Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Monkey! – Vampire Master – TV episode


Directed by: Jun Fukuda & Michael Bakewell (English dub)

First aired: 1979

Contains spoilers

Oh what a joy! For anyone who grew up with this series it will hold a special place in your heart, I am sure. ‘Monkey!’ was a Japanese production based on the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West” and the English dub was a cult hit in both the UK and Australia. Okay, men of around my age, be honest… you had a Monkey fighting staff didn’t you, a broom stick probably – if you were artistic you even painted it. I even know someone who, as the stick in the show could shrink and grow, had a full size one and a matchstick one!

Masako Natsume as TripitakaI watched this episode in a haze of sweet remembrance, misty eyed when the opening voiceover began, bopping along as it segued into the funky theme tune and then sporting a big old grin on my face through the entire episode. However, for those who do not know the show… It followed Tripitaka (Masako Natsume, dubbed by Maria Warburg) a Buddhist priest as he journeyed to India to fetch Holy Scripture. It must be pointed out that Tripitaka was played by a female actress as the real monk that the character in the book is based on, Hs En Tsang, was said to be good looking – akin to a woman – and thus Masako Matsume’s appearance was said to be like Tsang.

Toshiyuki Nishida as PigsyJourneying with him, as guards if you like, were the water monster and ex-cannibal Sandy (Shiro Kishibe, dubbed by Gareth Armstrong), the lustful Pigsy (Toshiyuki Nishida, dubbed by Peter Woodthorpe) and of course the irrepressible Monkey (Masaaki Sakai, dubbed by David Collings). I say Monkey was irrepressible (as that is what the opening voiceover stated) but Tripitaka could control him by saying a sutra that caused him pain. Contextually Monkey was, to me, a Chinese version of the Trickster God.

Masaaki Sakai as MonkeyIn this episode Tripitaka takes the journey through the Kingdom of Buddhist Law, an entirely Buddhist nation, to teach Monkey a lesson of why they are on their journey. On entering the land they are attacked by bandits and then almost arrested as aggressors – until the guards realise who Tripitaka is. Having feasted Tripitaka wishes to leave as the lesson has failed, his companions only wished to feast, drink and look at pretty girls.

blood on Tripitaka's robeHowever Tripitaka becomes ill – a fever recognised as Tibetan Fever – and they are stuck in the city. One night a waitress is walking home and is attacked. We see the attacker in robes like those worn by Tripitaka. Monkey goes to see his master and notices blood on his robes.

fang marks on victimThe next day the girl is found. She has fang marks in her neck and has been drained and killed. The King, the Chamberlain and the Prime Minister are concerned, obviously, as there has been a murder in the city. They mention that it was probably a shape-changer, those who lead the bandits, one who has become a vampire. Pigsy volunteers to become a Captain of the Guard in order that he might catch the monster.

a fanged TripitakaWhilst he drills his men through the city a girl is attacked… but it is no girl; it is Monkey who has shape shifted to trap the vampire. He chases it through the streets and he and Pigsy corner the beast. It is a fanged Tripitaka. They get back to their master, who still seems ill and feverish. Monkey seems convinced his master has become a vampire, but Pigsy and Sandy are not convinced. Tripitaka, however, is arrested and sentenced to be executed as, at the behest of the Queen, the King has outlawed Buddhism and the Buddhist peaceful laws have been repealed.

vampiresOf course Tripitaka is not the vampire – the show gave us the clue early on as to what was going on. There are more than one and they are shape-changers and they have learnt to stand sunlight. There is a great passage that answers an inability to talk whilst wearing fangs, amusing as the vocals were dubbed anyway but even more amusing as an inability to speak with fangs is a recurring problem in the vampire genre. “People say that I lisp. I say let them all learn to fear it, learn terror of all who talk like this. I will make this vow – our teeth will eat the world.”

Shiro Kishibe as SandyThere is no way that I am going to be rational or balanced about this episode. The show is part of my youth; it was part of growing up. This specific episode has vampires in it, which of course is a bonus for me. More than that though, it has Monkey fighting, plus flying clouds as personal transportation and is only missing pulling chest hairs and blowing on them to create monkey warriors (which happened often through the series). 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Uranium Willy said...

I would like to see this. The Journey to the West is a matter of overkill here in China and most versions of The Monkey King story here are weak productions. I did get of one recently I have yet to watch but will soon, the segment where the travelers are on a mystical island and the pig-man drinks magic water and gets pregnant. It is a HK version from the 60's and is supposed to be really good.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I don't know how strong this would be classed as a version. It is clear (from interviews on a special about this) that the English dub scripts were often just made up to fit what was going on visually, without knowing what the actual dialogue said! It was all done with tongue firmly in cheek as well.

But, honestly, ask any guy of a certain age from the UK, and I suspect Australia also, about Monkey! and they'll become bleary eyed with nostalgia! Great stuff as far as I'm concerned