Groundbreaking Anime “Ramayana” Remastered For A New Audience 30 Years Later

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A digitally remastered 4K version of an anime based on the Hindu epic “Ramayana” premiered last month in Tokyo nearly 30 years after its first release, as the creators reminisce about the hurdles they overcame in the project. revolutionary.

“We remastered the anime for Indian fans who wanted to see a higher quality version, making it available for the next 2,000 years,” said Kenji Yoshii, an official with the Tokyo company that owns the production rights.

Yoshii, along with Atsushi Matsuo, director of TEM Co., states that “Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama” was directed by a Japanese-Indian team at a time when international productions were rare in the Japanese animation industry .

“There were no cell phones, faxes or emails, and we were talking about images we received in the mail,” Yoshii says, adding that even phone calls had to be brief due to the quality. telephone lines between the two countries. 1980s.

Matsuo, who is also the executive producer, says it was “truly a miracle” that the animation was completed under the circumstances.

One of the two main Hindu epics, Ramayana is about the god Rama, whose wife, Sita, is kidnapped by a king named Ravana. Rama fights his wife’s kidnapper and emerges victorious. Originally written by the Indian poet Valmiki in the 5th century BC, the epic has various versions across South Asia.

The original anime was directed by Japanese Koichi Sasaki and Yugo Sako with Ram Mohan, known as the father of animation in India, and released in 1993. It cost 800 million yen ($6.7 million) , much more than the average for an animated film of this genre. time.

Sako developed a passionate interest in the epic while working on a documentary about waterways in Asia, including the Ganges in India, and voraciously read all the Japanese translations of the “Ramayana” story available at that time. era.

Newlyweds Rama and Sita in the remastered anime “Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama”. | COURTESY OF TEM CO. / KYODO

“(Sako) was extremely impressed with the story and also the number of characters – humans, animals, even vegetables and plants – and said it was the perfect story for a movie,” said said late Mohan’s wife, Sheila Rao, of India. during a virtual interview.

Yoshii, also an assistant producer, adds that “Mr. Sako said that the most appropriate way to convey a free-flowing story like ‘Ramayana’ across the world is through animation, not film.

However, the project initially drew opposition from a conservative religious group in India, as many in the country viewed the anime as mere entertainment for children.

The Indian government has even contacted the Japanese Foreign Ministry over the matter, as religious tensions in the multi-faith country were high due to a dispute over the Babri Masjid – a mosque built in the 16th century on a site considered by many Hindus as the birthplace of Rama. The mosque was demolished by Hindu nationalists in 1992.

“It was as if the Indians were doing an animation about the Japanese imperial family, so it was natural for the Indian government to feel shock and concern,” Yoshii says, reflecting on the importance of the topic for Indians.

“Mr. Sako was not going to let (the project) die, and my husband continued to do his work,” adds Rao, recounting how the Japanese director sought to explain to Indian skeptics that the anime is also made on serious matters in Japan.

Although the work was released in India in 1993, the political climate surrounding the Babri Masjid, as well as doubts about anime as a serious medium, prevented it from gaining the promotion and exposure that its creators hoped.

“Animation was very nascent at the time in India,” says Ravi Swami, a British animator and illustrator. “They were simple cartoons…so if you said you were going to do ‘Ramayana’ (via the anime), they’d immediately think ‘You’re crazy.'”

But the work actually did remarkably well on TV because it was “quite groundbreaking in terms of animation,” Swami adds.

Many Indian children born in the 1990s anxiously awaited each episode at home, unaware that Japanese animators had been involved, he says.

The updated version of 'Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama' was screened on the 70th anniversary of Indo-Japanese diplomatic relations, with the original version being released on the 40th anniversary.  |  COURTESY OF TEM CO.  / KYODO
The updated version of ‘Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama’ was screened on the 70th anniversary of Indo-Japanese diplomatic relations, with the original version being released on the 40th anniversary. | COURTESY OF TEM CO. / KYODO

Additionally, it opened the door for a series of later animations depicting Hindu gods and epics.

“Watching the ‘Ramayana’ has become a holiday ritual… and now you can’t find anyone who hasn’t seen it,” says Kartik, Mohan’s son, referring to Hindu festivals.

Gunjan Joshi, a PhD student at the University of Tokyo who attended the screening of the remastered edition at the Indian Embassy in Tokyo, said: “As a kid, I watched it on TV but didn’t know not that it was a Japanese film. collaboration. Now I am able to recognize the Japanese element in it.

The updated version was screened on the 70th anniversary of Indo-Japanese diplomatic relations, with the original version being released on the 40th anniversary.

Although viewers across India appreciated the artistry of the animation, it was not a financial success. TEM now plans to start afresh by screening the new edition in India in cinemas, on television through local broadcasters and through an online streaming service.

The company has also initiated discussions with major local cinemas for screenings in Japan.

Many cinemas and broadcasters in Japan refused to screen the original, in part because of its 135-minute running time.

Some productions in Japan even offered to incorporate elements such as robots, which were popular in Japanese anime, but Matsuo was determined to keep the original story.

Efforts to get it shown were complicated a few years later by the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Tokyo, according to Matsuo. With the word “aum” having its roots in Hinduism, there were concerns that the anime would appeal to Japanese audiences.

The anime had approximately 120,000 hand-drawn “cells” or transparent sheets on which work is drawn, a relatively large number for the length of the anime, with some 400 highly skilled Japanese animators – including those who had been involved in projects headed by famous Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki – is working on it.

Originally it was made in English, with song scenes presented in Sanskrit.

After TEM launched the remaster, some Japanese companies approached with suggestions such as changes to the storyline, but Matsuo again refused.

TEM now aims to create a “Ramayana fund” from the profits to contribute “to cultural exchanges, world peace and human peace” at a time when the international community is going through such economic and political turmoil, Matsuo said.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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