Multiverse Article

[Many thanks to Nikki White for this article, from her Multiverse fanzine.]

NOTE: I have preserved the original article in its entirety, but where I've found factual errors, I've corrected them by highlighting the errors in red, crossing them out and then writing the correction in red afterwards.

Multiverse #6 Nov. 1981

MONKEY MAGIC - Nikki White

"In the worlds before Monkey, Primal Chaos reigned.
Heaven sought order.
But the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown.
The four worlds formed again and yet again,
As endless aeons wheeled and passed.
Time and the pure essences of heaven, the moisture
of the Earth, the powers of the sun and the moon
all worked upon a certain rock, old as creation.
And it became magically fertile.
That first egg was named 'Thought'.
Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said,
'With our thoughts, we make the world.'
Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch.
From it came a stone monkey.
The nature of Monkey was....irrepressible!"

Thus begins MONKEY, the latest TV series to capture the imaginations of fan and mundane alike, a programme which almost defies description to those who have never seen it. It is the first new live-action Japanese TV series to grace our screens since THE SAMURAI and PHANTOM AGENTS, back in the mid-60s, and it seems to have had almost the same impact as the former on viewers. That is, people either love it or hate it, while critics throw up their hands in despair at it and the fanaticism of its followers.

Like THE SAMURAI, it is a mish-mash of spectacular and vigorous displays of acrobatics and martial arts; somewhat tacky special effects; idiosyncratic dubbing and weird plots. And like THE SAMURAI, its detractors accuse it of excessive violence, incomprehensibility and a tendency to cause nightmares in young minds.

However, there the resemblance ends. MONKEY is based on a Chinese classic which, in itself was fanciful and whimsical; it is shot in colour; the martial arts are chiefly limited to stick-fighting; 'real' magic plays a major part, rather than mere illusion; and the dialogue is deliberately strange. However, there is a strong element of Buddhist philosophy in it - viewers learn more about Buddhism in one session than they do of Christianity in a year!

The series, as stated above, is based on the novel, Hsi yu ch'i (literally: 'Record of a journey to the west' - it is pronounced 'Saiyuki' in Japanese) by Wu Ch'eng-en (ca.1505-1580), which in turn was based on the semi-legendary pilgrimage of the priest, Hsuan-Tsang (602-664 AD) also known as Tripitaka, to India in the 7th century. Though the pilgrimage is historical fact, the later embellishments and tales surrounding it are not. These are - or were - as well known to Chinese and Japanese children as tales of Robin Hood or King Arthur are to us. These legends postulate Hsuan-Tsang was helped by a trio of animal spirits, namely the Monkey-King, a pig-spirit and a fish-spirit, who have magical powers. Monkey became one of those irrepressible figures of legend whose figure dominates his story cycle, becoming a legend in his own right and a by-word of folklore.

Wu Ch'eng-en then took these folk stories and made a definitive version, combining satire, fantasy, comedy and allegory with them. Hsuan-Tsang's pilgrimage to India became an allegory for man's pilgrimage through life. He is the holy innocent, Everyman, blundering through life's difficulties. His companions stand for various embodiments of essential human characteristics, despite their supernatural origins. Monkey stands for the restless instability of genius, alternately aggressive trouble-maker and playful clown; Pigsy is the carnal appetite, strong, lazy, obnoxious, greedy and oversexed. Sandy is a self-styled philosopher with a pessimistic outlook on life but more patient than the other two. The adventures concern their encounters with various demons and evil in various forms as they make their way over mountains, deserts and steppes.

There is a translation of HSI YU CHI, under the title, MONKEY, by Arthur Waley, originally published by Allen & Unwin in 1942 but now available in Unwin paperback since 1979. There is a later collection of Monkey stories recorded by a 17th century Buddhist monk, Tung Yeh, which has been translated into English. This is TOWER OF MYRIAD MIRRORS translated by Shuen-fu Lin and Larry Schulz.

The Japanese TV series takes Wu Ch'eng-en's satiric and fanciful elements several steps further to the point almost of absurdity. It introduces deliberate anachronisms such as discos and disco music in T'ang China and vampires who look like graduates of the Bela Lugosi School of Undead, opera-capes and all. It deliberately did not take a traditional approach but went for mass appeal, making no attempt to recreate ancient China other than in costume. Some of my Chinese colleagues can't bear the series because they say it looks 'too modern' and the stories are not to be found in Wu Ch'eng-en's novel. However, I did notice that a few, while not being based on the Monkey legend, perhaps, were most certainly based on Buddhist folklore such as the one about the child-eating demoness who is made to see the error of her ways when one of her own myriad children is threatened.

The series, called 'SAIYUKI' in Japan, was made by Nihon Television to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that network. It had a budget, for the first series, of Y100 million (approximately Aust.$400,000) and was pitted against the prestigious Okawa Drama series on NHK (equivalent to the BBC or our ABC) in prime time (Sunday, 8pm). In other words, it was most definitely not supposed to be a kiddies' show but one for all the family, as the publicity in the Japanese press stated. It began on 1st October 1978 and the first series ran once a week until 1st April 1979. Then a two-hour special made up of highlights of that series was shown on 8th April to satisfy public demand. The first series had 26 episodes of 54 minutes each.

