Nicholas Driscoll: Let’s just jump right into this! Since I last interviewed you, I think you’ve been pretty busy! Could you update us, especially on the books or other things you have been doing that might interest the Toho aficionados who read the site?
John LeMay: Thanks for interviewing me again, hopefully folks don’t start getting sick of me! I have two new books of interest out: Terror of the Lost Tokusatsu Films and Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island.
Driscoll: Maybe could you tell us a bit more about how you have revised some of your books? For example, if I already bought the paperback version of one of your previous books, why should I buy the updated version?
LeMay: I started out with a publisher that did my layouts for me with my first few books (history titles on New Mexico starting in 2008). The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol. 1 was the first title I self-published (in 2016) and did the layout myself. It was very rudimentary, I even forgot to include page numbers in one of the versions! So I updated Vol. 1 and 2 to where they have much nicer layouts, plus tons of new reviews and trivia in each. My favorite aspect of the redesign is that the titles are listed in Japanese in the footers. Or in other words, in the footer on the section for Destroy All Monsters you will see 怪獣総進撃 and so on. Japanese books often have little headers or footers in English so I thought it would be fun to do the same thing. Also, the revised version of Vol. 1 added in reviews for over 25 films not covered in the first version. There’s some rare stuff in there, even reviews for Jumborg Ace and Giant (1974) to list just one. Similarly, Vol. 2 also has 25 new reviews in it—I added in Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (as a Bonus Review) specifically because a high schooler actually wrote me a letter in the mail the old fashioned way requesting its inclusion which I thought was pretty cool.
Driscoll: Can you tell us about Terror of the Lost Tokusatsu Films and why kaiju lovers might get a kick out of it?
LeMay: A wise fan told me that books that don’t feature Godzilla typically don’t sell well, and unfortunately so far that has been true of that book. But, if you’re a true Toho or Japanese sci-fi fan it is a book that you would enjoy. To me, in addition to being a book on unmade Japanese sci-fi films—the ones without any giant monsters—it’s sort of a love letter to Toho’s mutant and horror films. To be frank, as far as lost films and projects go, probably only a little over 100 pages is devoted to those, not enough to be a “feature length” book in my opinion. That’s why it also features pretty extensive reviews and production overviews of completed movies like Toho and Daiei’s Invisible Man films. Toho’s Horror of the Wolf (1973) is covered as are Blue Christmas (1978) and Tokyo Blackout (1987). Though they aren’t technically lost, they were never released in the U.S. so in that sense are lost to non-Japanese speaking fans. For most fans the interest will lie in the following unproduced Toho scripts: Frankenstein vs. the Human Vapor (1963), The Flying Battleship (1966), The Human Torch (1974) and Invisible Man vs. the Human Torch (1975). That’s not all of them, just the better known ones. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff packed into the book if you care to explore beyond just giant monsters.
Driscoll: What are some of the most surprising things you found out when researching that book?
LeMay: Shinichi Sekizawa’s script for Frankenstein vs. the Human Vapor really surprised me in how wild it was. There’s literally a scene where the Human Vapor and Frankenstein jump out of a commercial airplane together! If I wasn’t mistaken, Frankenstein was wearing a parachute in that scene. Sekizawa’s take on the monster was that of an actual intelligent being, not a dumb brute, which really surprised me. Similarly, his Flying Battleship script was also great, very James Bondish. And when reading the climax, some of the maneuvers between the battleships are similar enough to those in Latitude Zero (1969) that I’m positive Sekizawa used them there when Flying Battleship was dropped. I loved the scripts for Human Torch and Invisible Man vs. Human Torch (that wasn’t a sequel to the former, but a second evolution of the concept). Invisible Man vs. the Human Torch is a crime thriller with super-humans thrown in. Since it was a crime thriller I listened to Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack as I translated it which really matched the script’s atmosphere and made it come alive for me. I would love to see someone do a better translation of it, but what I read was still pretty fantastic.
Driscoll: What about the spaghetti westerns book you did? Could you tell us about that one just a bit?
LeMay: Yes, in addition to Japanese genre films I love Spaghetti Westerns like Companeros and Once Upon a Time in the West. However, a lot of them are really terrible! For instance, there’s one called White Comanche where William Shatner plays twin brothers—one good and one bad. It’s hilarious. So I wrote Deadly Spaghetti: The Goodest, the Baddest and the Ugliest Italian Westerns Ever Made, a scathing critique of the lesser Spaghettis. It was actually inspired by the book There Goes Tokyo by Mike Grant. It’s a book that pokes fun at Godzilla movies. Even though I never viewed G-films as laughable I loved Grant’s book and it made me want to do the same for Spaghetti Westerns. I got Mike’s blessing before I did, and he even wrote a great foreword for me on it. As an aside, I also looked into possibly doing a “Lost Spaghetti’s” book, but there just wasn’t enough material (the only one I found was an unmade sequel to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).
