Godzilla fandom in the U.S. began to take shape in the early 1970s, and David Milner was there to witness its growth. As a contributor to the various Japanese monster movie fanzines that existed at the time, Mr. Milner was an active participant in spreading awareness of kaiju films among the American fan base. In the 1990s, Mr. Milner interviewed some of Toho’s biggest movers and shakers, for which he is best known among the current generation of Godzilla fans. These interviews are still often cited by fandom writers and researchers to this day. In July 2022, Mr. Milner answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his innumerable contributions to Godzilla fandom over the years.
Brett Homenick: To begin, please tell us when and where you were born and where you grew up.
David Milner: I was born in Manhattan in 1963 and grew up in Jackson Heights in Queens. It at the time was very homogeneous but since has become very diverse – it now is called the most diverse neighborhood in all of New York City because members of a large number of ethnic groups live there.
BH: How did you get into monster movies, particularly Godzilla and other kaiju movies?
DM: I would watch the films whenever they were broadcast on television. The movies generally were shown on weekends on local stations but occasionally were shown on the ABC 4:30 Movie during weekdays. Every year, there was a Godzilla movie marathon shown on the day after Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, the King Kong films would be shown.
BH: Did you read monster magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland during this time?
DM: I read The Monster Times as well as Famous Monsters of Filmland. I, in particular, liked the issues of both publications that were entirely devoted to Japanese monster movies. I also really liked the issue of The Monster Times that featured an article about Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). I’d not heard about the film and was really excited about the return of [King] Ghidorah and Anguirus. They were – and still are – two of my favorite monsters. In addition, I really liked the design of Gigan.
BH: What did you generally think about the coverage of Godzilla movies in the monster mags of the time?
DM: I thought it was exciting but superficial. I wanted much more in-depth coverage of the making of the movies – especially the special effects sequences.
BH: In the 1970s, what were your favorite kaiju movies?
DM: My favorites were Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964), Destroy All Monsters (1968), and of course Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956). I also really liked Rodan (1956) and War of the Gargantuas (1966).
At the time, I did not know how different Gojira (1954) was from Godzilla, King of the Monsters. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate fully all of the aspects of Gojira back then but wish I’d seen the original version from the start because it is so much more affecting.
BH: When did you discover The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal?
DM: I don’t remember exactly when or how I learned about it but can tell you that I learned about at some point during the 1970s.
BH: What were your initial impressions of it?
DM: I really liked it because it offered the information I wanted but didn’t get from Famous Monsters of Filmland or The Monster Times.
BH: What do you remember about your correspondences with Greg Shoemaker, [and] what did you contribute to JFFJ?
DM: I didn’t have any. Mr. Shoemaker and I never got in touch with each other. I wish we had. I never wrote anything for that fanzine.
BH: Why is it that you contributed to other fanzines but not JFFJ?
DM: I was never given an opportunity to do so. I certainly would like to have written for that fanzine.
BH: When did you find out about Japanese Giants?
DM: That I also don’t remember.
BH: Do you remember much about your correspondences with Brad Boyle?
DM: Mr. Boyle always came across as a good guy. I don’t remember much else about the correspondence.
BH: Please tell us about your contributions to the Japanese Giants Fan Letter.
DM: I wish I’d had an opportunity to contribute to Japanese Giants but never did. I don’t remember much about the material I wrote for the Japanese Giants Fan Letter. I don’t have copies of any of the issues of the fanzine – or any of the other fanzines – anymore.
My mother decided to throw out all of the issues I had one day while I was away in college. She did not tell me she was going to do that. I found out only when I returned home during spring break. Needless to say, I was none too happy.
BH: Another fanzine of the era was Richard Campbell’s Godzillamania. How did you get involved with it?
DM: I most likely contacted Mr. Campbell after somehow getting a copy of one of the early issues. We became pen pals, and then I started writing for the fanzine.
I was pen pals with monster model kit sculptor extraordinaire Bill Gudmundson back then, as well. I remember that, shortly after I found out about the release of Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) in Japan, I asked him what Titanosaurus looked like, and he sent me superb drawing of the monster. I had it for a number of years – until my mother threw it out one day.
BH: You wrote the column “Milner’s Mind” for the fanzine. What could you tell us about the column?
