction. It creates a sense of awe and wonder. It’s my second favorite film, just behind The Empire Strikes Back, which takes first place because of its brilliant script, high drama, and breathtaking battles. I love The Day The Earth Stood Still—as with STTMP, I find Robert Wise’s ability to produce thought-provoking scifi to among the best. His casting for this film is particularly good. For monsters, there are lots of good choices, but I find Them is probably my favorite outside the Japanese realm. It had such a tightly drawn script, almost like a detective film, with monsters that have always looked completely convincing to me.

  There are just so many classics that I hate to leave out—Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds, E.T., it’s so easy to overlook a lot of great films. But what I think ties them all together is a good script, most with important ideas to be expressed. Effects are nice, I love watching them, but they can’t carry the day alone.


DS: Over the decades, there is one monster matchup that people have longed for, and that is Toho’s Godzilla taking on the Daiei Studio’s Gamera, the flying monster turtle. Do you think there will ever be such a matchup? How about a reboot of King Kong Vs. Godzilla? I think that only those two matchups could be used to kickstart a new Godzilla craze in America. Perhaps Peter Jackson could direct? Ideas?


EG: Thinking about Godzilla vs Gamera is a waste of time because it will never happen. These characters are the flagship properties of rival companies…they are symbols of their companies. Even if you could somehow get the two companies to agree to the project, I couldn’t see how either company would allow their character to be bested or shown up by the other, even in small ways. Trying to come up with a story would just be an endless series of arguments, as neither studio would want their character to be seen as overshadowed by the other. I also think that mixing these two universes just wouldn’t work that well, but that’s just my personal preference. In either case, at best the ultimate outcome of such a film would be a draw. No one ultimately wins. That’s not terribly satisfying as a story to me.

  Probably money is the biggest obstacle to a remake of King Kong vs Godzilla. Toho has been interested in the past, but getting the rights is a big hurdle, legally and financially. The Peter Jackson Kong made decent money, but it wasn’t a financial phenomenon either, not one that would make someone want to put up the kind of money it would take to bring both characters together and make a modern version. Unless the Legendary Pictures film is such a tremendous success that the deep pockets see that as a good investment, I doubt it would ever happen.


DS: I know there have been a number of comic book adaptations of Godzilla, but my favorite one was the late 1970s Marvel series that ran just a couple dozen issues. Seeing Godzilla take on some of the classic Marvel characters was awesome and I’ve wondered why more crossover events like that do not occur, in other media, but especially in film? I mean, if one had Godzilla show up in Superman’s Metropolis, Spider-Man’s or the Fantastic 4’s New York City, or Batman’s Gotham, there are some serious possibilities. Yes, the Aliens Vs. Predators films tanked, but that’s execution. Do you think such failures prevent more imaginative meetings between film and pop culture icons. Hell, with the Star Trek reboot it would be cool to see Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock have to come back to earth to battle a legion of Japanese kaiju that were dormant for centuries. Thoughts?


EG: I was never much of a fan of the old Marvel Godzilla since the monster they created wasn’t much more than a step above the Hollywood film. It didn’t look much like Godzilla—7 Up bottle green rather than dark gray—it shot fire rather than an atomic breath, it had no skin texture, its musculature was very human, etc. The scale was ridiculous, ranging from around 150 feet tall (which is close to the correct height) to 400-500 feet. Scene by scene it looked different. Some dramatic license is fine, but that book just struck me as sloppy, that they didn’t care to get it right since it’s just a comic. Be that as it may, I am not so enamored with crossovers. There are some that I can go along with, like Aliens and Predators, but mostly to me it smacks of a lack of ideas on the part of the filmmakers. Good writers don’t need to rely on the crutch of someone else’s creations to tell their story. Again the Marvel comic is a good example. At the time it came out, I felt like they went into Marvel continuity because they didn’t have any good ideas of their own on what to do with the character. There is also the practical side of having too many fingers in the pie…with properties from different companies, everyone wants a say in how their property is presented, they all want theirs to look the best. It’s a potential recipe for disaster, just as I talk about above.


DS: What are you hearing about the aforementioned 2012 Godzilla project from Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers? Has anyone been cast in it? Is Godzilla going to be purely CG? What have you thought of Toho’s use of suits over the years, and not going to animation?


EG: There is not really that much information that is available on the film at this time. They have a director, and just recently they hired a writer. That’s it. There’s boatloads of speculation about what they will do, how they will realize Godzilla, and so on. But there is nothing that is clear, other than the fact that there is no way it will be in theaters in 2012. Not if they haven’t even gotten a first draft screenplay yet. All that speculation, it isn’t worth wasting a moment on. It doesn’t mean a thing. It’s like fans talking trades in baseball…it’s all just fantasy since you aren’t in a position to be able to do anything about it. I wish I had some inside info on it, but I do not.