Driscoll: Your most recent book is Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island. Could you tell us a bit about the concept for this book? By the way, I love how the cover is made to mimic the look of the old Ian Thorne books!
LeMay: Originally that was going to be a general guide/review book for movies tangent to King Kong about giant apes or just apes on the loose in general (like Gorilla at Large and so on). I eventually realized there probably weren’t enough of those to make a very thick book so I figured I’d include an Appendix on unmade giant ape movies. I was shocked to find there was a ton of material out there on unmade King Kong sequels and remakes. Therefore I switched the focus to lost films and just made the guide and review into an Appendix. So I got the best of both worlds.
As to the lost films information, the bulk of it comes straight from the Merian C. Cooper papers at Brigham Young University, so it’s totally legit. The New Adventures of King Kong, Tarzan vs. King Kong and even Space Kong (a remake of King Kong which reimagined Skull Island as an alien planet) are all real! Then there are a lot of tangential projects like Baboon: A Tale About a Yeti which Willis O’Brien cooked up. It didn’t feature King Kong, but would have featured Carl Denham searching for a Yeti so it’s still tied to King Kong.
Yes, the design is a tribute to the old Crestwood House Ian Thorne books which I loved as a kid. The cover image I used is from an uncompleted 1934 film, The Lost Island, which I felt matched the look of the Crestwood books. The Lost Island originated from a studio that no longer exists. So really, no studio today owns that image. As to interior images, the great thing about King Kong compared to Toho and Godzilla is that the rights are a little easier to navigate for fan projects, ironically, because legal rights to just who owns Kong is incredibly, incredibly complicated. You’re on very shaky ground if you cite fair use when it comes to using Toho images or characters, but with Kong you can basically get away with it—hence this book actually has photos and illustrations on the inside. Some of them are exclusive (and are used with permission) including a whole sketchbook for Kid Kong—an axed animated series focusing on the baby ape from King Kong Lives from Filmation. The Kid Kong project developer, Rob Lamb, let me publish them and as far as I know most of those haven’t been published anywhere that I know. So that was a pretty big exclusive and I’m very grateful to him.
Driscoll: You also cover some Toho films in your Kong book—did you find out anything interesting?
LeMay: So, before anyone assumes that I just cut and pasted my chapters on Continuation: King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong vs. Ebirah from The Lost Films into Kong Unmade, that is NOT the case. I actually went back and did a smoother translation of Continuation and found some really awesome details that I missed, so you will see new information in Kong Unmade even if you have The Lost Films. A big detail that I missed in Continuation was the fact that Godzilla doesn’t just show up in Kyushu, but he actually bursts out of an erupting Mt. Aso to battle Kong! Also, Kong Unmade features a whole chapter on the unmade Heisei King Kong vs. Godzilla, something I didn’t even do in The Lost Films.
Driscoll: What are some of your future projects you have coming up that we can look forward to?
LeMay: Well, ironically, in my attempts to better The Lost Films for a future 2nd edition, it led to the creation of two brand new books. One of the things I was doing was beefing up the Appendix that dealt with the developmental process of finished films. I ended up expanding on some of those to the point that they became chapters of their own rather than Appendix entries. However, I eventually realized that some of these really weren’t ever lost films. I was just having fun tracking the changes. Researching the development of Atragon, which is based off of a novel from 1899, was when it really hit me that this could be its own book. I had also planned on adding in writer bios on Shinichi Sekizawa and his cohorts into the next Lost Films. Instead, I decided to do a whole book on the writing and development process. It’s called Writing Japanese Monsters. As a good example of the type of information that you can expect, did you know that in the original script for Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster that a yakuza character (to tentatively be played by Yoshio Tsuchiya) is the character possessed by a Venusian spirit? There is no Princess Salno in the first draft! Or, did you know Mechagodzilla was meant to be disguised as Godzilla yet again in the original draft of Terror of Mechagodzilla? Or wilder still, that Godzilla and Kiryu almost fought underwater in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.? Fun stuff like that. Hopefully it will be out by Christmas. The other book is Editing Japanese Monsters. It covers the many alternate cuts of Japanese monster movies from Japan, the U.S. and even Germany and other countries. Everything from “Cozzilla” to Command from the Dark (the German Monster Zero) to the Italian edit of Catastrophe 1999 is covered. I’m already 600 pages into that one and there’s still lots more to go!
Driscoll: Thank you so much for your time!
No, thank you! I enjoy reading Toho Kingdom and am always happy to contribute to the site in any way I can. Thanks for all the hard work and research you all do also—your Cutting Room is one of the best resources I have. Please keep those great translations coming!