Due to pressure of public demand, a second series, also of 26 episodes, was made. This ran in the same Sunday 8pm timeslot from 11th November 1979 to 4th May 1980. In the second series, a different actor played Pigsy and a new character was introduced, Yu-lung, Tripitaka's horse who had been a dragon and now could transform into a man when under stress. It was not the first time HSI YU CHI had been turned into a TV series or film by the Japanese but earlier productions were animations and appear to have stuck a little more faithfully to their source. This was certainly the most expensive, elaborate and outrageous.

Both series had footage for special effects shot on location in Northwest China and Inner Mongolia, though most of the main action seems to have been shot inside a studio in Japan. Some footage was shot outside locally as in one episode in the second season, the characters, supposedly in China, are standing near what is quite obviously a red torii (this sort of gate is only found in Shinto shrines). Both series also commenced with the song, 'Monkey Magic' (same title in Japanese), an up-tempo, disco-type song sung by the group, Godaigo, in the Japanese version. Who does the dubbed English version is unknown. It may even be Godaigo, too. The song at the end of each episode in the first season, 'Gandhara', was also sung by Godaigo. Sometimes we had the original version and sometimes an English-language version. The song at the end of each episode in the second season, which I call for convenience, 'Holy and Bright', was sung by Masaaki Sakai (who played 'Monkey') in the Japanese versionGodaigo too. In addition, there were musical interludes in the episodes, such as several disco sequences using the main 'Monkey Magic' theme or the plaintive song Sandy sang in Japanese in the final episode.

Each story was by a different scriptwriter and director but the music was by Mickie Yoshino.

All the roles are played by human actors and there are some interesting bits of casting. Tripitaka, the holy innocent boy, is played by a woman, Masako Natsume, while Buddha is said to have chosen to appear in female form and is played by distinguished actress Mieko Takamine. On the other hand, Kwan-yin, the Goddess of Mercy, appears in her male form and is played by an actor. To further confuse matters, in certain episodes, Monkey transforms himself or Tripitaka into a woman. Thus, in the latter case, we have an actress playing a man playing a woman.

The costumes are gorgeous ancient Chinese court dress in beautiful colours and materials. So are the settings (none of your Chinese-restaurant Ming here). Even the demons are richly and colourfully robed. These latter include a lot of one-horned characters but many are humanoid. You can usually tell a demon as he transforms in a puff of smoke to his true form and instead of the immaculately dressed Chinese courtier or magistrate, you are confronted with a burning-eyed character with bushy, winged eyebrows and a mane of long, black hair shot with grey falling from a widow's peak, over his shoulders. The mouth is usually painted dark and made to look longer. Not being familiar with Chinese demons, all I can say is that these beings look typical of drawings of tengu, oni and the like seen in Japanese scrolls, prints and in kabuki plays. In appearance, they also recall certain master ninja in THE SAMURAI and other such films and TV series, namely with the dishevelled hair, weird gestures and glaring eyes.

The four main characters are dressed more or less as they have traditionally been depicted. Monkey, (called 'Son Goku' in Japanese) wears a red jerkin, brown breeches, boots, a yellow kerchief and a gold circlet around his head placed there by Buddha to ensure his obedience. (When Tripitaka chants 'Om mane padme hum', the circlet tightens, causing him pain until he stops disobeying the priest. Hence Monkey calls it the 'Headache Sutra'). He carries a magic wishing staff which is black and tipped with gold bands each end. It can shrink down to the size of a match-stick (in which form he keeps it tucked behind his ear) or expand to several furlongs - whatever length he requires for fighting with it. On the staff are written in gold thirteen Chinese characters which translate to mean, 'Gold-hooped wishing staff weighing 13,500 catties.'

He is king of the monkeys, a stone monkey born of a stone egg formed at the beginning of creation, as the introductory narrative relates. His nature is 'irrepressible' and he is the archetypal larrikin - rude, boisterous, boastful, pushy, argumentative and impatient. He calls himself 'Great Sage Equal of Heaven' and has magic powers such as the ability to transform into insects, humans (male or female), animals and even inanimate objects like pills. By plucking a hair from his chest and blowing on it, he can make either a whole army appear or create a double of himself or some other magic trick. In addition, he can detect the presence of demons by smelling them, an ability that is particularly handy and which no-one else has. He was cast out of heaven after eating the fruit of immortality, annoying the gods and irritating Buddha. For that he was imprisoned for 500 years under a mountain and only released to help Tripitaka. He is immortal and indestructible, as was amply illustrated in one episode where he attempted suicide by going out into space, then hurling himself into the Earth. All that happened was that he made a large crater but was quite unharmed. His other magic attribute is his cloud-flying. When in a tight spot or in a hurry, he simply whistles up his cloud, a fluffy pink object which pops out of nowhere in the sky. On this he leaps and off he flies. On one occasion, when attempting to make it rain by magic in a drought-stricken area, things went wrong and rain fell upwards instead of downwards, causing most of his cloud, on which he was standing, to melt away so he fell off it. Thereafter, his poor, pathetic cloud, now shrunk to half its size, was tenderly nursed by him, being kept in the breast of his jerkin and taken out to be stroked. The effect was delightfully absurd. Monkey does not have ape make-up a la PLANET OF THE APES but is human in appearance except for very bushy eyebrows and sideburns.

