Richard Vine (UK)

In 2000, to help promote the Japan TV weekend on BBC Choice in the UK, Masaaki Sakai did an interview for Richard Vine in the UK, which was originally meant to be published in The Guardian newspaper, but it was never actually published.

The interview is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author, Richard Vine.

You are only known in Britain for Monkey? What have you been up to since it finished?
Monkey is also known in Australia. In Australia, DVDs and videos of Monkey will be released in September of this year. Sakai has been active ever since in TV dramas, plays, theatre, has released many records, and has been a TV personality. As a singer he has received many awards.

What's the strangest thing a Monkey fan has ever sent you?
A letter written with mixed English and Japanese with humorous content.

Do you ever get worried about the obsessive interest from your fans?
Twenty five years ago when Sakai was an idol, every morning when he would open his front door there would be throngs of fans waiting for him. He used to give cans of juice to the fans.

Are you still recognised on the streets in Japan?
He is recognised by everyone, from young children to fishermen, anywhere in Japan. Due to his popularity he is listed every year in the top ten ranking list of taxpayers in the entertainment business in Japan.

Are there any plans to reform The Spiders? Do you still consider yourself to be a mod?
He has formed a new band called "Sans Filtre" with three former members of The Spiders. He does not think of himself as a mod, but he is still popular among fans of the Sixties mod movement. "Sans Filtre" performs on stage in Japan and would like to perform in London, because there are many Sixties fans who they are eagerly waiting for him to perform there.

Did you have a rock and roll lifestyle while you were in the band?
While he was in the band the image of rock and roll was not very well received in Japan, and he felt resistance towards this image. He purposely tried to give out a good image.

What are your favourite songs to sing?
His favourite song is "When Something's Wrong With My Baby" by Sam and Dave.

Do you still perform the Monkey theme tune when you do concerts?
No I don't.

Do you have any albums out at the moment?
He has released over thirty albums.

How does car-racing compare to cloud racing? What kind of car do you drive?
Cloud racing has no traffic jams so he enjoys it. He rides a Maseratti Quattro Porte, a 1956 Alfa Romeo Julietta Spider and a 1947 Cisitalia 202 SMM.

Do you ever argue with your wife when she is navigating in your races together?

Did you ever worry about your fans imitating the martial arts action at school in the playground? (When the show was first broadcast here, children used to play Monkey every day, and often ended up hitting each other with long sticks).
He worries about it all the time. In the drama there are rules but when children play there are no rules so it is dangerous. In Japan a long time ago children used to play with long sticks like Samurai used to wave their swords.

Did you do your own fight scenes? How long did each episode take to film?
He did not use stuntmen. It took five days to film an episode.

There was a lot of rivalry between Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy in the storylines. In the setting of the drama Monkey was the leader, with Sandy being the second and Pigsy was the youngest. They all had good parts and bad parts to their personalities so fights where constantly happening. How did you all get on off-set?
He used to go to restaurants and go drinking with the other cast members.

What are your memories of Masako Natsume?
Not only her stage appearances but her whole life as a whole was dramatic.

What was your favourite episode of Monkey?
He likes them all.

Do you think the Buddhist message of Monkey got lost with all the kung-fu action, demons and disco dancing?
Monkey was not a very religious character, so he was able to harm people and was easy prey to temptation.

How did you come up with the Monkey dance?
The dance was thought up by him as a variation of "The Twist".

How do you feel about the English dubbing of Monkey in a fake-Japanese accent?
With the fake Japanese accent, the visual aspects of the drama were made more effective.

What were some of your favourite dishes from your cookery show?
Some of his favourite dishes were "Creamed sea bass wrapped in pie crust with lobster sauce" and "Linguine with watari crab cooked in tomato sauce".

You have made a lot of other TV shows? Which one would you most like to be shown in Britain?
For the past thirty years he has been performing in a programme on New Year’s Day, which has him performing various unique tricks. For example: juggling, dribbling a golf ball on the face of a golf club and extinguishing the flame of a candle by throwing playing cards horizontally which has a success rate of once every 500th try. He would like to see the thirty episodes released.

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