DM: Very little – I remember that I wrote it but don’t remember very much about it.
BH: Did you read Giantdom? If so, what were your thoughts?
DM: I’ve heard of it but never seen an issue of it.
BH: What were the other kaiju-oriented fanzines on your radar during this time?
DM: There weren’t any others that I can recall.
BH: Did you contribute to any other ‘zines?
DM: An article that I wrote about the reviews Godzilla, King of the Monsters received in the United States is in one of the issues of Markalite. In addition, a piece about Japanese monster collectibles that I wrote is in an issue of a magazine devoted to toys called Strange New Worlds. I vaguely recall having written other pieces for other publications but don’t remember much about them.
BH: When you were writing for the various fanzines of the day, how did you decide what to contribute to each one?
DM: Sometimes I would come up with an idea for an article, and sometimes the publisher would offer one. I, for example, wrote a review of Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster (1974) for the Creation Times – the fanzine published by the people who run the Creation conventions – after they requested that I write a piece about the film. This was very shortly after the movie was released here in the United States.
BH: During this time, I understand that you corresponded with a young Damon Foster, who was just starting out in the fanzine world. What do you remember about Damon around this time and his fanzine?
DM: I don’t recall every having any correspondence with Mr. Foster back then.
BH: Which fanzine of the 1970s was the best, in your opinion?
DM: I really liked both Japanese Giants and The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal.
BH: Which one was the most fun or rewarding to write for?
DM: I enjoyed writing for Godzillamania and the Japanese Giants Fan Letter. I was pretty much free to write whatever I wanted. I was more constrained when writing for the Creation Times but enjoyed writing for it, as well.
BH: Which article or column were you most proud of writing?
DM: I don’t remember them very well, so I can’t choose one. I do remember being proud of contributing to the Creation Times simply because it was associated with the Creation conventions.
BH: Let’s move on to your interviews in Japan. How did you get the connection to the various Toho personalities you interviewed?
DM: In 1991, I was introduced to Yoshihiko Shibata – the person who arranged and translated during all of my interviews – by August Ragone. Mr. Shibata had previously translated during interviews Mr. Ragone and Guy Tucker conducted with Ishiro Honda, Akira Ifukube, and a few other people who participated in producing Japanese science fiction films.
BH: Which interviewee impressed you the most?
DM: Mrs. Kimi Honda – Ishiro Honda’s wife. I visited her a number of times over the course of a few years after Mr. Honda died. Mrs. Honda was always very gracious – and candid. Her son Ryuji always joined us when we got together. He had lived in Forest Hills in Queens for a number of years, so he, like Mr. Shibata, spoke English very well.
BH: Whom do you think gave you the best interview?
DM: No one person comes to mind because there were a number of really good interviews. Takao Okawara was the most forthcoming with what he called “top secret” information. Teruyoshi Nakano was able to provide a lot of great “making of” information. Noriaka Yuasa gave the longest interview. Mr. Shibata and I spent eight hours with him.
BH: Did you have any disappointments in terms of your interviews?
DM: I was unable to interview a few people I would like to have met – Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, Sadamasa Arikawa, and Tomoyuki Tanaka come to mind.
I happened to be at Toho’s studios in Setagaya one day when Mr. Tanaka was there but didn’t know it at the time. If only someone had told me!
BH: Who were some of the friendlier interviewees?
DM: Mr. Nakano, Kenpachiro Satsuma, and Shinji Higichi come to mind. I really enjoyed speaking with them because they were so friendly.
BH: Were there any not-so-friendly ones?
DM: Akira Kubo seemed disinterested. He came across as not really wanting to be there in the first place.
BH: What were some of the most interesting facts or stories that you were told?
DM: I really enjoyed hearing about Eiji Tsuburaya from Mr. Nakano. I’m glad I got to learn some things about Mr. Tsuburaya from someone who knew him.
I was very surprised that Mr. Okawara told me about the idea for Ghost Godzilla. I had no idea that there was consideration being given to producing a film in which the current Godzilla and a reincarnation of the first one appeared. “Top secret,” indeed!
BH: On the other side of the likes of Mr. Okawara and Mr. Nakano, did you feel that any interviewee was a bit too tight-lipped?
