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Monkey - An Interview with Howell Parry

Date of Article:  25th June 2016

All images courtesy of Howell Parry unless indicated

Howell Parry - Welcome to The Nice Rooms. Can I start by asking you to clarify for all the readers out there the true title of this brilliant 1978 cult TV series?

This TV series is based on an old Chinese classic called Hsi Yu Chi in Chinese  which translates into English as (Record of a) Journey to the WestThis series was titled Saiyuuki in Japan, but when the BBC acquired the rights in 1978 and commissioned David Weir to write the English adaptation, it was re-titled simply Monkey, after the main character of the story.

Are we talking about the same David Weir who had adapted The Water Margin ?

Yes, David Weir adapted The Water Margin a year or so before (incidentally, his adaptation was also published as a book) and the BBC must have been pleased with his work, so decided to use him for the English adaptation of Monkey. It's rumoured that he was given just a brief synopsis of each episode, and based the English adaptation on that.

The original Chinese story contained a lot of humour; in fact, the story is known to be a satire on Chinese politics at the time it was written. The Japanese TV series added a huge amount of extra humour - both in terms of the visuals (slapstick humour) and the Japanese script. The Japanese humour would not work if it was directly translated in English, so David wrote the humourous English script from scratch. He gave the characters classic one-liners containing British cultural references, and in addition to the humour, he wrote poetic and sometimes surreal lines for the narrator throughout the series. I have no idea if these were translations from the Japanese, or purely David Weir's original creations. 

Monkey - Opening Credits - Run time: 1 min 34 secs

I'm putting you on the spot a little here but can you summarise as best you can the whole series for those unfamiliar with Monkey?

Monkey is the story of a Buddhist priest called Tripitaka who is sent on a pilgrimage to India from China to fetch the Buddhist scriptures. At the beginning of his journey, he encounters three animal spirits, in the form of a monkey (Monkey), a pig (Pigsy) and a water sprite (Sandy); they originally lived and worked in the Buddhist heaven, but as punishment for bad deeds, Buddha expelled them to earth in animal form.  

Tripitaka makes the decision to recruit the three of them as his journey companions, along with a dragon who has turned into a horse.

Each of Tripitaka's companions has his shortcomings: Monkey is boastful and cocky. Pigsy is greedy and lustful and Sandy is pessimistic and lazy.

Masaaki Sakai (Monkey)

Toshiyuki Nishida (Pigsy)

Shirô Kishibe (Sandy)

During the journey, the pilgrims meet many dangers, usually in the form of demons, monsters or ghosts, who - are more often than not - interested in imprisoning / killing / sacrificing / eating Tripitaka as he is a pure and innocent Buddhist priest. In such situations, Tripitaka's disciples put their fighting skills and weapons and - in Monkey's case - magic powers too, to good use to protect Tripitaka so that they can continue their journey safely. 

At other times, Tripitaka, along with Buddha's help at times, spends a lot of time "parenting" his companions because of their mischievous behaviour and their frequent arguments and in-fighting.

The story is deep-rooted in Buddhist philosophies. As the pilgrims overcome difficulties, they learn important lessons about themselves and life and they grow as people. One of the running themes through the series is that it isn't just the end result (in this case, getting the Buddhist scriptures from India) that is important; the journey, how they conduct themselves, the things they learn, the people they meet, is equally if not more important. This is in itself is an analogy for human life. It is said that Tripitaka's three animal companions represent the imperfections of human beings, and if these companions can learn to overcome their desires, egoism and laziness, then this is something that we human beings can also achieve.

The story contains lots of visual humour, the characters and settings are very colourful, the fighting is well-choreographed, and the bickering between the pilgrims also adds much hilarity to the series. While a lot of the humour is very obvious, there are also numerous double-entendres and references in the English script that are aimed at older viewers. The fact that the story works on many levels makes this series appealing and compelling for people of all ages. In the original Chinese story on which this series is based, the fictional animal companions, humour, dramatization were all added to what was actually the true journey of a monk who did this exact journey a long time ago.

Why was the male character of Tripitaka played by a female actor?

Tripitaka was played by the female actor Masako NatsumeApparently, the real Tripitaka who went to India to collect the Buddhist scriptures was said to have been a very good looking monk and that his looks were akin to the beauty of a woman - Hence a female playing the role of Tripitaka and in this case it was Masako Natsume

Masako Natsume

After Monkey was aired, everyone got the impression that Tripikata has to be played by a pretty female. So Tripitaka is played by one in all the remakes of Monkey. Unfortunately, Masako Natsume died tragically of leukaemia at the age of 27, but she is remembered fondly even to this day. Her photo books and calendars are still popular in Japan.

Pigsy was played by a different actor in Season Two wasn't he?

Indeed. Unfortunately, the actor who played Pigsy in Season One -  Toshiyuki Nishida -  had already signed up for a different project and was unavailable to appear in Season 2, so they had to replace him with a different actor. Most people prefer Toshiyuki Nishida who played Pigsy in Season One. 