  If you have seen our documentary film, then you should have some idea of our perspective on CG vs practical effects. I think there is a place for modern techniques like CG. They can accomplish things that are not possible with practical effects. But mostly they do not create the same sense of reality the way a practical effect can because CG effects are usually too perfect, they aren’t physical. I think a mixture of techniques is the best way to go, as Toho producer Tomiyama says in our documentary. You can’t go totally with suits and models any longer…audiences probably won’t accept it, and it would probably be less cost-effective. But I think you can get the best of both worlds and a more satisfying product if the two techniques are mixed.


DS: Let me now ask a few queries that I ask almost all my interviewees; because this is a series, and the parallax of replies is of interest to me and my readers. I started this interview series to combat the dumbing down of culture and discourse- what I call deliteracy, both in the media, and online, where blogs and websites refuse to post paragraphs with more than three sentences in it, or refuse to post anything over a thousand words long. Old tv show hosts like Phil Donahue, Dick Cavett, David Susskind, Tom Snyder, even Bill Buckley- love him or hate him, have gone the way of the dinosaur. Intellect has been killed by emotionalism, simply because the latter is far easier to claim without dialectic. Only Charlie Rose, as a big name interviewer, is left on PBS, but near midnight. Let me ask, what do you think has happened to real discussion in America- not only in public- political or elsewise, but just person to person?


EG: There’s no doubt in my mind that real discussion is something that is rarely encountered these days. There is still an occasional discussion to be had from time to time, but good, solid, considered discussion is largely a thing of the past. This is one of the great paradoxes of the internet age. Now, everyone has the ability to post their comments on just about anything, but that comes with the unfortunate catch that you don’t have to be qualified or very good at it to get an audience. Being outrageous or hyper-opinionated is what it takes to get noticed amidst all the clutter of blogs and opinions that are out there. There’s no filter on what’s good or valuable. In the past, to express your opinions or engage in debate in a public forum, you had to have something worthwhile to say, and you had to have some style. Those forums were largely radio, tv, or print media. If you didn’t have one of those talents, you couldn’t get a job in those fields (though there were exceptions, both good and bad). True, it meant that not every voice was heard, but more often than not, what you heard and from whom you heard it had gone through the BS filters. Now, any slob with a computer can say whatever he wants, worthwhile or not, and it is left to every person to try and sort out what they want to listen to. You’d think giving everyone a voice would be more democratic, more engaging, but instead it has turned out the other way. Discussion is discouraged rather than encouraged because everything is about instant gratification. If it isn’t in a couple paragraphs or encapsulated in a couple minutes of sound bites, people aren’t interested. There is so much competing for people’ attention these days that investing hours of time into a subject just is not on people’s radar. They’d rather move on to the next thing. Dwelling on ideas, digging deep into them, exploring all sides…there’s not much time for that in most people’s lives nowadays. When you live in an era where talking to someone is the least important function of a telephone, that should tell you about the role of conversation in today’s world.


DS: I coined a neologism- deliterate. It’s a term I came up with in opposition to illiterate. By deliterate I mean the willful choice to not read great nor compelling writing. To avoid the classics in favor of reading blogs. To write in emailese rather than proper grammar. This is not to say that campy films, like most of the Godzilla films, have no value, just that one needs to recognize them for what they are. Basically, I claim that deliteracy is far more of a problem than illiteracy is. Do you agree?


EG: The trend you cite is a product of our times. The evolution of technology and the instant gratification mentality of the younger generation are partly responsible for society evolving in this direction. Reading an entire book, much less a classic…that takes an investment of time. Same with writing a real letter vs email…texting vs actually speaking with someone…news bites instead of news stories. The ‘new ways’ are quick and easy, don’t require much thought or consideration. All these new things have their value, but like anything, they’re ok in small doses. It’s when these things become the norm, that’s where I feel society is being dumbed down. And the sad part is this is a conscious choice on people’s part…you have the option to read a book or actually converse person-to-person or find investigative journalism, but many people choose not to go that route.


DS: At this point in your life, have you accomplished the things you wanted to do? If not, what failures gnaw at you the most? Which of those failures do you think you can accomplish yet?


EG: There are always things that I would like to do, but I don’t have any major regrets about my life either. I am disappointed that I have been unable to achieve any kind of proficiency in Japanese, which would really be helpful in both my professional and personal life, but my brain doesn’t seem to be wired well for language.


DS: Let me close by asking what is in store, in the next year or two, in terms of books and your work?


EG: Producing a commentary and extras for Media Blasters’ release of Destroy All Monsters and finishing up our biography of Ishiro Honda are what will be occupying our time for the near future. That will be keeping us quite busy.

DS: Thanks for doing this interview, Ed Godziszewski, and let me allow you a closing statement, on whatever you like.


EG: Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on a variety of topics.


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