Pigsy (called Cho Hakkai in Japanese) who was formerly the Lord of the Heavenly Hosts until thrown out of heaven for being greedy and lustful to be incarnated as a pig-spirit on earth, is also immortal. He carries a muck-rake as a weapon and is handy with it when he can be persuaded to fight. His strength is an asset, too. His appearance is a little weird and not so traditional. Imagine a chunky Japanese actor with a set of big ears worthy of Yoda, red hair, a cream tam-o'-shanter with a black pom-pom on his head and a grey and white check robe which looks like tweed. Pigsy grumbles a lot - always hungry, thirsty, tired or randy. He'll chase anything in skirts, even Monkey or Tripitaka in female guise. He never seems to learn from his disastrous encounters with apparent damsels in distress who turn out to be demons in disguise. In the first season he was delightfully revolting and obnoxious. In the second season, played by a different actor, he seemed to mellow, was less forceful a personality and played a less prominent part. This was explained by Buddha's statement that each animal-spirit was moving towards humanity in their progress to India, learning human feelings and values and would eventually become human. Pigsy was not merely delightfully awful, he did have some redeeming qualities - he could be kind and compassionate, even self-sacrificing and he provided, along with Monkey, a lot of the humour. Under duress, Pigsy can summon a cloud to fly on, by screaming.

Sandy (Sai Gojo in Japanese) was depicted not so much as the fish (or shark) spirit of Chinese legend but as a 'kappa' or Japanese water-goblin with his metal dish on his head, long, lank black hair and necklace of skulls. He is a tall, rather sleepy-looking character, rather ponderous, alternating between philosophical speculations that get him nowhere because he can never reach a conclusion; and a type of stolid common sense. He also carries a long handled weapon. He is the least magical and the least handy in a fight. He was cast out of heaven for dropping a jade goblet belonging to the king of Heaven.

Tripitaka is dressed simply as a Buddhist priest and rides a white horse. This horse was originally a dragon who was cast out of heaven at the same time as the others - Yu-lung means 'Jade Dragon'. In the first season, he was simply a horse but in the second season as he, like the others, progresses towards humanity, he achieves the ability to change into a rather useless, half-witted human male who wears purple ribbons about his head similar to the purple bridle he has in his horse form. This man has a pony-tail and white clothes and is not much good in a fight, being pretty cowardly.

This unlikely group go through adventures involving conflicts with demons disguised as humans or misguided humans who attempt to stop them going to India because they don't want Buddhism brought into the world at large.

A voice narrates at the beginning and the end, usually drawing a Buddhist lesson from the proceedings. Those who get their jollies from the mystical spoutings of the Shaolin priests in KUNG FU or the garbled pronouncements of Yoda in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, no doubt revel in these passages full of Buddhist and pseudo-Buddhist homilies and mystical double-talk, regardless of whether they make sense or not.

The programme adopts a strong moralistic tone beneath the shenanigans. Honesty, truthfulness, non-violence, charity towards others' shortcomings, courage, the need to examine oneself constantly for flaws are stressed. Monkey is repeatedly told not to use violence as the first and only solution by Tripitaka and sometimes he is punished for his disobedience. Tripitaka, a passive character, prefers to try reason and politeness. The message is a gentle one - probably because Buddhism doesn't threaten hellfire and brimstone to backsliders, unlike Christianity, but offers another chance to improve oneself via another incarnation and so on until perfection is reached. Of course, there IS a Buddhist hell - I recall a vivid description of it in a reader when I was studying Japanese at university (were they trying to tell me something? After all, I was also studying Book Six of the AENEID in Latin which describes Aeneas' Cook's Tour of the Roman afterlife) but that is not mentioned. "To conquer the monster in others, we must first conquer the one in ourselves," Tripitaka is fond of admonishing.

In addition, there is plenty of action in the form of stick-fights and the occasional sword-fight or else magical transformations - shape-changing, cloud-flying, vanishing, reappearing, hurling bolts of lightning, all the fun things Japanese film fantasies are full of. Some of these magic sequences look like tongue-in-cheek adaptations of stage conventions in kabuki, which also has plays with magic transformations, to add to the pot-pourri of styles and influences in MONKEY. One thinks of a duel in magic between Monkey and a demon which involved a long cloud-flying chase between them, culminating in each transforming into a reptile. Monkey, locking his hands in kuji-in while holding a scroll in his mouth and transforming into a toad was straight out of TENJIKU TOKUBEI KARAHANASHI with its magician ninja who do just that on stage.