Nishida portrayed Pigsy's lechery and greed with great lavish - you could say he really "hammed" it up! In Season Two of Monkey, Pigsy was played by an actor called Tonpei Hidari.

Tonpei Hidari

Am I right in saying that each of the original two  seasons that aired in Japan consisted of 26 episodes? 

Yes. When season One (26 episodes) of Monkey was made, there were no plans for a second season. But Season One was such a great success garnering over 30% ratings  and public demand was so high, that they decided to make a second season (also 26 episodes). 

Monkey (Series One) and Monkey (Series Two)

Images courtesy of Kodama-san and Howell Parry

The BBC commissioned all 26 episodes of Season One to be adapted and dubbed into English, but only 13 episodes of Season Two were picked up by the BBC. This was not the first 13 episodes or the last 13 episodes of Season Two - just what seemed like a random selection of 13 episodes from the full 26. The reason for this has not been made public, but I suspect that perhaps some of the undubbed episodes were deemed too dark for a young audience. In Japan, Monkey was prime time family entertainment on a Sunday night - so children watched it with their parents. However, in the UK, Monkey was early evening (6pm, BBC2) Friday entertainment aimed specifically at children so episodes such as the one where the first scene features dead bodies hanging from a tree were no doubt seen as inappropriate for such an audience. The 39 episodes of the original 52 that the BBC picked up were shown over three series of 13 episodes each in the UK. It was over 20 years after the initial BBC broadcast of Monkey that fans outside Japan finally got to see the 13 "unseen" episodes of Monkey

Original Episode Running Order in Japan including all the 'unseen' episodes from Series Two. 

 Guide and Synopses courtesy of  Howell Parry

Season 1  1978 - 1979

1. Monkey Goes Wild about Heaven
Mischievous King Monkey is summoned to Heaven, where he steals the heavenly peaches, and eats them to gain immortality. He fights two of the Emperor's officials, and all three of them are expelled to Earth. Monkey gets imprisoned under a mountain of rocks, while the other two are transformed into a pig monster (Pigsy) and a water monster (Sandy). Buddha says that a holy man must be sent to fetch holy scriptures from India, to save the world.

2. Monkey Turns Nursemaid
Buddha sends a messenger, the Boddhisattva Kuan-yin the Compassionate, to find a holy man to make the journey from China to India to fetch the large vehicle scriptures. She chooses the boy priest Hsüan Tsang, and bestows upon him the name Tripitaka. Joined by the irrepressible Monkey - with his magic wishing staff and magic powers - and a talking horse, this could be a journey to remember...

3. The Great Journey Begins
Tripitaka and the ever-impatient Monkey begin their perilous journey. Arriving at a village terrorised by a greedy and lustful monster, Monkey thus faces the wrath of Pigsy and his deadly muckrake. To cross the Mighty River of Flowing Sands, they must first pass the cannibalistic water monster Sandy. A sandstorm, an army of tiger ghosts - will Tripitaka end up as cat food, or will Monkey save the day?

4. Monkey Swallows the Universe
Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy, Tripitaka and the horse enter a land ruled by the demonic Golden Horn and his wife, Silver Horn. Bewitched by a beautiful lady, Pigsy discovers that all is not what it seems. An old woman proves too much to handle even for Monkey. Tripitaka and Sandy find themselves a bit tied up when left to their own devices. When a mysterious Taoist magician causes Golden Horn to lose his bottle, things start to look up.

5. The Power of Youth
In his mountain kingdom, the immature King of Youth dictates that everything old is useless. When the pilgrims approach, he decides to kidnap Tripitaka to gain the attention of Heaven and Earth, in an attempt to stop living in the shadow of his father, the King of Ox. When Monkey's powers prove no match for the King's fiery temper, and Pigsy and Sandy are otherwise engaged, who will save Tripitaka?

6. Even Monsters Can be People
When Monkey kills a girl and her elderly parents, Tripitaka is left with no choice but to punish him and send him back home to his mountain of fruit and flowers. No one believes Monkey's story that the people he killed were red, blue and yellow demons disguised as humans. When the pilgrims later discover that Monkey was telling the truth, Tripitaka finds himself in grave danger, and wishes he'd never denied the demons' existence.

7. The Beginning of Wisdom
Desperate for water due to the intense heat, the pilgrims find that the nearest village is completely dried up. The local water monster, who has a taste for the souls of boys, had cursed the village with a drought, because the villagers had no boys left to sacrifice to him. With Monkey's cloud out of action, brave Pigsy volunteers to make the ultimate sacrifice.

8. Pigsy Woos a Widow
When Monkey saves a pretty widow from the Demon Spirit of Great Snakes, amorous Pigsy falls snout over trotters in love with her, but she only has eyes for the celibate boy priest Tripitaka. The pilgrims move on, but Pigsy stays behind and tries to win the widow's heart; but time and time again, his true pig nature is revealed. When Monkey goes to fetch Pigsy, Tripitaka and eel-phobic Sandy end up in big trouble.

