The interview is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author, Barry Divola.
This article was first published in Rolling Stone magazine in Australia.
When was the Monkey TV show originally made?
The show started broadcasting in 1978. The program was watched often by school children who would talk about the previous nightís show with their friends at school the next day.
How big a celebrity did you become in Japan as a result of starring in Monkey? Tell us some stories about your popularity, encounters with fans, etc.
I was well known before the Monkey programme started. As for encounters with fans, I was mobbed with fans every morning who would wait for me as I went to work. I would give them cans of juice.
The original Monkey story is a Buddhist story, but the TV show was obviously not too serious, and very funny - did you ever get criticised by more conservative viewers in Japan?
Japanese on the whole are not very religious people, so I was not criticised at all concerning the religious overtones of the story. This story is viewed as a story that came from China so it is not thought of as such.
Was that facial hair all your own hair, or did you have it stuck on by the make-up people?
It was fake hair applied by a make-up artist.
Tell us about the mechanism behind the incredibly life-like (I am joking) cloud that you used to fly around on.
It was a prop but children who watched the show believed very much that it was in fact a real cloud. Also special effects were used during filming.
Did you and the actors who played Sandy and Pigsy ever get on each otherís nerves? Did you have any real-life fights?
We had discussions about filming, but we never had any fights.
Why did they have a girl playing the boy priest?
If only men were used it would not be interesting so the thought of using beautiful Natsume Masako for the role of the priest, and by shaving her hair, it also added to the buzz that was generated by the programme.
I hear that you are also well known in Japan for your music. Could you tell us about The Spiders?
I have an English homepage which I am sure will answer much for you.
The site is called "Spiders" and is here: http://www.kiwi-us.com/~hitomi/spiders.htm
Also there are two other sites that might be of interest to you:
1) Trans-World '60s Punk:Cutie Morning Moon: http://60spunk.m78.com/
When were they formed and when did they break up?
The band was formed in 1961 and four years later they had their first hit called "Yuuhi Ga Naite Iru" (Sad Sunset).
How many records did you release?
I have released about thirty records.
What are the names of some of your best-known songs? What sort of music did you play?
The sound we had was influenced by the music of Sixties British rock. Hiroshi Kamayatsu, who was our main songwriter, was influenced very much by listening to FEN, which was a station broadcasting to the armed forces. It was at the time the only radio station broadcasting in English. He wrote songs in Japanese that incorporated the essence of music that was popular in England at that time. Our band was as popular as The Beatles with people being carried away after fainting. Even though I was the singer of the band I would often talk with the audience, and with jokes I added some stand-up comedy to the show. Our most well known song is "Machi No Akari" (Glittering Town Night).
I heard you were a mod - is that true?
When I was a member of The Spiders I was a mod, but now I am not a mod. It is embarrassing for me to say it myself but I am looked upon as to be one of the most fashionable fifty-four year olds in Japan.
Is Sans Filtre your current band? Are they still playing? Are they very different to The Spiders?
Sans Filtre is a band made up of three original members of The Spiders and was formed last year. The band plays music like Sixties British rock and rhythm and blues.
How old are you?
I am now fifty-four years old.
Are you married, and do you have children? Can you give us details of their names and ages?
Yes I am married and I have two daughters, six and nine years old. Their names are Coco and Kiki.
Tell us about your cooking show. What is it called? Is it still on television? Do you have a special dish you are well know for?
The name of the show is "Cyuubou Desuyo" (It's The Kitchen). It has been broadcasting for over five years and is shown on Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. Even though it is shown at a late time it has very high ratings.
We hear that you are also a keen car racer. Do you still race? What car (or cars) do you own?
Yeah I am a keen racer. I raced in this yearís Mille Miglia race in Italy. I won first place in the participating Japanese teams, and also I have been number one in the overall score record for a Japanese team in the raceís fifty year old history. I own a Maseratti Quattro Porte, a 1956 Alfa Romeo Julietta Spider and a 1947 Cisitalia 202 SMM.
Japanese friends tell me that you do a television show on New Yearís Day. What is it called? Can you tell me about some of the crazy things you do on this show? How long have you been doing this?
The name of the show in "Shinnshunn Staa Kakushigeitaaikai" (New Year Stars Unique Tricks Competition). For example I have dribbled a golf ball on the face of a golf club and extinguished the flame of a candle by throwing playing cards horizontally, which has a success rate of once every 500th try.
Finally, has there been any talk of making the Monkey TV show into a movie? If Hollywood decided to make it into a movie, who would you like to play the Monkey character?
No, there has been no talk as such, but I personally would like Jackie Chan to play the part as I think big-bodied persons would not suit the part.
Barry Divola writes about pop culture for Rolling Stone, Who Weekly and Cleo in Australia. His book FANCLUB, about music fans and what makes them tick, is available now through Allen & Unwin.
For more information about the Monkey video / DVD release in Australia / New Zealand, check out the Monkey Videos / DVDs (Australia / New Zealand) page.