Some of these cloud-flying sequences provide amusing visual images such as the occasion Monkey decides to do away with his enemy and out pops a pair of aircraft machine-guns from his cloud. Or the magician whose cloud left a vapour trail when he poured on the speed.

Thus there was a lot of visual humour deriving from a deliberate mixture of styles and historical eras, in the series. This humour, plus the dialogue, glossed over some rather extraordinary themes, some of which would not normally appear in the children's timeslot it had here. For example, we had what might be called bestiality in the form of young ladies who ran off with and quite plainly slept with animal-spirits, the most egregious instance being a maiden who set up house with a slug-monster or a magistrate who married a dog-spirit and had a daughter by her. We also had demons courting widows or marrying mortals. There were men who turned out to be women and women who turned out to be men - things appear to have been rather confused in ancient China.

To further this image of confused sex and dubious habits, there was an episode wherein Pigsy and Sandy, oblivious to biology and Mary Whitehouse, got pregnant, by drinking some magic water, then finished up each having an abortion - they each drank another type of water and the 'expectancy' "went away" despite the obviously advanced state they were in by then. The Festival of Light, not to mention the Right to Lifers, would not have been amused by this exposure of young minds to illegitimate pregnancies (and male at that) and abortificants.

When MONKEY was made, it was understood by Nihon Television that the BBC would pick it up as they had done with another of NTV's series based on a Chinese classic, THE WATER MARGIN (SHUI HO CH'UAN - SUIKODEN in Japanese) a few years earlier. In both cases, the English adaptation was done by David Weir and it was his humorous dialogue that contributed as much as the visuals to MONKEY's success.

David Weir is a 45-year old Londoner of Celtic descent with not a drop of Oriental blood and who doesn't even speak Japanese or Chinese. His interest in things oriental goes back only to 1976 when he began work on THE WATER MARGIN adaptation. Previously, he has written scripts for THE ONEDIN LINE and THE LOTUS EATERS. With both Japanese series, he was given a translation of the original dialogue and reworked it to make it more colloquial and approachable to the general public, often, as in the case of MONKEY, incorporating idiomatic English humour to fit the actions of the characters - dialogue which has no equivalent in the original. For instance, in one episode, a Taoist magician carries off Tripitaka on his cloud and Monkey gives chase on his own cloud. After shooting down the Taoist's cloud with a type of home-made laser, Monkey speeds to rescue the falling Tripitaka, catching him neatly with a "Howzat!" to which Tripitaka replies, "Well caught." Only an Englishman could have written that exchange, as cricket and cricketing terms are an unknown quantity in Japan.

Then there is the instance where Pigsy, turned to stone, announces he is an idol to which Monkey retorts, "Bone idle, more like!" Or when they arrive at a deserted town and wonder where everyone is, Sandy muses, "Maybe they've all gone to the seaside." Or when a flying cloud passes Pigsy and Sandy, they wonder if it is Monkey's. "No," says Sandy, "it's a black cloud, late model." Even the Buddhist paradoxes come in for some tongue-in-cheek treatment. After some particularly complex and impenetrable bit of philosophising from either Buddha or Tripitaka, Monkey would scratch his head and say, "Did you get all that?" or "That doesn't make sense."

There are lots of these throwaway lines scattered throughout each episode which are quite obviously something added to fill out the original dialogue. At all events, they make the characters speak more naturally and colloquially and not in the stilted 'translationese' of series such as THE SAMURAI. Also, there are bits of dialogue which make one wonder how they got past the censor (though what you can say on radio and TV these days is no-one's business compared with, say, 12 years ago.)

The only complaint I have against the dubbing is that the voice-actors, except for the one who does Sandy, employ a curious, pseudo-Oriental accent more suited to music hall impersonators. This can be extremely irritating, especially as it makes the dialogue hard to catch. Still, some people like it.

David Weir prepared versions for all 26 episodes of the first season but only 13 of the second season. The episodes were trimmed from 54 minutes to 40 minutes. It was these 39 episodes that were shown in Australia. In Britain, it began on Friday 16th November 1979 at 6pm on BBC2 and was shown weekly until 4th March 1980, then it resumed on 31st October and finished on 3rd April 1981. As in this country and Japan, it was tremendously popular and enjoyed something of a cult following, though it was also violently disliked in some quarters. The BBC released the themes, "Monkey Magic" on RESL 81 and "Gandhara" on RESL 66.

In Australia, the first series started on Monday 4th May 1981 at 6.05pm and ran four days a week until 16th June 1981, with the second season starting on 17th June and continuing until 8th July. Then the ABC repeated the first season in its entirety, followed by about half the second season, finishing on 3rd September.

Incidentally, though the series began with an account in the first episodes of the origins of the main characters and how they came to go together to India, they never actually completed their journey, not even at the end of the second season. At that rate, they'll find Mrs Gandhi on hand to greet them by the time they get there!

