Trailer - Saiyuki (Toei Doga, 1960)

Continuing along the series of Toei Doga movies, here is the trailer to the studio's third animated feature film, Saiyuki.  Now this is a fantastic movie.  It's easily my favorite of the early Toei pictures.  Considering that this studio began with only two master animators, who had to train in dozens of new artists, this is a remarkable achievement.  This is where they strike gold.

I really love their movie trailers, too, because the studio itself is also the star.  Here, we have another look at Toei president Hiroshi Okawa, as he greets Goku, the hero of the picture.  We get another look at the artists and animators, the background painters, and musicians who made the movie.  I always enjoy this look at the Toei staff, since the great drama of this era is the rise of this young generation of animators, and the conflict between the staff (and their union) and the studio bosses.

Saiyuki, or "Journey to the West," comes from Chinese legend, and is a famous story.  The script for the film was written by none other than Osaumu Tezuka, the famed "God of Manga."  This was Tezuka's first involvement in animation.  Perhaps it was this discovery, or perhaps his falling out with the Toei bosses - his original ending was scrapped in favor of a happier, more upbeat ending - that inspired Tezuka to create his own animation studio, Mushi Productions in 1961-62.

This movie was imported to American theaters under the title, Alakazam the Great!  It featured different songs (sung by Frankie Avalon), and some changes to plot and characters to erase any unsettling religious references.  After all, America in the early '60s was struggling with such radical ideas as a Catholic President or black people sitting at a lunch counter.  A family cartoon based on a Buddhist Chinese folk tale probably wouldn't go over too well...unless you wanted your theater burned to the ground.  So the changes are understandable.

As I've said, this is my favorite of the early Toei Doga films.  It's nearly as good as Wanpaku no Orochi Taiji (Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon), if that can be believed.  We need to hurry up with some English subtitles for a fansub one of these days.  Let's put that on our to-do list.


Eryn said...

So cooool! I've always loved the Monkey story, but I've only ever found snippets of Saiyuki on youtube ;)

The Animation Cynic said...

As far as I know, Osamu Tezuka did not actually have a hand in creating this film, though it was apparently based on a manga by him. According to the film's Wikipedia entry, Tezuka never entered the studio except to pose for publicity photos.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Eryn: Glad you liked it!

@Cynic: Well, that's Wikipedia. Those pages only have whatever information people add into it. I'm basing my information largely on Ben Ettinger's writings; if anyone has any questions, they should ask him.

Tezuka was involved with the Saiyuki movie, but there was a falling out, because he wanted a bleak and existential ending, while Toei wanted an upbeat crowd-pleaser. The fact that Tezuka collaborated with the studio on two more films is testimony to this working relationship.

In many ways, the Mushi Pro studio was a rebellion against Toei, both for Tezuka and the many animators he won over. Its whole approach and style are much more artist-centered, and far less Disney-fied, than Toei Doga. There was a mutual respect, but it was a rivalry nontheless.