Today, we are interviewing author Peter H. Brothers. His work includes Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda and the recent The Sons of Godzilla. We’ll be asking him about his books and also how he became a Godzilla fan and his early experiences.
ND: First of all, I just wanted to thank you for agreeing to the interview. Even though I criticized your first book, I also found a lot of good in it, and I really would love to hear more about your books in general and offer up some encouragement because I think writers need it! I know I do. First, I like to ask a few fan-related questions. First Godzilla movie you saw? Favorite Godzilla movie? Favorite Godzilla suit? Favorite monster outside of Godzilla? Favorite Gamera movie? Any recommendations of obscure or overlooked monster films? And to be a little more controversial: Least favorite Godzilla movie?
PB: Well the first Godzilla film I saw was the first Godzilla movie: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! when I was about seven years old; I was stunned. Even though I had a fairly good idea of what a movie was at my young age, I thought I was watching a real-time documentary. I was hooked, and have been hooked ever since! I have seen both the U.S. and Japanese versions hundreds of times, and the original Japanese version remains my favorite all-time movie. The original “suit” – which I insist on calling a “costume” – is also my favorite of the various designs. Outside of Godzilla, I am very fond of the original King Kong, Gorgo, the Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Varan (1958) and the first Rodan (1956). I don’t really have a favorite Gamera movie, not too much into him, although I do plan on catching-up to the 90s films soon. As far as recommendations go, the 1981 Dragonslayer is somewhat overlooked. My least favorite Godzilla movie? At this stage I would have to say Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), it’s really a chore for me getting through that one…
ND: How did you get into monster movies?
PB: Watching Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. It started my interest in so many things: dinosaurs, dragons, movies, soundtracks, special effects, and the films of Ishiro Honda. I was also very fortunate to grow-up during the Golden Age of monster movies, fantasy and science-fiction films in the late 50s to early 60s, so many marvelous movies! I saw five of Ishiro Honda‘s films in theatres during their initial U.S. releases: Battle in Outer Space (1959), Atragon (1963), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), and Mothra (1961), which I saw in a drive-in on a double-bill with Dr. No. I also saw many George Pal and Ray Harryhausen films and many other wonderful ones as well. I was also very lucky to purchase advertising art from G,KotM! such as posters, lobby cards and stills, and own several kits of the 1954 Godzilla.
ND: I know you’ve written quite a few articles about Toho films and fantasy cinema, especially for G-Fan magazine, including an article on Half Human (1955) that received a Rondo nomination! Could you tell us about how you got into writing articles on movies? How many articles do you think you have written?
PB: Yes, I remember that article: Tom Weaver beat me out on that one; he interviewed Donnie Dunagan who played Peter (“Well, helloooooo!”) in Son of Frankenstein. I started writing articles for fanzines such as Japanese Giants in the mid-Seventies, and J.D. Lees was kind enough to accept my articles in G-Fan; in fact it was due to the publishing of those articles and the feedback I received on them, that motivated me to write a book on the subject. I think I’ve written about a dozen articles for G-Fan (for the record, my treatise on The Mysterians was also nominated for a Rondo).
ND: Some of those articles eventually became the starting point of your first book on Ishiro Honda, Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Films of Ishiro Honda, right? How many of your articles were later re-edited as chapters in your books?
PB: I would say about a dozen; it’s funny, some people have criticized me for reprinting them in book form, but I can’t assume everyone reading the book read all the articles. For the Second Edition of my Mushroom book I was able to include additional detail on some of those films.
ND: I remember reading in the introduction to your first book (I think) that you had several of the Japanese books on Honda and on Godzilla translated into English. Could you give a little more information on that? I think probably there are many fans that would be curious about how to get English versions of the Japanese books, and how much it might cost to get them translated!
PB: Since I do not have a Japanese friend or relative to translate material for me, I have to pay either transfer students or others to do it for me; I wish there were English versions of those books! I currently have a friend in England named Kate who has done the majority of the translations of Japanese texts as well as other publications for my more-recent books, and it isn’t cheap: I pay $25 for each single page of text; the material I had translated for The Mysterians alone cost me $180, and I paid nearly $300 for the Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) information on my current book. I figure I may have just made the money back on the Mushroom book by this time (I’ve sold about 900 copies) and maybe – just maybe – on the Godzilla book. Why do I do it? Well, for the love of the genre, and besides, if I spend my money on something, it may as well be on information kaiju eiga fans might be interested in.