9. What Monkey Calls the Dog-Woman
When the magistrate Lord Li's stepdaughter is kidnapped by bandits, Monkey reluctantly takes on the job of catching them. He soon learns that the bandits are not what they seem, but their bark is far worse than their bite. Meanwhile, Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy spend the night at an inn that's owned by a wicked dog-woman. She has a big surprise in store for Tripitaka.

10. Pigsy's in the Well
Tripitaka is visited in a dream by the restless spirit of the deceased king of the land of Cockcrow. He tells Tripitaka he was murdered by a Taoist magician and thrown into a well; for the past three years this magician has been impersonating him. With the help of the king's son, Tripitaka and his disciples set out to prove that the current king is a fake.

11. The Difference Between Night and Day
An invisible wall separates the land of night from the land of day. The blood-sucking Queen of Night terrorises the inhabitants of her land, while everyone in the land of day is forced into slavery by their merciless king. Tripitaka finds the task of reuniting night and day very difficult, especially when Monkey becomes hopelessly besotted with a pretty girl and Pigsy falls for a lady of the night.

12. Pearls Before Swine
The once-prosperous land of Codslow is ruled by three animal-strength immortals, and its enslaved people are dying of hunger. The immortals depend on pearls, paper and wine for their magical powers. The pilgrims offer to help a young girl and her family restore their land to its former glory. When lovesick Pigsy almost becomes roast pork, Monkey hatches a plan to end the immortals' reign of terror.

13. The Minx and the Slug
A village headman and his wife grieve for their beautiful daughter Hai-Min who disappeared a year ago. Lecherous Pigsy offers to go and look for her. He finds a slug monster who says he is Hai-Min's reluctant husband, and tells Pigsy he can have her. Pigsy disguises himself as the slug monster and goes to live with selfish Hai-Min. How long will it be before she discovers he's not her slimy husband?

14. Catfish, Saint and the Shape-Changer
The pilgrims enter a volcanic land that is plagued by earthquakes caused by the frequent quarrelling of two local demons; a catfish demon and a faceless shape-changer demon, who can take on the shape of anyone. The holy priest San-Chung tells Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka that one of them is the shape-changer. Unable to cope with this revelation, they go their separate ways.

15. Monkey Meets the Demon Digger
While climbing a mountain, the pilgrims discover a man who's been digging a tunnel through the mountain for the past twenty-two years, to provide an easier route for travellers. Ever-helpful Tripitaka tells his reluctant disciples that they must all stay and help dig the tunnel until it's finished. When Monkey uses his magic to help speed things up, Tripitaka is furious and dismisses him. Without Monkey around, the pilgrims fall into grave danger.

16. The Most Monstrous Monster
Desperate to please Chun-Shou, the woman he hopes to marry, the unhappy King of Unicorns promises to find a new toy for her spoilt brat son, little Chen. When he hears about Monkey's magic wishing staff, he decides this would be ideal. By capturing Tripitaka and using his all-powerful magic ring, the king plans to defeat Monkey and steal his precious wishing staff. While Monkey struggles to resist the king's magic ring, Pigsy finds it difficult to resist Chun-Shou.

17. Truth and the Grey Gloves Devil
Following a terrible sandstorm, the pilgrims find a village where everyone has been killed by the evil Grey Gloves Devil, a magician with the power to hypnotise and control anyone who looks into his eyes. While Pigsy lags behind, the others break their journey at another village. A bitter old woman insists Tripitaka is her long-lost son, Su Fung. Meanwhile, Pigsy gets captured and the Grey Gloves Devil looks for a new village to target.

18. Land for the Locusts
As the pilgrims continue their journey, Monkey sees that a nearby village is being terrorised by swarms of locusts, and they're coming in their direction. Led by the power-hungry Demon Queen Grasshopper, the locusts follow the magic Lake Lok-Nor as it moves from one place to the next. Everywhere they go they bring death and destruction. Can the pilgrims stop them, or will the Queen turn everyone into pigs?

19. Vampire Master
The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Buddha's Law invites Tripitaka and his disciples to stay as his honoured guests. He tells them of the difficulty in controlling the black magicians, shape-changers and bandits who live in the nearby mountains. Tragedy strikes when Tripitaka becomes critically ill with Tibetan Fever. Meanwhile, Pigsy leads the guards in a search for the vampire responsible for a girl's murder. He makes a shocking discovery.

20. Outrageous Coincidences
To escape from a deadly blizzard in the Himalayan foothills, Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka take refuge in a small cave. With Tripitaka's death from starvation looking imminent, Monkey tricks Pigsy into going out into the cold to sacrifice himself to provide food for the master. Grief-stricken Tripitaka believes he has eaten his disciple, and becomes possessed by the spirit of Pigsy.

