Also known as
Final episode date
4 May 1980
Fantasy Shenmo Action Adventure Comedy
Motomu Furuta Hiroichi Fuse Hirokazu Fuse James Miki Moto Nagai Yooichi Onaka Mamoru Sasaki Eizaburo Shiba Yu Tagami Kei Tasaka Mutsuo Yamashita
Toshi Aoki Jun Fukuda Kazuo Ikehiro Yusuke Watanabe Daisuke Yamazaki
Masaaki Sakai Masako Natsume Shiro Kishibe Toshiyuki Nishida Tonpei Hidari Shunji Fujimura
Nippon Television Network System
Masaaki Sakai, Masako Natsume, Shiro Kishibe, Toshiyuki Nishida, Tonpei Hidari
Saiyūki (西遊記, lit. "Journey to the West"), also known by its English title Monkey, also commonly referred to as "Monkey Magic" (the show's title song), is a Japanese television drama based on the Chinese novel, Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng'en. Filmed in north-west China and Inner Mongolia, the show was produced by Nippon Television (NTV) and International Television Films in association with NHK, and broadcast from 1978 to 1980 on Nippon Television.
Two 26-episode seasons ran in Japan: the first season ran from October 1978 to April 1979, and the second one from November 1979 to May 1980, with screenwriters including Mamoru Sasaki, Isao Okishima, Tetsurō Abe, Kei Tasaka, James Miki, Motomu Furuta, Hiroichi Fuse, Yū Tagami, and Fumio Ishimori.
Saiyūki was dubbed into English from 1979, with dialogue written by David Weir. The dubbed version was broadcast under the name Monkey and broadcast in the United Kingdom by the BBC, in New Zealand by TVNZ and in Australia on the ABC.
However, only 39 of the original 52 episodes were dubbed (and broadcast by the BBC): all of series 1 was, but only half of series 2 was prepared for a version in English. In 2004, the remaining episodes were dubbed by Fabulous Films Ltd by the original voice acting cast, following a successful release of the English-dubbed series on VHS and DVD; later these newly dubbed episodes were broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK.
A Spanish-dubbed version of Monkey aired in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic in the early 1980s. While the BBC-dubbed Monkey never received a broadcast in the United States, the original Japanese-language version, Saiyūki, was shown on local Japanese language television stations in California and Hawaii in the early 1980s.
Monkey (孫 悟空, Son Gokū), the title character, is described in the theme song as being "born from an egg on a mountain top"; a stone egg and thus he is a stone monkey, a skilled fighter who becomes a brash king of a monkey tribe, who, the song goes on to claim, was "the punkiest monkey that ever popped". He achieved a little enlightenment, and proclaimed himself "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven". After demanding the "gift" of a magical staff from a powerful Dragon king, and to quiet the din of his rough antics on Earth, Monkey is approached by Heaven to join their host, first in the lowly position of Master of the Stable (manure disposal), and then—after his riotous complaints—as "Keeper of the Peach Garden of Immortality". Monkey eats many of the peaches, which have taken millennia to ripen, becomes immortal and runs amok. Having earned the ire of Heaven and being beaten in a challenge by an omniscient, mighty, but benevolent, cloud-dwelling Buddha (釈迦如来, Shakanyorai), Monkey is imprisoned for 500 years under a mountain in order to learn patience.
Eventually, in 630 AD, Monkey is released by the monk Tripitaka (三蔵法師, Sanzōhōshi), who has been tasked by the Boddhisatva Guanyin (観世音菩薩, Kanzeon Bosatsu) to undertake a pilgrimage from China to India to fetch holy scriptures. The pair soon recruit two former members of the Heavenly Host who were cast out and turned from angels to "monsters", as a result of Monkey's transgressions: Sandy (沙悟浄, Sa Gojō), the water monster and ex-cannibal, expelled from Heaven after his interference caused Heaven's Jade Emperor's (天帝, Tentei, Shangdi) precious jade cup to be broken, and Pigsy (猪 八戒, Cho Hakkai), a pig monster consumed with lust and gluttony, who was expelled from Heaven after harassing the Star Princess Vega—the Jade Emperor's mistress—for a kiss. A dragon, Yu Lung (玉龍, Gyokuryū), who was set free by Guanyin after being sentenced to death, eats Tripitaka's horse. On discovering that the horse was tasked with carrying Tripitaka, it assumes the horse's shape to carry the monk on his journey. Later in the story he occasionally assumes human form to assist his new master, although he is still always referred to as "Horse". Monkey can also change form, for instance into a hornet. In Episode 3, The Great Journey Begins, Monkey transforms into a girl to trick Pigsy. Monkey's other magic powers include: summoning a cloud upon which he can fly; his use of the magic wishing staff which he can shrink and grow at will and from time to time, when shrunk, store in his ear, and which he uses as a weapon; and the ability to conjure monkey warriors by blowing on hairs plucked from his chest.