ND: What were some of the big changes to the second edition of Mushroom Clouds?
PB: More expanded information on certain films as well as photographs and additional information on Mr. Honda’s life, non-monster movies, and his combat career; I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do that, as I was very unhappy with how the First Edition came out.
ND: How did your book, Atomic Dreams and the Nuclear Nightmare: The Making of Godzilla (1954) come about? Was the second book easier after writing the first?
PB: Basically, I waited 30 years to write a book on Mr. Honda, and when no one else did, I decided to give it a try, and it was the same with the Godzilla book; I just couldn’t believe no one in America had ever written a book about that incredible film. Was it easier the second time around? To a certain degree, since I was a bit more-familiar with the process (for example, I will never do a two-column format again), but writing does not come easy for me; frankly it’s a bit of a struggle, and my self-proofing leaves much to be desired. However, being self-published gives one a certain amount of creative freedom, as well as pride of ownership, since it’s my book and my responsibility.
ND: What were some of the highlights you discovered in making Atomic Dreams?
PB: Just finding out whatever new information I could, such as contemporary reviews of the film which were very interesting. I’m unashamedly obsessed with that film, so it was interesting to evaluate it, but my biggest concern was: okay, after dissecting it, will I still be able to enjoy it as an audience member or not find it as involving, since I know so many of the details (“here’s a tracking shot, here comes a close-up, etc.”), and I’m happy to say that when I recently viewed it (on November 3rd, naturally), I still found it as compelling and awesome as ever. I never get tired of watching it; it really is an incredible film – very moving – and it astounds me how so many people don’t care for it; in many ways it’s still so very underrated.
ND: You recently released a third book on Godzilla films, The Sons of Godzilla: From Destroyer to Defender-from Ridicule to Respect (1955-1995). What was the genesis of this book, and how do you think it differentiates itself from the pack, so to speak?
PB: I’m a big fan of trilogies and thought it might be fun. I’ve always wanted to evaluate films like Son of Godzilla (1967) and Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), but in doing my research, I found that many people are big fans of the 1970s films, so I had to respect that. In many ways it was a frustrating book to write, since so many of those films are frustrating to watch. I guess I’m a purist and still have a 1950s mentality about the series; it’s probably a generational thing. Some people are fans of all of the Godzilla films but I’m not one of them, so I can confidently predict this will be a very controversial book!
ND: Why didn’t you cover the Millennium Godzilla films as well? Are you planning to write another book about them, as well as the latest films such as Godzilla Resurgence and the anime trilogy?
PB: That’s a good question and there are a couple of reasons: one, I would have to purchase more texts and have them translated, and that requires more funds. I suppose I could do a “Go Fund Me” page but feel awkward asking strangers for money. But the main reason is that I have never been able to find an emotional connection with the films after the Heisei Series. Maybe it’s due to the different designs of Godzilla, but those films just don’t reach me as do the earlier ones; basically I got off the bus after 1995. Some of the Millennium Films are interesting and the latter ones are as well, so I guess if Sons of Godzilla is a “best-seller,” I might consider it.
ND: Could you give us a few highlights of some of the things you learned as you put together this latest book, to sort of whet the appetite of possible readers?
PB: Some of the comments from the filmmakers and the challenges and difficulties they faced while making these films, from the low-budgets of Jun Fukuda and Teruyoshi Nakano to the elaborateness of the Kazuki Omori and Koichi Kawakita films. It really was an amazing period for Godzilla, going from being a villain to a hero, a dad, and even becoming friends with monsters it used to fight to the death! The different approaches the filmmakers took in making them, the special effects, the music, and the various changes in the monster itself. The series was really all over the map, as unpredictable as it was entertaining.
ND: Moving on, in an interview with Armand Vaquer, you made some pretty provocative statements about the genesis of the recently-published Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa, intimating that Ryfle stole the idea from you. In the comment section of that interview, film scholar Stuart Galbraith IV called you out on those statements. Do you want to respond to them? Have you read Ryfle and Godziszewski’s Ishiro Honda, and if so, what did you think?
PB: It’s a long story, but what happened was: in 2003, during lunch at the Pig ‘N Whistle restaurant in Hollywood with Brett Homenick and Brant Elliott, they encouraged me to forge ahead with it, and shortly thereafter, I was speaking with Armand on the phone who then got me in touch with Steve, and as soon as I told him I was writing a book on Mr. Honda, his first words to me were: “Well, I hope you don’t think you’re going to make a lot of money on it,” which he followed-up with, “And remember, fans are only interested in new information.” To a certain extent I agree with his “new information” comment, but the fact is that if I know something you don’t, when you learn about it, even if the information is decades old, it is new information to you, and anyway I would rather repeat certain “known” facts to avoid leaving them out. Not everybody knows everything.
But my biggest issue was his comment about “not making a lot of money” as if he suspected this was the only reason I was writing a book on Mr. Honda, as if he thought he knew all about me. First of all (and this is to all those aspiring authors out there) if you want to make a lot of money, don’t be a writer, although some have done quite well with it. Second, why was he being so discouraging? Then I found out some years later that he and Ed were writing a book on Mr. Honda with the “permission” of the family, and that’s when it occurred to me that he was most-likely trying to talk me out of writing a book on Mr. Honda so he could have the field all to himself; what other explanation is there? One should always encourage people, not try to talk them out of doing what they want to do, and although he might say he was only trying to be realistic, I see it differently.
As far as the new book on Mr. Honda is concerned, I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but look forward to it, as I’m sure Mr. Honda would be delighted to know that two books have been written about him and his films (incidentally, neither myself or my book are mentioned in the Index as if they wished it had never been written or not important enough to cite; but this sort of thing happens to me all the time. For example, although I haven’t checked in awhile, on the “official” Honda website, my book – which was the first in English on the subject – has never been mentioned. Keith Aiken of Sci-Fi Japan requested a free copy of the First Edition of my Mushroom book – presumably to review it on his site – but never did, and I once lost a key collaborator named Oki Miyano because he believed lies being told about me instead of getting the story from me firsthand; but that, as they say, is another story).
I’m also sorry to hear Mr. Galbraith has “called me out” as the least he could do is check with me and get the details from me personally – after all I was there and he wasn’t – before going public about his dissatisfaction with me.
[Addendum question] ND: It appears from your review on Amazon that you did in fact read Ryfle and Godziszewski’s book. Why did you say you hadn’t read it?
Also, it seems like there are many reasons why Ryfle may have told you that you probably wouldn’t make money from your book. It seems true, for one thing, based on what you said in this interview. He probably has had many people ask him about publishing Kaiju books, and some of them may have some idea that they will make some cash. His own book is also very different from yours and came out many years later. it doesn’t seem he was trying to undermine the sales of your book, and if, as you say, you aren’t interested in money, shouldn’t you be excited that others are writing about one of your favorite directors in a serious fashion?
PB: I appreciate you contacting me about the discrepancies about whether or not I have read Ryfle’s book. I have in fact not read it, and posted my Amazon review out of spite I suppose. It was wrong, and I have now removed the review. You brought up some good points, however I stand by my statements regarding Mr. Ryfle and his motives. I did want to thank you however for giving me the opportunity to clear the air about certain issues, and am sorry it has cause so much confusion and discomfort. We all make mistakes, and this was one of mine.
ND: I understand you have also written some fiction and poetry. Could you tell us a little about those projects?
PB: I have written two horror novels, Devil Bat Diary and Terror in Tinseltown which are both loosely based on the Bela Lugosi film The Devil Bat (Mr. Honda is my hero, but Mr. Lugosi is my idol; I visit his grave every year on his birthday and always leave him a fresh cigar!). Neither of the two novels have done particularly well; in fact the response to Tinseltown has been downright hostile due to its touchy subject matter – some people are soooo sensitive – and I used to write verse many years ago and thought it would be nice to put them all in a book. My next book will be an anthology of three plays I wrote years ago, so I might as well put them in print, you never know!
ND: What further projects do you have in the pipeline that we can look forward to?
PB: Along with the the plays, I am considering doing a book on the films of Mr. Lugosi.
ND: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!
PB: It is I who thanks you for your kind attention!