21. Pigsy, King and God
The pilgrims arrive at the Kingdom of Red Hog, where pigs are sacred. The people hail Pigsy as their new King and God. Tripitaka discovers that the current king is a disguised demon, the Spirit of the Red Hog, and that he murdered the old king. Helped by rebels, Monkey and Sandy set out to save Princess Green Lotus and stop the evil swine before the whole country is converted to hog worship.

22. Village of the Undead
In a deserted village, the evil male demon Wun-Lung and three beautiful witches await the arrival of Tripitaka, Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy. If they can make the four travellers believe in them, they'll be brought to life. They plan to capture Tripitaka and his disciples one by one, and convince them of their existence by killing them. Who'll be the first pilgrim to fall into the trap?

23. Two Little Blessings
Forty years before the pilgrims' journey to India, two lovers Chun-Ying and Yu-Lee disobey the God of Fertility Ju-Lee by eloping together - love is forbidden in his country. As punishment, he separates them and turns the young Yu-Lee into an old woman, the Keeper of the Well of Small Blessings. To regain her youth and her man, she must make Tripitaka drink the magic water. Things get very strange indeed when Pigsy and Sandy drink the water and become pregnant.

24. The Fires of Jealousy
The pilgrims enter the Kingdom of Lo-Chun, the Queen of Fire, where they are prevented from continuing their journey by the active volcanoes in the Fire and Flame mountain range to the west. The Queen of Fire has a magic fan that can extinguish the fires. Ever since her husband, the Spirit of Water Buffaloes, left her for a human woman, she's lived as a recluse. So getting her to lend them her fan could be quite a challenge.

25. The Country of Nightmares
On their way to India, the pilgrims must pass through the Land of Nightmares, inhabited by all the legions of Hell, bad demons and wicked spirits. All humans who go there are eaten, and all others must take a magic test upon entry to the land. To allow Tripitaka to travel through safely, Monkey disguises him as a beautiful longhaired female demon, and teaches him some basic magic. Will the King of Bad Dreams see through Tripitaka's disguise?

26. The End of the Way
Tripitaka and his disciples are just a few days away from reaching India - they can clearly see the Gold Temple of the Thunderclap ahead. The King of All Geological Ages appears and says he'll stop them reaching India. Pigsy finds the king's beautiful wife strangely familiar, he knows her from somewhere. The king captures Tripitaka and puts the indestructible Iron Collar of Death on him, to choke him to death. This looks like the end for Tripitaka.

In the Fremantle  boxset of DVDs (above) the 13 UK TV 'unseen' episodes from Series 2 are tagged separately onto the end of each of the 13 compilation DVDs (1 unseen episode on each DVD)  rather than being placed in the correct Japanese TV running order.

In the boxset they are not dubbed into English but have English subtitles instead.

These 'unseen' episodes are highlighted below in green and placed in their correct original Japanese TV running order. 

There is a separate DVD available that consists of just the 13 'unseen' episodes that were dubbed into English in 2004. The DVD is entitled The Thirteen Lost Episodes

Season 2  1979 - 1980

27. Pigsy's Ten Thousand Ladies
Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy become disillusioned with the pilgrimage and go their separate ways. Monkey flies home to his Kingdom of Fruit and Flowers. Pigsy goes back to China seeking rewards from the Emperor. Sandy returns to the Western Heaven, hoping the Jade Emperor will forgive him. Tripitaka continues his journey. He's flabbergasted when lightning strikes the horse and it turns into a human called Yu-Lung. Deserted by his disciples, Tripitaka soon finds himself in grave danger.

28. The Dogs of Death
The evil Dogs of Plague, disciples of the Great Hound of Hell, plan to kill Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka. Their leader brings the Plague of Black Dog to a nearby town. The pilgrims arrive at the town, but when Tripitaka tries to help the sick, he catches the deadly plague himself. Monkey discovers the only cure is to give the afflicted grilled fresh monkey brains from a newly dead ape. Will Monkey give up his life to save Tripitaka?

29. You Win Some, You Lose Some  (UNSEEN EPISODE #1)
A powerful man called Shotenki and his demon master, Kokufki, lure all the men from surrounding villages to their casino in Ittakudo, where they spend all their time gambling. Tripitaka offers to help the desperate wives and children of one village, and sends Pigsy and Sandy to bring the men back to their senses. When their attempt fails, Sandy asks Monkey for assistance in finishing off Shotenki for good.

30. Pigsy Learns A Lesson (UNSEEN EPISODE #2)
The Fraction Demon goes around asking children questions about fractions, and kidnaps those who answer correctly. The pilgrims arrive at a small village and get mistaken for Fraction Demons by the vengeful locals. After a very close shave, Monkey gets a bit hot under the collar. Pigsy volunteers to track down the dazzlingly beautiful Fraction Demon and sort her out - but will he get otherwise distracted? 