DM: None of them seemed tight-lipped, but Jun Fukuda did seem a little embarrassed by some of the work he had done – especially for television – so I didn’t ask as many questions about his work as I would have liked. I remember that Yukiko Takayama [the screenwriter of Terror of Mechagodzilla] was with us at the time, and she helped to coax Mr. Fukuda to answer some of my questions.
BH: I think most Godzilla fans would love to hear about the two directors mostly associated with the Showa era — Ishiro Honda and Jun Fukuda. What do you remember about meeting these two gentlemen, and what were their personalities like?
DM: Mr. Honda was quite comfortable with his association with the science fiction films he’d directed. He had a Bandai Godzilla figure in the front window of his house. Mr. Ifukube had the same figure on a pedestal in his front lawn.
Mr. Fukuda seemed more attached to the nongenre movies he’d directed. Mr. Honda accordingly was more enthusiastic about speaking with me. For Mr. Fukuda, the experience seemed at times to be an embarrassing one. Regardless, both men were very likeable.
BH: You also interviewed the two suit actors most closely associated with playing Godzilla — Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma. What were they like at the time, and do you recall any differences between them?
DM: Mr. Satsuma was very energetic and outgoing. He clearly enjoyed being the person who played Godzilla. I remember that, when in December 1995 I asked him about attending a Japanese monster movie convention in the United States [G-CON 1996, organized by John Rocco Roberto] along with Mr. Nakajima, Mr. Satsuma jumped at the chance. He helped to arrange for Mr. Nakajima to attend.
Mr. Satsuma was present when I interviewed Mr. Nakajima, and the first thing I noticed was how well the two of them got along. They were like old friends getting together again. Mr. Nakajima was very at ease and seemed to enjoy reminiscing. He was not quite as energetic as Mr. Satsuma, but being with Mr. Nakajima was just as enjoyable.
BH: What about Akira Ifukube? What was it like to interview him?
DM: Mr. Ifukube was a warm and thoughtful man who was very generous with his time. I met with him on about half a dozen occasions and spent hours with him each time. I had a background in music, so we sometimes discussed his music in some detail. He gave me some insights into his creative process that were very revealing.
Mr. Ifukube on a number of occasions expressed frustration about having so little time to compose film scores. How he was able to create such great music given the time constraints I simply don’t understand. I have written music myself but [have] never been able to work as quickly as he did.
One of the intentions I had in interviewing Mr. Ifukube was to bring his classical pieces to the attention of people only familiar with his film scores. My favorite is Japanese Rhapsody, but there are many other really good ones. Mr. Ifukube, after all, is not called the father of Japanese classical music for nothing.
BH: What do you recall about interviewing Shogo Tomiyama and his personality at the time?
DM: The first thing Mr. Tomiyama said to me when we met was, “We will cooperate with you as long as you do not violate our copyright.” He said that in English. Fortunately, I had come prepared. I showed Mr. Tomiyama a letter I had requested and received from Toho’s office in Los Angeles acknowledging the interviews I was doing and granting permission for them. Once he saw that letter, he agreed to answer my questions.
I got the impression that Mr. Tomiyama felt the interview was a chore more than anything else. He didn’t seem to enjoy speaking with me, as many of the other people I interviewed did. I think Mr. Tomiyama was very busy at the time, so maybe he simply wanted to get back to his regular work.
I ran into Mr. Tomiyama at the premiere of Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) in Hollywood. We only spoke briefly, but he seemed more relaxed and a little friendlier then.
BH: Was Mr. Tomiyama a difficult get for you?
DM: Yes – arranging an interview with him, like setting up one with Mr. [Koichi] Kawakita, took a few years.
BH: Noriaki Yuasa was a very friendly person when I met him many years ago. What do you recall about your interview with him?
DM: It was a marathon, for sure! Mr. Yuasa was perhaps the most candid of all of the people I interviewed. He was quite forthcoming. That interview is the last one I conducted.
Mr. Yuasa had recently had some health problems but didn’t seem affected by them. When he told me about them, I was reminded of Mr. Honda, who died only a few months after I met with him. I, at the time, had no idea that Mr. Honda’s health was not good. He [Mr. Honda] jogged into the room in which we met and seemed to be in a very good mood.
BH: When you interviewed Shinji Higuchi, he was just getting noticed for his special effects work. Please tell me about what you remember about him at the time.
