If you grew up in the 80s you might have seen the Japanese TV series Monkey. My family always called it “Monkey Magic” because of the song in the opening sequence. I hadn’t thought about Monkey for years until recently when I saw a show about traditional Chinese culture called Shen Yun.
One of the dances included those much loved characters from my childhood, and brought all the memories flooding back. Some of the things I remember fondly from Monkey were the out-of-sync English dubbing, the interesting casting choice of actress Masako Natsume for the male monk Tripitaka, and the narration with its good moral teachings.
The special effects were truly special, and really added to the comedy value. Whenever the intro came on, my brother and I rolled up into balls and mimicked monkey exploding out of a rock!
Revisiting this series, I found out that the Japanese drama was based on a 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, and was filmed in North-West China and Inner Mongolia.
Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy strike a deal to pay for the sins of their past lives by helping Tripitaka on a quest to India to return sacred Buddhist scriptures to China. On the journey they encounter many dangers, challenges, and demons!
The mischievous Monkey is a brave fighter with magical powers, like flying on a pink cloud. Greedy Pigsy is far less brave, and often tempted by food and women, while Sandy is a thinker, but not a doer. Tripitaka seems naïve and trusts everyone, unaware of the evils in the world.
With their distinct personalities, part of the magic—aside from the effects—is in watching them clash, as they quite miraculously survive trying to work together on their journey.
There are some deep lessons in there. No wonder Mum watched it with us, although she never rolled into a rock-ball and exploded, but I can forgive her for that.
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