31. The Land With Two Suns (UNSEEN EPISODE #3)
The pilgrims enter a land where night never falls. For five hundred years, ever since the vulture demon Konsei-Maoh stole Dainichi Buddha's sun-mirror, as soon as one sun sets another one rises. Tripitaka offers the villagers their help and Monkey, who has an old score to settle with the demon, is more than happy to oblige. Things take a turn for the worse after Monkey bumps into a familiar face, and the demon sets his sights on Tripitaka.   

32. The House of the Evil Spirit  (UNSEEN EPISODE #4)
After getting separated from Pigsy and Sandy, Monkey and Tripitaka find a creepy house in the middle of nowhere. They are shown hospitality by Mr. Chin and his daughter Kohran who live there. After he befriends Kohran, Monkey discovers that there's more to her father than meets the eye. Meanwhile, Pigsy and Sandy are kidnapped by the man who murdered Mr. Chin's wife thirteen years earlier. He plans to abduct Kohran... 

33. Am I Dreaming?  (UNSEEN EPISODE #5)
Every night, Tripitaka's sleep is disturbed by a recurring dream. In it, he's being attacked by Lord Yuki, ruler of The Devil's Hell. One night, after Tripitaka nearly sleepwalks off a cliff, the disciples decide they must take immediate action. They think up ways of expelling the demon from Tripitaka's body. Things don't quite go to plan though - before long, Tripitaka ends up in very hot water, and Monkey gets pulled into the dream too...   

34. The Tormented Emperor  (UNSEEN EPISODE #6)
Emperor Busoku, ruler of the country of Biku, is tormented at night by the ghost of Queen Seiko of Shitan, whose country he destroyed many years ago. Tripitaka and his followers arrive at Biku and hear of the Emperor's plight. After the ghost leaves behind a shoe, Monkey becomes suspicious and sends Pigsy and Dragon to investigate. They sneak into the women's dormitory at the palace in search of the shoe's owner. But Pigsy has other things on his mind. 

35. Between Heaven and Hell  (UNSEEN EPISODE #7)
The pilgrims arrive at a sacred shrine called Chokken Shokoku. Every day, its many visitors pay to go through a hole in the wall that guarantees them entry to paradise in the after-life. Tripitaka is sceptical, but his disciples insist on trying it. When Sandy gets stuck in the hole, the shrine's priest demands 100,000 Gen from the others to let them enlarge the hole, otherwise Sandy must die. Can Monkey, Pigsy and Tripitaka raise the money in time?  

36. The Foolish Philosopher
A snobby princess has been kidnapped by a fish monster who wants to marry her, but she continually refuses because he's too common. She sends two little water sprites to get help from her parents. They meet Tripitaka and his disciples, who offer their help. Tripitaka and Monkey escort them to the king and queen, while Sandy and Pigsy go to rescue the princess. Things aren't looking good for Sandy when the fish monster captures him.

37. Who Am I?
The pilgrims eat some freshly picked mushrooms, and lose their memories. Monkey wanders off and joins a band of outlaws. They think he's the Fungus Prince who was banished by his father, King Seven Souls. The king wants to kill Tripitaka, so they plan to capture him and claim a reward. Tripitaka leaves Pigsy and Sandy and gets captured by Monkey and the outlaws. Yu-Lung sets out to help Monkey get his memory back so he can save Tripitaka.

38. What is Wisdom?
Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka are on their way to the palace in The Land of Search for Understanding; the king insists on interviewing all pilgrims who pass. Following an argument, Monkey stays behind, and an evil magician turns him invisible. Posing as a Taoist priest, the magician persuades the naïve king to hold a contest between him and reluctant Tripitaka to determine which is better - Taoism or Buddhism. The magician plans to take over the kingdom - will he succeed?

39. The Fountain of Youth
Tripitaka is shocked when his three followers bathe in a pool and are transformed into babies. It's a Fountain of Youth, and it belongs to two Spirits of Time Passed. Tripitaka must make one of these spirits cry, and use the tears to change his disciples back. Leaving Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy with a babysitter, Tripitaka goes in search of these cannibalistic spirits. Believing Tripitaka won't return, the babysitter decides to sell the three babies at the local market.

40. Better The Demon You Know  (UNSEEN EPISODE #8)
After wandering through endless wilderness, Tripitaka and his starving disciples find themselves in a small town in the middle of nowhere. For two years, ever since her son and his human bride abandoned her, the bloodthirsty demon Kari-Temo Hanja has been appearing at weddings in the town and kidnapping the brides. Monkey goes to seek help from Senju Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of endless fulfilment, who was once the demon's master. Meanwhile, Tripitaka decides to pay the demon a visit...

41. A Shadow So Huge
Chen-Gold, the world's richest man, is advertising for a husband for his only daughter, beautiful Mai-Sun. Possessed of the Spirit of Greed, he eats gold in order to turn himself golden. To feed his habit, he enslaves men to work in his gold mines. When Sandy tries to help an escaped slave, he becomes enslaved himself. Meanwhile, Pigsy puts himself forward as a possible husband for Mai-Sun. Tripitaka wonders where Pigsy and Sandy have gone, and sends Monkey to investigate.

