Yugo Sako's Ramayan Odyssey

A Japanese director has devoted his life to animating the Hindu epic. But is Hollywood ready for Prince Ram?

BY: Lavina Melwani

 

After eight months of negotiations, Japanese producer and director Yugo Sako thought he had achieved the near-mythic--a contract with a major Hollywood studio to release his animated, feature-length version of the

Ramayana

to U.S. audiences. Sako's movie, "Prince of Light: The Legend of Ramayana," had already received acclaim abroad as "The Warrior Prince." Now moviegoers would see the action-packed, award-winning film in multiplexes across America.



Imagine, if you will, the merchandising possibilities alone: the shelves of Toys 'R' Us stocked with plastic Prince Ram figurines; an endless array of stuffed and cuddly Hanuman dolls; and of course, souvenir Coke cups emblazoned with the very svelte Princess Sita or the very wicked Ravana, available at your local McDonald's. What Star Wars had been to earlier generations of American kids, Ramayana hoped to become--a timeless tale of good and evil, a dazzling adventure movie with a moral epicenter.

Then came the sticky part: The studio wanted to change the story, sending Ram and Sita into the forest for their honeymoon and doing away with the whole story of vanwas or Sita's banishment. Recalls Krishna Shah, the co-producer of the film, "I said if I was to do that there would be a fatwa on my head! They wanted to do it as a straight adventure story. I told them it was a very sacred epic--you don't mess with it. How could we change Valmiki's text?" he asked, in deference to the original scribe. "Yugo would not agree nor could I. It was against our sensitivities."

And so the filmmakers and studio parted ways, the latest development in a process that has itself been epic. The director has traveled to India 60 times and devoted a decade of his life and over $13 million in bringing this immortal story to the big screen.

This version of the Ramayana evokes the fantasy and action-adventure genres, making a spiritual epic accessible to today's moviegoers. It skillfully combines the techniques of Manga, the Japanese school of animation, with Indian classical painting as represented by Ram Mohan, the leading animator in India. As the filmmakers note, they've lifted the story right out of its historic setting and delivered it slap-bang into today's world.

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