Mike Bogue is a frequent author of monster movie reviews and articles, and has contributed to many magazines such as Wonder, Scary Monsters, and G-Fan. He has also written a commendable and thoroughly readable book on movies related to the nuclear fears so prominent in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly focusing on the USA and Japan–including many radioactive-flavored monster films! Bogue has also written fiction, including a collection of short stories, and much of his work can be found on the American Kaiju website. Recently I asked him to do an interview for Toho Kingdom, and he graciously agreed!
ND: Thanks a lot for agreeing to the interview, Mr. Bogue! I would like to start off with some of the standard fan questions if that’s all right! Favorite monster? Favorite Godzilla movie? First Godzilla movie? Favorite Gamera movie? Favorite Godzilla costume?
MB: My favorite monster is Bob Newhart. Seriously, my favorite monster is – who else? – Godzilla. My favorite Big G movie is a hard one, but if I could only choose one Godzilla movie to take with me to a desert island, it would be a subtitled edition of the original 1954 Gojira.
My first Godzilla movie was 1964’s Godzilla vs. The Thing (aka Mothra vs. Godzilla), which I saw at an indoor movie theater when I was nine years old.
Favorite Gamera movie would be Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996), with the Americanized Gammera the Invincible (I have a strong sentimental attachment to this one) a close second.
My favorite Godzilla costume? That’s a toughie. But I’d have to choose the Mosu-Goji from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964).
ND: How did you first become a fan of giant monster movies, and especially the Toho films?
MB: I must have a kaiju gene, because from a very young age, I loved giant monsters. For example, the first giant monster film I remember seeing is Rodan, which I saw on local TV on a Friday night before I even started grade school. I was enthralled, to say the least, and to my delight, the channel played the movie several more times over the next few weeks. Also, I remember seeing photos of Varan in the first Castle of Frankenstein.
The next two giant monster films I saw (both on TV) were The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth. And the 1963 newspaper movie ad for King Kong vs. Godzilla made me a giant monster fan for life, particularly of the Toho titans, and extra-particularly of Godzilla.
ND: You’ve written quite a few articles and reviews about giant monster films which were originally published in notable magazines and fan magazines such as Scary Monsters, G-Fan, and Castle of Frankenstein. Many of your articles are available on Todd Tennant’s website American Kaiju. How did you get into writing about monsters?
MB: I’d always written reviews of Japanese monster movies, but had never tried to get them published anywhere. However, WONDER magazine, which briefly flourished in the mid 1990’s, accepted my pitch to do a “Confessions of a Japanese Monster Fanatic” article in 1995, and that was my first monster article to see print. After that, I started writing for Scary Monster Magazine, and the next logical step was to become one of G-FAN’s regular scribes.
ND: Are there any articles or reviews you are especially proud of that you can recommend?
MB: Probably my retrospective of Toho’s 1961 The Last War that appeared in G-FAN #56, 2002 issue.
ND: Recently you had a book about monsters and nuclear cinema published—Apocalypse Then: American and Japanese Atomic Cinema, 1951-1967. How did this book come about?
MB: Film-wise, I have always been interested in three genres – atomic holocaust movies; giant monster movies; and 1950’s science fiction movies. I was familiar with many of the books in these categories, particularly the late Bill Warren’s wonderful Keep Watching the Skies! But I realized no one had written a book that telescoped in on only those American and Japanese imagi-movies that dealt solely with the nuclear threat.
To make a long story short, I pitched this idea to McFarland Publishing via a query letter and sample chapters, and they offered me a book contract, which I accepted. This was a thrilling moment, as I’d always loved McFarland books, but had never dreamed I would one day be writing one.
ND: Why 1951-1967 specifically?
MB: Because it is during those years that Cold War anxiety was at its height, and hence atomic cinema flourished, not just in American, but also Japan. The cinematic specter of the nuclear threat started with America’s 1951 Five, and lasted in Japanese films through 1967’s Son of Godzilla. After that, until the 1980s, few American or Japanese films dealt with the nuclear threat.
ND: What were some of the most interesting things you learned or found out about while you were working on this book?
MB: I was fascinated to find out that in the fifties, nuclear hysteria was far more pronounced in America than even I had thought (I was born in 1955, and hence don’t remember much about the fifties, though I remember well the Cold War jitters of the sixties).
In the fifties, the basic attitude was not if there would be a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, but when. I was also surprised to find evidence that some in the American military, such as SAC Commander Curtis LeMay, wanted to goad the Soviets into a nuclear showdown.