The pilgrims face many perils and antagonists both human, such as Emperor Taizong of Tang (太宗皇帝, Taisōkōtei) and supernatural. Monkey, Sandy, and Pigsy are often called upon to battle demons, monsters, and bandits, despite Tripitaka's constant call for peace. Many episodes also feature some moral lesson, usually based upon Buddhist and/or Taoist philosophies, which are spoken by the narrator at the end of various scenes.
The songs in the series were performed by the five-piece Japanese band Godiego. In Japan, the first series' ending theme "Gandhara" (ガンダーラ, Gandāra), which was named after the ancient kingdom of Gandhara, was released by Columbia Music Entertainment on 1 October 1978, backed with "Celebration". This was followed by the release of the opening theme "Monkey Magic" on 25 December 1978, with "A Fool" on the B-side. Godiego also released the soundtrack album Magic Monkey on 25 October 1978, comprising all of the songs that the band had composed for the first series. The album became one of the group's highest charting releases, staying at #1 on the Oricon chart for a total of eight weeks in from January though March 1979 (it was unseated for most of January by the Japanese release of Grease: The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture), and was ultimately the #1 LP for 1979. For the second series, the ending theme of "Gandhara" was replaced with "Holy and Bright", which was released on 1 October 1979 (the two sides of the single featured a Japanese-language version on one side and an English-language version on the other).
In the UK, BBC Records released "Gandhara" as a single in 1979 (RESL 66), with "The Birth of the Odyssey" and "Monkey Magic" on the B-side. The single reached #56 on the UK Singles Chart, eventually spending a total of seven weeks on the chart. A second BBC single was released in 1980 (RESL 81), this time featuring an edited version of "Monkey Magic", along with "Gandhara" and "Thank You Baby", but this single failed to chart. The BBC releases of "Gandhara" have one verse sung in Japanese and the other in English. BBC Records also released the Magic Monkey album under the simplified title of Monkey (REB 384) in 1980 but it failed to chart.
Masaaki Sakai, who plays Monkey in the series, also performed several of the songs for the series: "SONGOKU", "Ima de wa Oso Sugiru" (今では遅すぎる, "It's Too Late"), "Kono Michi no Hatemademo" (この道の果てまでも, "To the End of the Road"), a Japanese version of Godiego's "Thank You Baby", and "20 Oku Nen no Kurayami" (20億年の暗闇, "Two Billion Years of Darkness").
Monkey is considered a cult classic in countries where it has been shown, reaching as far as South America. Among the features that have contributed to its cult appeal are the theme song, the dubbed dialogue spoken in a variety of over-the-top "Oriental" accents, the reasonably good synchronization of dubbing to the actors' original dialogue, the memorable battles which were for many Western youngsters their first exposure to Chinese-style fantasy action sequences, and the fact that the young priest Tripitaka was played by a woman, who is usually depicted in statues and paintings as a male.
In 1981 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation debuted the BBC-dubbed Monkey at 6pm on week-nights. Since then the show has been frequently repeated on the ABC, notably during the TV show Recovery which aired episodes of Monkey weekly from 1996-2000. When Recovery was put on hiatus, it was replaced with three hours of Monkey. Australian contemporary youth programs such as the alternative music show Recovery and the radio station Triple J often made references to Monkey and Triple J interviewed the original BBC voice actors on several occasions.
A stage show, based on the book Journey to the West, was produced by the Young Vic in 2001, written by Dublin-born playwright Colin Teevan. Following the play's successful outing in London's West End, it toured England to great acclaim. The musical score was composed by Ireland's Kíla.
The British folk pop band Monkey Swallows the Universe took their name from an episode of Monkey.