Below follows an episode listing which gives the English title and Australia (NSW/ACT) airdate first with the romanised Japanese title and airdate in brackets beneath it. This will enable people to see which episodes we missed out on in the second season. Below that is a plot synopsis culled from the TV guides.

After the episode guide come biographies of the actors, translated by me from NIHON EIGA HAIYU ZENSHU:DANYU-HEN and NIHON EIGA HAIYU ZENSHU:JOYU-HEN, who's who of Japanese actors and actresses published as special supplements to the movie magazine, KINEMA JUMPO, in 1979 and 1980, respectively.


Season I

(Ishizaru tanjosu - 1/10/78)
Based on the tale of a 7th century Buddhist priest,
Tripitaka, who undertook a great journey
involving the most discouraging trials and setbacks.

(Nagai tabi no hajimari - 8/10/78)
Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy try to protect Tripitaka
against devilish demons and mighty monsters.

(San kyodai, Tenjiku e no chikai - 15/10/78)
The pilgrims arrive at a village being terrorised
by a monster.

(Yokai fufu, Kinkaku, Ginkaku - 22/10/78)
All but Monkey fall into the clutches of cannibals
and are prepared for the feast - with ginger sauce.
Can Monkey save them before Pigsy becomes
roast pork with crackling?

(Hankoki no yokai - 29/10/78)
The friends meet a king who believes he can
obtain eternal youth by eating the priest,

(Goku hamon! San yokai no wani - 5/11/78)
Tripitaka denies there are any demons within him
and learns that to straighten out the crooked you
must first straighten out yourself.

(Hidori Yokai no komoriuta - 12/11/78)
In a desperate search for life-saving water,
Monkey and company manage to make a
drought-demon cry and so set it raining again.

(Goku ayaushi! Rinsei Mao no gyakushu - 19/11/78)
Pigsy falls snout-over-trotters for a woman.
When he has to choose between her and food,
he chooses both.

(Ayaushi Sanzo! Yojo Chiyo fujin - 26/11/78)
The pilgrims arrive in a country in Tibet. While
Monkey is looking for lodging, the others fall
into a trap set by 5 robbers who have captured
the magistrate's daughter, and trick Pigsy and
Sandy into collecting the ransom. A dog-woman
catches Tripitaka and tries to marry him.

(Kanashiki ohi, futari no gensho - 3/12/78)
The pilgrims battle a Taoist magician who has
killed a king and impersonated him so that he
could steal the queen.

(Yoru to hiru no yokai fufu - 10/12/78)
Monkey falls in love and loses his powers.
Pigsy also falls in love - with the Queen of the
Night who is also a vampire.

(Gosanke yokai tsuiho sakusen - 17/12/78)
The pilgrims find a fabled paradise on earth is
more hell than heaven. Three animal-strength
immortals destroy all but the last precious
paper-mulberry tree.

(Koi jigoku namekuji yokai - 24/12/78)
Pigsy sets off to rescue a maiden in distress.
The beautiful Hai-ming has been kidnapped
and taken by a slug-monster.

(Jishin yokai! Namazu Mao no nazo - 7/1/79)
The pilgrims are caught in an earth-shaking
quarrel between two demons, the catfish
monster and the faceless shape-changer.
(NB: This might have been called 'Inside Bin
Amatsu' as he played the Catfish Monster
- old fans of THE SAMURAI would recognise
him, under the make-up, as he played Fuma
Kotaro/Kongo of Koga.)

(Choso! Akuma no ikenie - 14/1/79)
The travellers are condemned by a demon to dig
through a mountain. Monkey uses magic because
he's lazy, thus earning the scorn of Tripitaka who
dismisses him.

(Dokkaku Oo, kekkon koshinkyoku - 21/1/79)
A soft-hearted unicorn monster is in pursuit of
the love of a human girl, reveals the demon in
her and brings out the human in himself.

(Gen'yojutsushi Seiryu shogun - 28/1/79)
As well as the usual trouble with demons, spells
and bandits, Tripitaka meets an old woman who
claims him as her son.

(Batta joo, kieta maboroshi no mizuumi - 4/2/79)
Sandy's foolish heart, the Queen of the Locusts
and an unreliable moving lake make problems
for the pilgrims.

(Igai! Kyuketsuki Sanzo - 11/2/79)
Shape-changing demons turn an ailing Tripitaka
into a vampire of the night. Frightened villagers
appoint Pigsy temporary honorary vampire catcher.

(Mofubuki Sanzo kyoran - 18/2/79)
Pigsy walks out into the snow to save the lives of
the others who are starving in a blizzard.
Tripitaka is thereby led to commit unspeakable acts.

(Tonkyokoku! Suiren Ojo iza shutsujin - 25/2/79)
Lazy, greedy Pigsy is worshipped as his Holiest
Majesty, King Hog. His reign ends abruptly
when he is unfortunately turned to stone.

(Keiraki no yakata, Gojo hakkotsu no koi - 4/3/79)
In a village of phantoms seeking bodily form,
Pigsy and Sandy are beguiled and made more
swinish and piscine than usual.