42. Keep on Dancing
A young goblin, Yung-Hu, is desperately in love with a married human woman called I-Ling. I-Ling and her husband, Kwo-Fong, are excited that the pilgrims are approaching, because they want to learn about Buddha. Tripitaka is deeply offended by I-Ling's awful Buddhist dance, and the pilgrims leave. The goblin father disguises himself as a priest and convinces Kwo-Fong to join Tripitaka's pilgrimage to India, to become a Buddhist. With Kwo-Fong out of the way, Yung-Hu goes to see I-Ling.

43. Give and Take
While Tripitaka and his disciples sleep, The Illiterate Vampire appears and plans to bite Tripitaka. The others wake, and chase him away. The next day, the pilgrims see a display of wanted posters - the king is rewarding people for killing monsters, 10 gold pieces per monster. Pigsy meets a blind girl selling flowers in the street, and becomes fond of her. To raise 100 gold pieces for an operation to cure her blindness, Pigsy goes into business as a monster-killer.

44. Such a Nice Monster
A gentle monster dresses up as a puppy dog and calls himself "a good dog" in an attempt to make friends. He desperately wants to be liked, but all the villagers are terrified of him. The pilgrims arrive at the monster's country, and Tripitaka tells his disciples to go ahead and make friends with him. After Pigsy, Monkey and Sandy fail, Yu-Lung befriends the good dog, and comes up with a plan to make the villagers like him.

45. The Fake Pilgrims  (UNSEEN EPISODE #9)
While taking a rest from their journey, the pilgrims are confronted by four sorcerors who are impersonating them. They plan to assassinate Tripitaka and his followers, to improve their ranking in the sorcery community. By wreaking havoc on villages, the imposters ensure that the real pilgrims are blamed and made unwelcome everywhere they go. Monkey decides that Tripitaka should continue alone for a while. The disciples split up, and become targeted by their clones. Will Tripitaka ever see them again?

46. Pretty as a Picture
The pilgrims are welcomed to a village headman's house. He shows the disciples a screen that has a picture of the beautiful Goddess Sorosvati painted on it, along with the six other Gods of Good Fortune. During the night, the goddess magically steps out of the screen, tricks Tripitaka, and takes his place on the pilgrimage. While she enchants the others, Monkey discovers Tripitaka trapped in the screen. Can Monkey free Tripitaka and get the goddess back on canvas?

47. Mothers
The pilgrims enter a country where an evil wasp witch with a magic whip flies on her chariot and steals children from their parents. The witch lives in a poison mountain called Kijo, and has a hundred or more children of her own. No one knows what she does with the stolen children. While Sandy and Pigsy help the villagers set traps and prepare themselves to fight the witch, Monkey decides to pay her a visit.

48. The Tenacious Tomboy  (UNSEEN EPISODE #10)
Mt. Sekigutsu, famous for the flowers that bloom on its rocks, is ruled by a fearful demon called Seisai, who has the power to turn anything into stone. A young stonemason from Ushizokoku called Kokanshi climbs the mountain and falls prey to the demon's magic rays. Two years later, Kokanshi's overzealous fiancée Airen travels to the mountain to rescue him, and tricks Tripitaka's disciples into helping her fight the demon. Meanwhile, Seisai abducts Tripitaka and plans to eat him... 

49. Stoned  (UNSEEN EPISODE #11)
Disowned by his parents for being unable to do sorcery, the young demon Shosanpu practises on the unsuspecting pilgrims, but is soon found out. After listening to his story, Monkey decides to give him special training, against Tripitaka's wishes. Using Monkey's staff, Shosanpu turns the four pilgrims into stone statues, and goes to fetch his father, Yuzankun. While he's away, the four statues are stolen and taken to an auction. Will Shosanpu find them in time, to change them back?   

50. Hungry Like The Wolf  (UNSEEN EPISODE #12)
After losing their way, the pilgrims find themselves heading towards Mt. Blue Wolf, a place where hideous wolf demons swagger like peacocks. Their leader, Blue Wolf Demon, craves human flesh, and sets his sights on the tasty Tripitaka. While looking for food, Dragon falls off a cliff. He is rescued by a farmer called Ri Shishin, who turns out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing; Blue Wolf Demon makes him an offer he can't refuse to hunt down Tripitaka. 

51. Monkey's Yearning  (UNSEEN EPISODE #13)
While having lunch, the pilgrims catch a mischievous young boy called Chou trying to steal food from them. Monkey takes him home, and falls instantly in love with his mother, Shugyoku. Chou's father was killed by the fire-breathing Tiger Demon two years earlier, but Shugyoku detests violence, and insists that Monkey should not get involved. Monkey takes a break from the journey to India, and stays with Shugyoku and Chou. Will Tripitaka and the others ever see Monkey again?  

