John LeMay

Nicholas Driscoll: John, first of all, thanks for agreeing to the interview! I have really enjoyed your books so far and am looking forward to reading more of them in the future! I want to start my question out with a few kind of general fan-related questions, because most fans of Godzilla and tokusatsu love to ask them when they first meet! How did you first get into Japanese fantasy and science fiction films? Do you have a favorite tokusatsu movie? Favorite monster? Favorite Godzilla design?

John LeMay: I was introduced to Godzilla by my parents who rented Godzilla 1985 for me on VHS. They knew I loved dinosaurs so therefore I would love Godzilla. Now, that wasn't the best first G-film for a four year old but I still liked it, and liked the next one I saw, Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), even better at the time, naturally. I grew up in the "dark ages" of the Ian Thorne Godzilla book where Toho movies—how many of them there were, etc.—were a total mystery and there wasn't much reliable info out there. So it was always a thrill to go into the VHS section of the local store and see what new discoveries awaited. Discovering G-Fan via an ad in Dark Horse comics was my big discovery into just how deep the world of Japanese Kaiju movies went. In fact, I kind of owe my writing career to G-Fan because they published me first which actually lead to another publication and then to my first book.

It's tough for me to pick one favorite tokusatsu movie. As far as Godzilla goes I think Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) have particularly engaging storylines for the human cast. I love the Heisei series as well, particularly The Return of Godzilla (1984) and Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). I tend to lean towards the 1970s overall. Submersion of Japan (1973), Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974), and I'm not ashamed to say I love Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds in particular because it terrified me as a child. It was placed in the Kid's section at Blockbuster back then even though it really shouldn't have been.

As for favorite monsters and designs I tend to love the Godzilla 1984 suit. Titanosaurus and King Caesar are favorites too.

Driscoll: How did you get started writing books about Japanese giant monster films?

LeMay: I had been enjoying writing for G-Fan for some time for one. Also, I had picked up this great little book on Spaghetti Westerns by Howard Hughes. I loved the format and saw that the publisher specialized in niche genres. Surely they would want a book about Dai Kaiju Eiga, right? I didn’t write up an entry on every single kaiju movie ever made, just most of what I considered the more historically important Godzilla movies, all the Daimajins, all the Gameras, plus every other major Japanese made kaiju movie like The X From Outer Space and sent it to that publisher. I designed a mock-up cover for them and everything! The proposal either got lost in the mail or they didn’t bother enough to tell me they didn’t want it. That was in 2013, and after letting it sit for three years I didn’t see the harm in just releasing it as an EBook for Kindle, though I beefed it up some first adding in all that extra trivia and the remaining movies. As I was setting it up I didn’t realize what I was actually setting up was the print copy, which was a happy accident because the print copy outsells the Kindle version at a surprising rate. To give it better “search-ability” for the layman, I titled it The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies just in case someone was searching for the subject but didn’t know the term dai kaiju eiga.  

Driscoll: What have been your favorite memories so far in putting together your books?

LeMay: First off, doing The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films was a dream come true. It was a book I wrote because I wanted to read it, so researching it was a blast. Going to G-Fest for the first time this year was the best memory of all by far! I had always wanted to go but work didn’t permit until now. I did a panel on the Lost Films that went very well, and the subject matter certainly drew in a crowd. People were standing along the walls which is both terrifying and flattering. Maybe I shouldn’t say flattering though because none of them were there for me, they were there for the subject matter itself ha ha. I have to go back next year for all the great new friends I made more than anything else. It’s a really special event.

Driscoll: What have been some of your biggest surprises as you researched, wrote, and published your books?

LeMay:The first book is kind of rudimentary, so I was surprised it had such a positive reception. On that note, I have a 2nd Edition of Vol. 1 out already which is beefed up considerably with 25 new films reviewed in it, plus a much more refined layout that has the Japanese titles in the footer. I tend to notice Japanese books list the titles occasionally in English writing so I thought it would be cool to do the opposite and have those Japanese characters in an English language book.