(Nyoninkoku, Hakkai ga nimpu? - 11/3/79)
Monkey saves Pigsy and Sandy from a very
strange fate indeed when they drink from a
magic well in a land without love.

(Kaenzan basho ogi no ai - 18/3/79)
The Queen of Fire fans the flames of Monkey's
anger and Monkey teaches the Queen to control
her jealousy.

(Yokai teikoku, toppa daisakusen - 25/3/79)
Monkey teaches Tripitaka how to pass the Land
of Nightmare's magic test - and then Sandy fails it.

16/6/81 - THE END OF THE WAY
(Are ga Tenjiku, Dairaionji da! - 1/4/79)
The golden glow of the Lord Buddha's
Western Paradise beckons the pilgrims but there
are devilish demons and monsters barring their

Season II

(NB: ******** means episode not shown here)

(Saishuppatsu Tenjiku e no michi - 11/1/79)
Pigsy is master of 10,000 concubines and Sandy
looks for a marriage in heaven. Monkey fights a
fiery dragon before the pilgrims are together again.

(Kyofu! Saru no wakuchin - 18/11/79)
All dog-spirit enemies of Monkey come together
for revenge. They sicken Tripitaka with the plague
and to save him, Monkey contemplates the ultimate

******** (Tobaku yokai, Miira-tori ga miira ni - 25/11/79)

******** (Ochikobore no kyofu! Bunsu yokai - 2/12/79)

******** (Yoi, taiyo ga futsu no kuni - 9/12/79)

******** (Okaruto! Akuryo no sumu yakata - 16/12/79)

******** (Yume no yokai yuki shogun - 23/12/79)

******** (Onnadarake no bakaneko sodo - 30/12/79)

******** (Jigoku gokuraku chuburarin - 6/1/80)

(Kappa no kuni no Gojo no koi - 13/1/80)
Sandy falls in love with a princess when he tries to
save her from a fish monster.

23/6/81 WHO AM I?
(Doku-kinoko! Shudan kioku soshitsu - 20/1/80)
After eating magic mushrooms, the pilgrims lose
their memories. Only Horse, who doesn't like
mushrooms, is in a position to restore them to
their former selves.

(Jutsu-kurabe! Kieta Goku - 27/1/80)
Monkey is made invisible and helps Tripitaka
fight a duel with a cheating demon posing as
a Taoist priest.

(Hitokui yokai, wakagaeri no izumi - 3/2/80)
A magic pool changes Monkey, Pigsy and
Sandy back to the babies they once were.

******** (Kijo yokai, nerawareta shinkon fufu - 10/2/80)

(Ogon yokai, mukodono kaimasu - 17/2/80)
The world's richest man advertises for a husband
for his daughter and Pigsy joins the queue of

(Ikareta teishu no deshi irishi... - 24/2/80)
Tripitaka is shocked when he meets a trendy
couple who have discovered Buddhism can
be fun.

(Nakuna Hakkai! Hitomi no naka no ai - 2/3/80)
Pigsy, doing a good deed for once, turns
bounty-hunter. The reward for catching vampires
is 10 gold pieces.

(Goku hanran! Hitori botchi no yokai - 9/3/80)
The villagers don't believe the monster who insists
he wants to be friendly and neither do Monkey
and friends. (NB: This episode wasn't actually
shown in NSW/ACT due to a strike at the ABC,
hence identification with the Japanese title is
only tentative.)

******** (Nise saiyuki, kiki ippatsu - 16/3/80)

(Moeta byobu no Shichifukujin - 23/3/80)
Pigsy and Sandy decide that they need spiritual
love and set out to find it.

7/7/81 MOTHERS
(Isetsu kishimojin yuraiki - 30/3/80)
Terror reigns in the village as the wicked witch
eats a young, succulent child every day. Tripitaka
and his three followers decide to rid the area of
the menace.

******** (Yoki no yama, otemba-hime no koi - 6/4/80)

******** (Yojutsu, sekibutsu ni natta Sanzo ikko - 13/4/80)

******** (Seiro Mao mangetsu e no toboe - 20/4/80)

******** (Koryu Mao, Goku no bojo - 27/4/80)

(Haha-ue wa yokai ka? Futatabi Tenjiku e - 4/5/80)
Monkey fancies a trip to the luxury of the capital
city. When he arrives, he finds sickness, robbery
and violence.


Masaaki Sakai ('Monkey' - 'Son Goku' in Japanese)

He was born on 6th August 1946 in Tokyo, the second son of comedian Shunji Sakai. His real name is Masaaki Kurihara. In 1955, he transferred from Gyosei primary school to St. Michael's school. In 1959, he entered Kamakura Gakuen Middle School and in 1962 went on to Kamakura Gakuen High School. When he was 6, in 1952, he made his first screen appearance in Shochiku's TOKYO KISHIDEN, using his stage name, Masaaki Sakai.

