Monday, February 29, 2016

Saiyuuki (1960)

Here is the first English-subtitled version of the 1960 Japanese animated movie Saiyuuki. Up until now, the only available English version has been the 1961 dub Alakazam the Great. As was often the case back then, the script for the dub bears little or no relation to the original Japanese script. The changes in Alakazam the Great were quite extensive: all the Buddhist and Taoist elements were eliminated; the movie was shortened by several minutes; the musical score and songs were redone completely. Despite the attempt to reshape Saiyuuki into generic Disney fare, the movie was a commercial failure in the US.

Saiyuuki was based on Tezuka Osamu's highly popular manga of the same name, which in turn was based on the Chinese classic Journey to the West. Osamu's name was used prominently in promoting the film, although he always denied active involvement in the production. According to some sources, he was displeased with the film's happy ending, and that spurred him to form his own anime company, Mushi Productions.

Saiyuuki is set in China and recounts the adventures of Son Gokuu, a monkey king. Son Gokuu is both powerful and willful. In his arrogance, he challenges heaven itself and is punished by exile to Mount Gogyou. He is eventually released on condition that he accompany a monk named Sanzou to India in order to receive the Buddhist sutras. Along the way he defeats and then befriends the pig-man Cho Hokkai and the ogre Sa Gajou. Together, they must confront and defeat the terrible bull demon Gyuumaou before Sanzou can accomplish his mission. The core cast is supplemented by Rin Rin, a love interest for Son Gokuu, and Shouryuu, a mischievous imp whose head horn doubles as an antenna for a 1960s mobile phone.

Like the original manga, Saiyuuki is a mishmash of styles, with plenty of anachronistic elements. Broad comedy is mixed in with action and chase sequences. Western influences coexist with Asian styling and thought. For example, the gods are depicted with angelic halos, and some of its denizens are from Greek mythology. When Cho Hakkai is trying to impress his bride-to-be (actually Son Gokuu in disguise), he appears successively in formal Western attire, then a Russian Cossack costume, then as an Indian chief, and then as a hula dancer. Still, Saiyuuki is recognizably a children's film in the 1950s Disney mold. Action sequences alternate with slower sections to allow kids to "cool off." Songs are used to underline the characters or delineate chapters. And despite trials and tribulations, the good guys triumph.

Saiyuuki was Toei Douga's third color animated film. The animation is fluid and represents a real advance over the studio's previous animated movies. Despite that, I find it a bit bland. There's really nothing to engage an adult, and there's a lot of padding. I prefer Takahata Isao's Horus: Prince of the Sun, which shows signs of his unique directorial sensibility, even though it too is a G-rated children's movie. Horus is lively, while Saiyuuki is frenetic. However, Saiyuuki was a greater commercial success in Japan.

This is Orphan's second Journey to the West-themed project, after Tezuka Osamu Monogatari in 2014. Both projects originated with Al_Sleeper in the BakaBT community. For Saiyuuki, he provided the encoded raw and a very rough English translation as a starting point. Magistral (also from the BakaBT community) redid the translation and filled in some of the rough spots; then convexity gave the script a complete going over and translated the signs and the songs. M74 timed, I edited and typeset, and Calyrica and konnakude QCed. The raw is from ARR, minus their Russian voice-over track and subtitles. The encode is serviceable, but the source suffers from jitter and transcription problems. The film really needs restoration and a Blu-Ray release, but that seems unlikely.

 A few translation notes:
  •  ri is an old unit of distance, equal to 3.927 kilometers.
  • Gogyuu, the mountain where Gokuu is imprisoned, takes its name from the five elements of Chinese medicine: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water.
So even though it's Tezuka Osamu at one remove, enjoy Saiyuuki!

1 comment:

  1. I watched the dubbed version of this a while ago and wondered how different it was from the Japanese version. Thanks for doing this.

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