As for The Lost Films, everything was a surprise! The Bride of Godzilla? is a real mind blower, I actually just reread the whole script and it would have really changed the Godzilla franchise early on—for better or for worse who can say? The fact that this ambitious script resonated in different ways all the way up to 1984’s Godzilla is also astounding. In a strange way, The Return of Godzilla grew from Bride of Godzilla? which is really, really weird…and cool.

I’m learning new surprises every day. Miki Saeguesa’s original origin in Godzilla vs. Biollante in Omori’s first crack at the story is interesting. Specifically, Miki and Erica Shiragami were sisters! That’s not in this current edition by the way, but naturally one day down the road there will be an updated edition.

Prophecies of NostradamusTo digress, my biggest surprise in the book came when I got an editor. The funny thing was, I wanted to ask G-Fan features editor Ted Johnson if he would edit the book. But you can’t just ask someone to edit your book, that’s kind of rude. Instead I asked Ted if he’d like to write an essay on one of his favorite films, Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974). To my great surprise, he not only accepted that offer but also volunteered to edit the book without me ever asking! So that worked out very, very well and some of the more interesting info, particularly regarding “Godzilla 7” comes from Ted the ed.

Driscoll: I understand you use a lot of machine translation for your books instead of hiring a translator for Japanese texts. I think many fans (including myself) would think that using Google Translate is not very accurate and could cause major issues and mistakes. How do you avoid those issues?

LeMay: So, basically the worst thing about Google translate is the names. For instance, Yoshimitsu Banno will also come out Yoshi Sakano, Miki Saeguesa is Maki, etc. That’s where you can get into the most trouble. On that note, here’s a correction to my first edition. Shinichi Sekizawa didn’t write Two Godzillas: Japan S.O.S.! Kazue Shiba did, and my editor Ted Johnson tells me that she is a woman, therefor she actually beat Yukiko Takayama as the first female Godzilla screenwriter. The only difference is she only gets a co-writing credit on Son of Godzilla because Shinichi Sekizawa overhauled her draft. But to digress, Google Translate gives you some pretty bizarre sentences at times. Luckily, the first script I did was Giant Monsters Converge on Okinawa!, which I believe Toho Kingdom was the first source to break that title to the English speaking world. As that script is basically Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) with some differences it was easy to follow even with the bad translation. For instance, instead of the King Caesar statue there is the Secret Sword, which the main characters take aboard the cruise ship to Okinawa and so on. Scripts like Godzilla: Legend of the Asuka Fortress had nothing for me to compare it to and so was particularly troubling. If nothing else, I tried to point out in footnotes cases where I thought translations could be wrong. I thought I saw a mention of Space Hunter M Nebula in Monsters Converge on Okinawa which I included, but also told the reader to take that tidbit with a grain of salt. Actually, I found M Nebula mentioned again regarding Monsters Converge on Okinawa in another book, so I guess there was some mention/involvement with those aliens in the script.

The only scripts and treatments I had to read in English were Batman Meets Godzilla, the 1994 Godzilla, and the Godzilla 2 Tab Murphy treatment. What gets me is I know the Nessie script is out there in English, somewhere…but no one knows where though it is occasionally mistaken for John Sayle’s Nessie: Sea Dragon of Loch Ness.

Driscoll: You have several books you have published which are not related to Japanese cinema--could you tell us a bit about those?

LeMay:I live in Roswell, NM, where the aliens crashed. My first book was Images of America: Roswell for Arcadia Publishing which is a great publisher to break into the business with. Since then I’ve done more in depth titles like Tall Tales and Half Truths of Billy the Kid which won a New Mexico/Arizona Book Award and Tall Tales and Half Truths of Pat Garrett which got a favorable review in True West. On that note, I’ve also been published in True West and Cinema Retro, a magazine devoted to cinema of the 1960s and 1970s which readers here would probably enjoy. My article for them, coincidentally, was on a lost film, Peter Sellers’ Romance of the Pink Panther. I’ve also done a few UFO books like Roswell, USA: Towns That Celebrate UFOs, Lake Monsters, Bigfoot and Other Weirdness and The Real Cowboys and Aliens: UFO Encounters of the Old West with Noe Torres.