After that, he appeared in HAHA WA SAKIBINAKU, also in 1952, Shin Toho's HAWAI CHONDOCHU in 1954 etc. Then he turned to singing. In 1962, he joined the Japanese rock group, The Spiders, as a vocalist. The following year, 1963, he left school. From about 1966 onwards, The Spiders rode a wave of popularity, along with The Tigers and The Tempters. In 1966 they had a hit, "Taiyo ga naite iru" and in 1970, "Electronic obachan" etc. Sakai achieved sudden popularity. The group made two films for Nikkatsu in 1967, two more for the same film company the following year and one for Toho also in 1968.

In 1970, the group disbanded and Sakai became independent as a solo singer. In 1971, he had the hit, "Saraba, koibito" and received Nihon Record Grand Prix Popular Award. After he went solo, he made a number of comedies for Toho in the early 70s. He has appeared in other films for other studios throughout his career up to the present.

With his small frame (ed.: in real life, he looks very much as he does in MONKEY with the same cheeky face but he doesn't have heavy sideburns or such thick eyebrows.), he moves his body well and can make people laugh with his deft, clever nonsense actions and his gags. He shows a comedic sense which he inherited from his father.

In television, in 1970, he received the Golden Arrow Special Prize on TBS' JIKAN DESU YO and made many appearances including SAIYUKI (MONKEY) on various networks throughout the 70s.

In May 1974 he was married.

Masako Natsume ("Tripitaka" - "Sanzo Hoshi" in Japanese)

She was born on 17th December 1957 in Tokyo. Her real name is Masako Odachi.

From primary school until junior college, she studied at the Tokyo Jogakukan. While at junior college in 1976, she took part in the selection for the heroine of Nihon TV's AI GA MIEMASU KA? She was chosen from about 4000 girls and acted under her real name. That year, she dropped out of junior college. In the summer of 1977, she was chosen as 'Campaign girl' for Kanebo Cosmetics and appeared as the topless "Kooky Face" girl, baring her sunburned skin in public. Needless to say, this gained her great popularity. Also in 1977, she made her screen debut as a bit player in Toho's ORE NO SORA. She appeared in Toei's TRUCK YARO:OTOKO IPPIKI MOMOTARO (Masaaki Sakai was also in this film) as the hero's inamorata. Afterwards, she continued to perform on TV but in Toei's 1980 film, NIHYAKU SAN KOCHI, she gave a good performance as Teruhiko Aoi's wife. She should be worth watching for her later maturation as an actress.

On TV she has appeared as Tripitaka in Nihon TV's SAIYUKI in 1978; as the Christian, 'Monica', in NHK's OGON NO HIBI and acted with distinguished actor, Sengoro Ichikawa, in Fuji TV's KIBA BUGYO in 1979. She had her first starring role in 1980 in Television Asahi's NIJIKO NO BOKEN. Recent work includes NHK's THE SHOSHA in 1980 and ONNA TAIKOKI in 1981.

In 1980, she made her stage debut in the Tokyo Takarazuka Gekijo in KIKAISHI NAPOREON NO TAISHOKU.

Toshiyuki Nishida ("Pigsy" - "Cho Hakkai" in Japanese - in the first season)

He was born on 14th November 1947 in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. In 1966, he graduated from Meiji University General Nakano High School. He went on to Meiji University and at the same time entered the Japan Acting Academy evening classes. He dropped out of university that year and transferred to the Japan Acting Academy day classes. In 1967 he graduated. He organised a company, Theatre '67, but disbanded it because it got into debt. In 1968, he entered the Youth Theatre Actors' Training School. In 1970, he graduated and became a member of the Youth Theatre. That year he was chosen as the lead in Seiichi Yajiro's play, SHARAKU KO, and he gained attention in that role.

After that, he appeared in MEIJI NO HITSUGI in 1972, THE THREEPENNY OPERA in 1973 and in 1975 he appeared in WATASHI WA RUBI for which he won the Best Actor award in the Geijutsusai. In 1977, he again appeared in SHARAKU KO and won the 12th Kiinokuniya Prize for acting. In 1978 he was in SZECHUAN NO ZENNIN and in 1979 he was in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.

In 1977 he made his debut as a singer with "Momen no aijo". That year he got the Golden Arrow Prize and in 1978 he got the Best Dresser Prize.

He has made many appearances on TV from 1973 onwards. His characteristically vague expression and friendly appearance and his peculiar use of the Fukushima dialect have made him a popular figure with viewers. He has even done radio. On TBS' PACK IN MUSIC and VARIETY, he has worked as both DJ and master of ceremonies.

He has made a number of movie appearances, starting with bit parts in the early to mid-70s, landing his first starring role as the 9th generation Kosuke Kindaichi in AKUMA GA KURITE FUE O FUKU in 1979 and has starred in or had major roles in a number of films since then.

In 1975 he was married and he has one daughter.

Shiro Kishibe ("Sandy" - "Sa Gojo" in Japanese)

He was born on 7th June 1949 in Kyoto. His real name is pronounced the same as his stage name but written slightly differently. He is the 4th of 8 brothers. He graduated from Konoe Middle School. His immediate elder brother, Shuzo (later called Kazunori) was a member of The Tigers singing group and this had the effect of drawing him to music. In 1969, he replaced Katsumi Kabashi, who left The Tigers. In 1971, after they disbanded, he performed as an actor in movies and TV.

He made his film debut in a Toho comedy and appeared in a number of comedies and some historical dramas for various film studios throughout the 70s. With his long body and his slow-and-steady appearance, he seems nothing like a comic actor but he shows a superb sense of fun. On TV, he has appeared in NET's long-running TOYAMA NO KIN-SAN in 1975 and other programmes throughout the late 70s. He gained great popularity as "Sandy" in MONKEY.

In 1971 he was married and he has a boy and a girl.

Tonpei Hidari ("Pigsy" in the second season)

He was born on 30th May 1937 in Tokyo. His real name is Hiromichi Hidaki. The house where he was born was a restaurant and sushi shop. He was the youngest of three brothers. In 1953 he entered Setagaya High School. At that time, spurred by the performances of the Dassen Trio and Hisaya Morishige, who were then in vogue, he decided to become a comedian. In 1954, while still at school, he entered the Yoyogi Actors' School. In 1956, he graduated from high school and helped out in the family sushi shop. In 1957 he formed a theatre group with his friends. Taking advantage of the opening performance, he got to know Akiyuki Nozaka who was acting as manager for Keiro Miki and that year he introduced him to Miki and he entered Miki's Joke Studio. In 1960 he joined Kiyoko Tange's Etcetera Theatrical Troupe. He appeared in the play EIGA GOJUNEN SHI at the Shinjuku Koma Theatre and with Mariko Miyagi in DORO NO NAKA NO RUBI.

He has appeared in films from 1963 onwards during the 60s. He was under contract to Toei's theatrical section and appeared in many plays for them. In 1973 he scored a great hit with his line, "Hey, whatcha name?", on TBS' GINZA NIGHT NIGHT and this became a catchphrase. His small frame and small round eyes have great appeal and have added to his comical acting. Since then he has been active in TV, films, stage and advertising. He has even handled serious roles and broadened his acting skills. He has appeared in many more films between 1968 and 1980. On TV he played a Japanese Columbo-style detective in a raincoat opposite Shigeru Amachi in NET's HIJO NO LICENCE, as well as appearing in other TV series. He even has a record, TONPEI NO HEY YOU BLUES. In 1979 he set up a three person company with Fumio Watanabe and Katsuko Kanai. In February, it gave its first performance at the Kiinokuniya.

In 1962 he was married and he has one son.

Shunji Fujimura ("Yu-lung")

He was born on 8th December 1934 in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture. His father was a former chief of the Subaru motor company. His name is Byoichi and his mother's name is Tomiko. Shunji is the second son of 5 boys and one girl. He went to Gyosei Primary School, Gyosei Middle and Gyosei High Schools. He then proceeded to Waseda University's Faculty of Literature, Department of Performing Arts in 1953. He dropped out in 1955 with the intention of becoming a performer, and entered the Toho Performing Arts School, graduating in 1957.

He went on stage in Toho musicals and as part of the Nichigeki Dancing Team. His deft cleverness and absent-minded, droll personality won him popularity. He appeared in a number of variety TV programmes. He made his film debut in 1970 in a comedy, and had his first major role in 1971, followed by a supporting role in another comedy, then another major role, still in 1971. Since then he has been unfortunate in his plans. His main strength seems to be in TV. He has appeared in a number of TV programmes and has been a disc jockey on the radio. He has also appeared in many advertisements.

He manages an imported children's clothing store in Setagaya ward in Tokyo. On 22nd September 1961 he married Keiko Omori. They have a boy and a girl.


"Primal Chaos ruled the worlds before Monkey.
Monkey was born of Time, of Heaven and Earth,
Sun and Moon, out of a stone egg. He was irrepressible.
The place was like ancient China.
And the time might have been a thousand years ago.
Holy Tripitaka prayed.
One disciple, Sandy, is a fish-spirit.
Pigsy, expelled from Heaven for greed, is the spirit of a pig.
He is changing.
Everything changes.
There is a horse, once a dragon, now evolving into human form.
Monkey, Horse, Sandy, Pigsy and Tripitaka are all upon a
journey as long as life."
(Second season introduction)



Born from an egg on a mountain top,
The punkiest monkey that ever popped.
He knew every magic trick under the sun.
To tease the gods and everyone and have some fun.
Monkey magic, monkey magic, monkey magic, monkey magic.
Monkey magic, monkey magic, monkey magic, monkey magic.


A long time ago, when men were all babes,
There was a land of the free.
Fantasy and dreams were its untouched wealth,
And goodness and love were real.
Each man desires to reach Gandhara,
His very own Utopia.
In the striving, in the seeking soul -
Man can see Gandhara.
(Repeat next 2 lines)
In Gandhara, Gandhara, they say it was in India.
Gandhara, Gandhara, the place of light, Gandhara.

Back to the Monkey Facts page