DM: Mr. Higuchi was still young at the time. He came across as eager and energetic. I think he was very proud to have been the special effects director for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). Given how good the film is, I certainly can understand why he would have felt that way. It’s my favorite of all of the Gamera movies.
BH: One person whom you interviewed who isn’t very well known is Yoshio Irie. Do you have any memories you could share about him?
DM: Mr. Irie is one of the unsung heroes. His contribution to the production of genre films really deserves more recognition than it has received. Mr. Irie seemed proud of the work that he had done on the films when we spoke.
Mr. Irie, like Mr. Nakano, had worked with Mr. Tsuburaya, and I enjoyed learning about him from Mr. Irie, as well.
BH: Mr. Kubo may not have been very enthusiastic, but how about Kenji Sahara?
DM: Mr. Sahara was very different from Mr. Kubo. Mr. Sahara really seemed to enjoy our conversation.
BH: Were you star-struck by anyone you interviewed?
DM: Ishiro Honda, Akira Ifukube, Haruo Nakajima – the list goes on.
BH: Do you have any anecdotes from your encounters with the people you’ve interviewed that you could share?
DM: I remember that, when I asked Mr. Ifukube about Beethoven, Bach, and some of the other classical composers, he said that they certainly were great, but the mood of their music sometimes changed too quickly. I didn’t give much thought to his comment at the time, but in the years since have come to agree with him. I regardless still enjoy the music.
One day, I ran into Mr. Satsuma on the train. I think he was going home from work. I was surprised to see him and asked, “Don’t people recognize you?” He said that sometimes they did – especially children – but that didn’t bother him.
BH: Why did you stop interviewing kaiju personalities?
DM: The death of Godzilla and placing of the Godzilla series on hiatus in 1995 seemed like a good time to stop, but there were other reasons, as well. I had met all of the people I wanted to and could meet. In addition, I had gotten a very demanding job that kept me quite busy.
BH: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your interviews that we haven’t already covered?
DM: There is nothing like going to the original source. I highly recommend it if you want accuracy.
BH: Your interviews have been freely available to read on your website for years. What do you think their legacy is in terms of genre research?
DM: I took that website down a while ago. The material and the original audio recordings are now available on the Toho Kingdom website.
The legacy? That is for others to decide – not me. I, however, will say that I think the hero of story really is Mr. Shibata. He was very helpful to not only Mr. Ragone, Mr. Tucker, and me but a few of the other American fans.
BH: In the 1990s, you started to contribute your interviews with Toho alumni to Cult Movies magazine. What was it like contributing to this ‘zine?
DM: I was never happy about that. It was the only publication I could find willing to publish the interviews without pictures of the monsters, per Toho’s demand, and I felt that left the pieces lacking. In addition, the material I sent in was often edited – frankly, somewhat butchered – and I was unhappy about that because what ended up being published often became difficult to follow because of the missing material.
BH: What led to your appearance on CNN International?
DM: They contacted me in the fall of 1995 because they wanted to broadcast a segment about the upcoming death of Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). The segment, which was broadcast live, only lasted for about five minutes. They asked about the film, the changes in the portrayal of Godzilla over the years, and the popularity of Godzilla in Japan. So I’ve had my five minutes of fame.
BH: Also, in the late ’90s, you had your own email newsletter. How did that come about?
DM: That was in the early to mid-1990s. I would just send out news from time to time – there was no regular newsletter. I vaguely recall that I started doing so in response to the demise of the Japanese monster movie fan group on Prodigy. It was a service comparable to AOL. Afterward, that kind of information would be made available by me and others on the alt.movies.monster Internet newsgroup.
BH: Maybe “newsletter” was the wrong word to use. I remember you ran an email forum in the mid- to late ’90s. I specifically recall sharing something with the email list in early 1997. Do you have any memories you could share about this email list?
DM: I don’t remember much about it. Given the questions you have asked, I think you remember more about my genre-related activities than I do! Only the interviews I conducted during the 1990s really stick out in my mind.
BH: Did you write for or have any input on Ultra-Fan, which later became Kaiju-Fan magazine?