Then, of course, there was the reality of above-ground nuclear testing in the U.S., and the scores of American troops ordered to march over areas that had just been nuked. Also, it was interesting to discover the level of Japanese anti-nuke sentiment in the fifties, and the country’s sense of helplessness being caught between the atomic superpowers, an angst well-depicted in Toho’s 1961 production The Last War.
ND: One of the observations in your book (as I recall) was that American monster movies often have more positive depictions of nuclear energy and a more optimistic appraisal of humankind’s abilities and powers as opposed to Japan’s often more cynical or pessimistic outlook. Do you think those general perspectives have persisted in both nations and their cinema past the 60’s and through the years until now?
MB: Fascinating question. Actually, I think in America, the positive attitude suggested in 1950’s atomic monster movies had pretty much dissipated by the mid-sixties, as demonstrated in films such as Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove. Indeed, these films depict almost the same level of pessimism expressed in the Japanese films The Final War (1960) and The Last War (1961).
Speaking of Final War, though it wasn’t legally available when I wrote Apocalypse Then, it is available now on the Internet via a Toei Archive. The film displays a dark, cynical take on nuclear war and human nature. I think the Japanese continue to take a dim view of the nuclear threat, which to some extent can be seen in 2016’s Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence).
By the 1980’s, atomic cinema in America saw a renaissance, but these films were dark and plausible. No more big bugs or revived prehistoric monsters. Instead, Americans got a dose of reality in movies like 1983’s The Day After and Testament. U.S. citizens in the 1980s were not as naively trusting of their government as in the 1950s, and many feared then President Reagan was going to get us into a nuclear war. Indeed, in 1982, an estimated one million anti-nuke protesters gathered in New York City.
ND: One of the things I really enjoyed about your book was that it covered so many movies that I rarely see discussed in fan circles. Do you have any recommendations for monster films or even other related films (like the nuclear-holocaust films you covered) that are often kind of overlooked?
MB: One nuke-related film that immediately comes to mind is 1958’s The Lost Missile. I almost included the movie in my book, and now I wish I had. The film concerns a strange extraterrestrial missile that is orbiting five miles over the earth at a temperature of one million degrees, leaving a swath of destruction as it passes overhead. Though low-budget and rife with stock footage, the movie is worth seeing, and features an unexpectedly grim finale. It is available on DVD from Amazon.
A second nuke-related film worth seeing is 1963’s Ladybug, Ladybug, another movie I almost included in Apocalypse Then. This one concerns a possible nuclear alert in a rural Florida area that causes a school principal to send the children home. As it turns out, the alert was a false alarm (the reason I didn’t include the movie in my book). But the film features fascinating moments, and a horrible albeit non-graphic fate for one of the schoolchildren. It can be seen in its entirety on youtube.
ND: I understand you have also written some fiction. I also love writing short stories and novels. Could you tell us about your fiction writing? Anything that might appeal to the audience of Toho Kingdom?
MB: I had a short story called “Going Back” that appeared in G-FAN #58, a coming-of-age tale concerning two Godzilla fans, that might interest Toho Kingdom’s audience.
Also, the American Kaiju website features two of my kaiju tales of fiction – “Getting Your Wish” and the five-part novella “The G People.”
Finally, there is Atomic Drive-In, a 2013 book self-published through CreateSpace, which features the title novella, as well as five short stories. One of them, “A Calculated Sacrifice,” features a kaiju that rules over a small Japanese community, and another, “Sleeping Dragons,” employs a kaiju-related theme featuring nanotechnology.
ND: Any other projects you are working on now that we can look forward to?
MB: I have considered writing a sequel to Apocalypse Then that would look at the nuclear threat films from 1968 through 2018, though I would broaden the umbrella from America and Japan to Britain and Europe. This would allow me to include 1984’s acclaimed British-made Threads, perhaps the last word in realistic atomic war cinema.
My tentative title for this project is The Days After: Fifty Years of Atomic Cinema, 1968-2018. Of course, this project would also cover the Heisei Godzilla film series, given Godzilla’s renewed atomic significance in them.
Fiction-wise, I am writing a novel called Be Ye Perfect. It blends science fiction, horror, and religion, and features a sort of reverse Invasion of the Body Snatchers theme. I hope to have it finished by next spring.
ND: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Bogue!
MB: Thank you for your questions and for your interest. Take care, and all the best to Toho Kingdom readers!