52. At the Top of the Mountain
Tripitaka has an ominous dream that his mother is dying, and becomes very preoccupied the next day. Concerned about his master, Monkey cloud-flies back to China, and finds Tripitaka's mother, Wing-Chow, infected with a deadly plague. Just before dying, she tells Monkey that her son, original name Hsüan Tsang, must continue his journey to India. Monkey returns and impersonates Wing-Chow, to pretend she's alive, fearing that Tripitaka would stop his journey and return to China if he knew the truth.

Do you know the real reason why the series finished when it did?

After the first 26 episodes were aired, a continuation of the story was planned, but this time with high expectations in light of the success of the first. However, that was not to be the case. The second 26 episodes did not do as well as the first and no plans were made for a third series. Also, by the time the first series and second series had aired, the actors had become very popular and their schedules had filled up quickly. Basically, they moved on with their careers. 

Howell, when giving an outline of the series earlier on you mentioned a dragon who had turned into a horse - It became human in the second series didn't it?

Yes, in the second series, when the horse became scared, he turned into a rather timid human called Yu-Lung, played by the actor Shunji Fujimura

Shunji Fujimura

Interestingly, his English-dubbed voice was performed by Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel the waiter in the classic British TV show, Fawlty Towers.

Many of the same English voice actors were used for both series:

Frank Duncan was The Narrator for the original 39 episodes shown in the UK

Miriam Margolyes / Numerous Characters

With the exception of Frank Duncan, all the above actors dubbed the voices for the 13 "unseen" episodes in 2004 as well. 

Burt Kwouk dubbed the Narrator's voice in 2004.

Where were the two series filmed?

From what I've heard, it was filmed almost completely in Japan. Many scenes of Tripitaka and his companions on their journey were in fact on wild land on the outskirts of Mount Fuji, not the Silk Road in China where the story is based. In the first series, the cast went on location abroad in only one episode, The Beginning of WisdomIt was filmed at an open set in Hong Kong.

In other episodes the cast acted in a studio set, or went on location to a Chinese structure in Tokyo. Many location scenes were shot at Yushima-Seidou (Yushima temple of Confucius) in Ochanomizu in the middle of Tokyo, which still exists. The staff actually went to China to film Chinese scenery of the opening and the ending credits.



You've touched on the theme already but can you tell us more about the remakes of Monkey?

The Journey to the West stories - known in Japanese as Saiyuuki  and on which Monkey is based - were written in China in the 16th century. Children in Asia grow up hearing the story, watching cartoons based on it and watching films based on it. It's almost equivalent to children in the West knowing Robin Hood or Little Red Riding Hood. I think I heard that one of the earliest films based on these stories dates back to the 1920s in China. 

Famous film versions include the Saiyuuki  anime movie (English name: Alakazam the Great) from 1960 by legendary Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka and the Hong Kong films A Chinese Odyssey and A Chinese Odyssey II. The most famous comic adaptation which later became an animated TV series is DragonballAlso, a puppet version called The Drifters' Saiyuki was very popular in Japan in the 1960s. So you could say that the Monkey series that we know and love is itself one of many remakes.

'Alakazam The Great'  Poster and 'Dragonball' Comic

(These images courtesy of and

However, there were two more Japanese TV adaptations which could be considered remakes of Monkey. One of them, called New Monkey, was produced in 1994 by the same company: Nippon TV (NTV). It featured the newest special effects and computer graphics, and a new cast. It only ran for one season, and was unpopular I guess it couldn't beat the original series!

Much more popular though, was the 2006 Saiyuuki TV series which starred Shingo Katori -  A famous member of the musical group SMAP -  as Monkey. Just before the final episode of the first season of this Monkey remake series screened on Monday 20 March 2006, it was announced that Masaaki Sakai  - the original Monkey from the 1978 TV series -  would co-star in the final episode of the new Monkey remake series, alongside Shingo KatoriHe played a wise old man who new Monkey and whom the old pilgrims encounter. During their conversation, the old "Monkey Magic" theme song blasts out and Masaaki Sakai shows off his stick-fighting skills and kicks new Monkey's ass big time :) An absolute classic TV moment which had me in tears the first time I watched it!

Here's the video clip of the classic appearance of Masaaki Sakai in the new Monkey series in 2006:

Masaaki Sakai's appearance in Monkey (2006) - Run time: 42secs

Did Masaaki Sakai do all his own stunts in the original series?