DM: I discussed that fanzine with the people who published it when they were just getting started but never contributed any material. I never was much of a fan of the television series. I have, however, watched a few episodes of some of them just out of curiosity. I, for example, have seen the episodes of Meteor [Man] Zone, which is commonly referred to as Zone Fighter (1973), that feature Godzilla, Gigan, and [King] Ghidorah.
BH: The late John Rocco Roberto was the driving force behind Kaiju-Fan as its publisher. What do you remember about him?
DM: John was a good friend. He was one of the most likeable people I’ve ever met. John was a big Beatles fan. He also really liked Doctor Who (1963-89).
John was the one who instigated the first Japanese monster movie-related convention held in the United States [G-CON]. There were six of us involved in making it happen – the convention was held in 1996 – but John initiated and led the charge. I don’t think the convention would have taken place without him.
Visiting John in the hospital during the last week of his life [in 2007] was heartbreaking. I was there almost every day. The cancer had really taken a toll. That is an experience I never want to have again.
BH: Any thoughts on Guy Tucker?
DM: Guy, like John Roberto, was a good friend. Guy was one of the most insightful people I ever met. He would think of things that nobody else did.
Guy sometimes helped me prepare questions for my interviews. I will always be grateful to him for that.
I had great respect for Guy’s opinions but didn’t always agree with them. Guy, for example, felt Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) was one of the worst, if not the worst, of the Godzilla films. He made a good case – he always did – but I never felt that way. I, however, may be a little biased about that movie because it is the first genre film I ever saw in Japan.
BH: I remember seeing a recording of a Q&A session with Guy Tucker at an early G-CON where he said that Koichi Kawakita was a bad interview. What’s your take?
DM: Again, Guy and I disagree! Getting an interview with Mr. Kawakita was difficult – it took a few years – but I thought the interviews I did with him were OK. I, however, do understand why Guy felt that way because Mr. Kawakita always seemed a little distracted. Maybe he was just thinking about the work he was doing at the time.
BH: What’s your favorite Godzilla movie?
DM: I don’t have a single favorite. Along with Godzilla vs. the Thing, Destroy All Monsters, and Godzilla, King of the Monsters – and Rodan, and War of the Gargantuas – I really like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1993) and [Godzilla:] Tokyo S.O.S. (2003). In addition, I tend to like the films that have prehistoric monsters in them simply because I have an interest in dinosaurs. I have since I was a kid.
BH: How about least favorite?
DM: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). It is the first genre film I saw in a theater. My parents took me to see the movie, and I cringed at points while watching it.
BH: Which genre films do you think are underrated, whether they feature Godzilla or not?
DM: I’ve always thought that Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) deserves at least a little more respect than it generally receives. I understand why people criticize the film so much – all of the stock footage is certainly disappointing to see – but I think the movie provides some good commentary on urban life in Japan during the late 1960s.
BH: How do you feel about the Gamera series in general?
DM: I never really enjoyed kids’ stuff even when I was a kid. The only exceptions to that I can think of are Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny. I did enjoy watching them.
I do like the first Gamera film and the three made during the 1990s, but the others not so much.
I was in Tokyo when preview screenings of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe were being shown and managed to get into one. I remember being very impressed by the film. Mr. Satsuma once called that movie a masterpiece. I can understand why.
BH: Do you have any thoughts about some of the more recent kaiju offerings, like Godzilla: Final Wars or Shin Godzilla (2016)?
DM: I was excited to see Godzilla: Final Wars – I attended the premiere in Hollywood – but didn’t enjoy the film. I simply didn’t like the plot, the choreography of the battles between the monsters, the monster designs, the music – the list goes on. I, however, was glad to see Kenji Sahara, Kumi Mizuno, and Akira Takarada again.
I have mixed feelings about Shin Godzilla. I think it is a great commentary on the workings of the Japanese government – especially in response to crises – but Godzilla seems out of place to me, given the intention of the film. I think the movie would have worked better as a documentary. In addition, I don’t like the way Godzilla is portrayed or his design. I was hoping for and would have preferred a Godzilla comparable to the first one. I do like the acting and score.
I also have mixed feelings about the MonsterVerse movies. I, for the most part, liked them, except Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). I cringed when the monsters bowed down unto Godzilla and didn’t like a number of other aspects of the film. I didn’t expect to like Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), given my feelings about Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but did. It certainly has its flaws, but I did find it very entertaining.