Driscoll: What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to get into writing their own books, especially about cinema?

LeMay:The good new is, if you’re into local history and you can write halfway decent, chances are you can break into Arcadia or The History Press. The nice thing about film topics is, if it’s something popular, self-publishing is the way to go. Godzilla, Star Wars and James Bond all have high “search-ability” on You don’t really need as much advertising if people are already searching for the subject matter. Anymore, fiction is the one area where you need a publisher in my opinion. If someone sees self-published fiction, right or wrong, good or not, they will turn up their nose to it compared to fiction that they see is endorsed by a major publisher. So my advice for fiction is aim for a publisher first, only go the self-publishing route if you have to. But for stuff that’s already popular like Godzilla, I would go with self-publishing, just be careful with rights! Fiction with Godzilla is strictly a no-no, and non-fiction is OK as I understand it so long as you include no photos. By the way, if you interview Steve Ryfle or Ed Godziszewski please ask them what the process was for the photos in their wonderful new book on Ishiro Honda! It’s a fantastic book, of particular interest to me because it spoke of deleted concepts from Honda’s films that I had no clue about.

Driscoll: Do you have any future projects you would like to share?

LeMay:I’ve got a university press looking at a historical bio I wrote a few years ago related to more Billy the Kid lore. I’ll also have a 2nd Edition of Volume 2 out by Christmas that will include the newer stuff like Shin Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island (2017). For sure you can count on a sequel to The Lost Films. It will focus on non-dai kaiju tokusatsu projects like Frankenstein vs. the Human VapourInvisible Man vs. Flame Man and so on. I would hope to have it out by next G-Fest. And of course, there will be a Revised Expanded Edition of sorts to The Lost Films one day, but really, there’s so much new material you could almost call it a sequel over a revised edition. There were some Gamera and Daimajin scripts I didn’t have access to the first time around but I do now. I don’t have any special connections BTW, most of the stuff I get you can get yourself from Amazon Japan or CD Japan. It’s just a matter of finding it and taking the time to scan the pages, run them through OCR and then Google Translate.

Also, I've got a few non-tokusatsu film books planned. I'm surprised there are no English language books on the German action/comedy duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. I intend to rectify that.

Driscoll: One more fan question: What would be your dream monster match-up?

LeMay: I tend to be a Titanosaurus fan because he had no special powers but went toe to toe with Godzilla and really gave him a run for his money. So I would love to see Titanosaurus and Godzilla team up against another monster, since it was said Titanosaurus was a peaceful dinosaur forced to fight against his will. I say "his will", but actually I've seen two separate interviews with Yukiko Takayama who says she thinks of Titanosaurus as a female monster. This doesn't mean Toho considers it a female, but its creator apparently does. I think it gives new meaning to the infamous Godzilla and Titanosaurus lip-biting/kiss scene in the film though!

Also, I will be genuinely disappointed if Kong doesn't fight King Ghidorah in the new Monsterverse at some point. That has to happen.

Driscoll: Thanks again, John! Good luck on your future projects!

LeMay: Thank you TK for being a great resource with your cutting room!



Author of The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol. 1: 1954-1980 and other entries in the series, John LeMay has been a prolific writer since the late 2000's. His work has ranged from entries on the Japanese film industry, with an emphasis on science fiction, to work on legends and folklore, such as his 2015 book Tall Tales and Half Truths of Billy the Kid.

Date: 10/14/2017
Interviewer: Nicholas Driscoll


Back to interviews