It seems that Masaaki Sakai did all the fighting himself - He learned stick-fighting especially for the series. He is known as a very versatile actor. If you look closely at when he's flying on his cloud though, you can clearly see that it's a doll ;) 

Ah yes..the cloud.. Whenever I think of Monkey the cloud is the first thing that springs to mind...that and his staff which he stored somewhere behind his ear.  :-)

Monkey's cloud - Run time: 1 minute 33 seconds courtesy of David Way

Everyone remembers Monkey's cloud, and the way he blows his fingers while shaking them in front of his mouth. Although Monkey usually walks on foot with the others, he needs his cloud at times when he needs to travel a long distance in a short time, or chase flying demons. In the Japanese version, his cloud is called "Kinto-un". There's a classic scene in one of the episodes where Monkey has a cloud fight with Pigsy; Pigsy's cloud is a white "motorbike affair" cloud with handlebars! It doesn't fly very smoothly, and makes lots of spluttering noises! Monkey's magic wishing staff was actually a "gift" which he demanded from a powerful Dragon King in the first episode. It has the ability to grow and shrink, so he usually stores it behind his ear with it shrunk to the size of a matchstick. When he needs it for fighting, he pulls it out and makes it enlarge. It is supposedly be so heavy that no one can pick it up except Monkey.

Music plays an integral part in the original series. What's your favourite song from the Monkey soundtrack?

This is a difficult question. When I was a child, it was without a doubt the Monkey Magic opening theme. Every time I heard it, it signalled the end of another school week, and it always put a big smile on my face. When I watched Monkey again many years later for the first time as an adult, it was the Series One ending song, Gandhara. "A long time ago, when men were all babes, there was a land of the free..."  After watching the whole series again, I found myself really liking the short ballad Thank You, Baby which was often played during sad scenes in the series. The chorus goes: "I got memories, oh thank you baby, I still love you, oh thank you baby. You changed my life, now the way ahead is clear...." These songs were all performed by the Japanese band Godiego.

Gandhara by Godiego - Run time: 1 min 18 secs

I then realized that there are some other "secret" songs hidden away in some of the Monkey episodes..For example, in Series Two just before the closing theme Holy and Bright  (NB: Holy and Bright had replaced the closing theme Gandhara  from the first series) you can hear a song with the lyrics:"They call me Magic Monkey, they call me Magic Monkey" 

This is a song called Songoku  which means Monkey - the character's name in Japanese - and is sung by Masaaki Sakai;  Monkey himself! In just a few episodes, I noticed a Japanese song with the same tune as my favourite song at the time, Thank You, Baby and found out that this is called Kono Michi No Hatemademo . Translated into English it means To the End of this Way. This  was also performed by Masaaki Sakai.

It soon became, and remains my favourite song from the series. It has the same guitar intro as Thank You, Baby, and it was also played by Godiego's Takami Asano (he told me so when I met him!)

Masaaki Sakai singing "Kono Michi No Hatemademo"  Run time: 3mins 36 secs

(Incorrectly titled Masaaki Sakai singing "Thank You Baby" in this clip)

And last but not least Howell,  you are the creator of  the website

I am indeed! Around 1996, a friend of mine recorded the first episode of Monkey for me from satellite TV. I hadn't watched Monkey for over 15 years, since I was a child, and I was worried that I might not enjoy it as anywhere near as much as during my childhood days. 

How wrong I was! As the opening credits started and Monkey Magic started playing, I immediately starting beaming from ear to ear. I enjoyed the whole episode as much as, if not even more than, first time around. I had tears in my eyes during the end credits as Gandhara played.

The next year, I decided that I'd like to try making a website, and the obvious choice was to create one about MonkeyAt first it was just a small collection of links to other Monkey-related websites. I worked hard at promoting it on search engines, TV-related websites and forums, newsgroups etc. Before I knew it, I was getting visitors from Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and they all emailed me with lots of information about the show. Every bit of information I received, I added to the website. 

Shortly afterwards, I created a mailing list dedicated to the show. Within just a few days, it had over 200 members, and people were happily discussing Monkey all day every day. I continued adding all the new information I received to the website. The bigger the site became, the more visitors came, and the more information etc. So it snowballed big-time, and I soon realized I had created a monster! 
But a nice monster ;)

Thanks to the website, I made friends with many Monkey fans around the world, some of whom I still keep in contact with today. 
When I was a child, I wrote a letter to the TV show, Jim'll Fix It  asking if I could meet Monkey. I never got a reply, but it was always my dream. In 1998, on my first visit to Japan, thanks to my friend Nikki who I met via my website, and her Japanese friends, my dream came true, and Nikki and I met Masaaki Sakai - Monkey himself - backstage at one of his dinner shows. To this day, I have to say it was the greatest night of my life - when I met my childhood hero in the flesh.

In 2001, on my second visit to Japan, thanks to my friend Julia - who I also met via my website - I met Toshiyuki Nishida, (the actor who played Pigsy in Series One) backstage at the musical Fiddler on the Roof  in which he was starring in at the time. He didn't seem to mind us having a photo with him wearing his dressing gown just after he got out of the shower! 

I am so very grateful for all the good things that have happened for me because of the Monkey website.
"The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!"
.. And always will be :)

My grateful thanks to Howell Parry for the interview here @ The Nice Rooms. 

Further Information:

Howell Parry's website "Monkey Heaven"  can be found at: