Indo-Japanese anime classic Ramayana to get screened at MIFF on 31 May

A classic legend is making a comeback. Nineties cult anime title Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama is all set to be screened at the seventeenth edition of the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) for documentary, short and animation films. The movie, co-directed by the father of Indian animation the late Ram Mohan, and Japanese helmers Yugo Sako and  Koichi Sasaki, has been cleaned up and digitally remastered in 4K.  The MIFF release of is being done in association with Japanese company TEM Co – which initially financed  it and holds its copyright, on the occasion of the celebration of 70 years of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Japan and India.

The freshened up version of Ramayana: The Legend of Rama was first shown in Tokyo in February 2022 and its India debut is being supported by The Japan Foundation, New Delhi. The MIFF screening is scheduled for 31 May 2022, between 3:45 -6:15 PM at JB Hall of Mumbai’s Films Division Complex. Everyone can follow the MIFF website for more details. 

“Japan has received a great deal of influence from India, including Buddhism, mythology and culture. In particular, the Ramayana is India’s world-class epic poem, and it was a great pleasure for us as producers to make a cultural contribution by adapting it to film using Japan’s renowned animation technology. I was also pleased to inform Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the release of the 4K digitally remastered version of the film during his visit to Japan in May 2022. I sincerely hope that this film will lead to further development of cultural exchange between India and Japan and world peace,” the film’s executive producer and TEM representative director Atsushi Matsuo told Animation Xpress.

“I devoted 10 years from 1982, when production was first planned,  to 1992, when it was completed. It was a series of difficult challenges that everyone said were impossible, but thanks to many supporters, I am very happy that more than 30 years have passed and people are still viewing and enjoying the film. We hope you will fully enjoy the digital remastered version, which was completed by the animators and related parties in India and Japan who trusted each other and communicated only through letters and mutual visits in an era when there were no cell phones or the Internet,” assistant producer Kenji Yoshii added.

The production of the original English version of Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama anime began in 1984 when Yugo Sako, the planner and the producer for the film, on the Japanese side and Ram Mohan came together. Koichi Sasaki joined as a director later.

Ram Mohan and team were in charge of the scenario, art settings, dialogue recording, music, etc., while the Japanese creators was in charge of the storyboards, background, original drawings, animation, coloring, photography, and editing. On the Indian side, top-notch scenario writers, music directors, artists, and film actors of the day participated.

A total of 450 people, including excellent animators who were also involved in Hayao Miyazaki’s works, worked tirelessly to create more than 100,000 hand-drawn celluloid pictures. It was completed in December 1992 after nine years and an investment of approximately 800 million yen.

The film was released in India for the first time at 24th International Film Festival of India, New Delhi, 10-20 January 1993. But its theatrical distribution was limited due to the heated political situation following the Babri Masjid demolition and disinterest from Indian moviegoers towards animated films. Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama, however, gained acclaim thanks to the repeated telecasts on television.

That’s something that is going to be replicated once again with streamers also being added on with the remastered version, disclosed Masaya Kaneko, the promotion producer, once MIFF and premium screenings are done. “In parallel, we are also looking for cinema companies and film distributors in different regions who would like to screen the film in theatres.”

Source: Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama Official YouTube channel

Padma Shri Award winning animation artist Ram Mohan’s wife Sheila Rao will attend the screening. For her, it is a moment of pride and gratefulness.

“Mr. Ram Mohan was a gentle person with a quiet sense of humour who loved to draw. He went from science to cartoons on to animation where he can conceptualise and illustrate stories on a large scale or in small details. When he was sought out for the RAMAYANA this was epic, a dream come true. He kept working on every detail in spite of all hurdles. I am so grateful that, with all your efforts, this film will receive all the acclaim it will now get and possibly be of reference value where needed,” Rao said.

L-R:Yugo Sako and Ram Mohan (Source: Chetan Sharma)

Award winning animator (who is the co-founder and director of Animagic) Chetan Sharma began his career as a wide eyed 15 year old intern, working with the legend at Ram Mohan Biographics is quite kicked up about the film’s return.

“It is one of the most important works in animation with an Indian subject. I remember being really excited in the early nineties when I chanced upon a cover feature on the film in a Marathi monthly magazine! Ram yeto aahe animation madhye! It was fantastic,” said Sharma.

Recollecting his journey with utmost love, respect and nostalgia, he added: “I joined RMB soon after and actually watched the film at its premiere 25 years ago with Shri Ram Mohanji and while it was disheartening to see the lack of an audience in the theatre (due to no publicity) the film itself was glorious! It should have set an effective benchmark for Indian animation films but sadly most projects tackling similar or even the same subject fell far below the standard set here. This is because the makers of Ramayana were on a mission – to create something special – not just to make an animation film because of market reasons or ‘mythology sells’ etc.. This was important to the makers from both Japan and India because the intent behind making it  was genuine and sincere and that shows in every aspect of it. My humble pranaams to both Shri Yugo Sako and Shri Ram Mohan who would have both been elated at their work getting a new lease of life.”

Drawings done by Ram Mohan (Source: Chetan Sharma)

“It was a great moment for us to witness.The Art of Ramayan used to be up on the walls at RMB (RamMohan Biographics) and we marvelled at the quality of the film. We all looked forward to it as a landmark in Indian representation in the world of Animation,” said Animagic India director Gayatri Rao.

Shilpa Ranade who teaches Animation at IDC, IIT Bombay and is known for animated feature film for the Children’s Film Society of India, Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya, said, “A fitting tribute and milestone to honour Ram Mohan Sir’s legacy; the remastered film will continue to inspire young animators and audiences.”

Both Rama and Ram Mohan would definitely agree.