Amblin Television has optioned the rights to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, intending to adapt the film into a 10-episode series where one event is explored through multiple points of view, the truth slowly revealed for audiences in each character’s telling of the story.
“We couldn’t be more excited to adapt this extraordinary film as the foundation for a new dramatic mystery thriller series,” said Amblin’s co-presidents, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey (The Americans, The Haunting of Hill House). “It will explore the boundaries of truth and how different perspectives don’t often reveal the same reality.”
Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece Rashomon concerns the murder of a samurai, the rape of the samurai’s wife. Four different characters give wildly different accounts of the incident at trial: the wife, a bandit, a woodcutter testify - even the slain husband weighs in via medium. Only the woodcutter, a bystander to the incident, gives a remotely honest report, revealing the other three characters to be more cowardly and less honorable than their stories suggested. Rashomon starred Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune in one of his best performances. It’s iconic, insanely influential, and considered by many to be the Platonic ideal of filmmaking.
Mark Canton of Atmosphere said, “We feel this storytelling approach and the way it explores truth and reality is especially timely in today’s world.” Frank and Falvey, as well as Canton (Power), Atmosphere’s David Hopwood, and Opus 7’s Leigh Ann Burton are the show’s executive producers, but without really knowing the talent involved, it’s impossible to know exactly how the show will shake out. One thing that’s for sure, though: even if it’s great, it can’t possibly live up to Rashomon.
The real mystery here is why the show’s executive producers would option the rights to the film unless they’re doing a straight remake. And if they are, why would they do that? They’re fucking with the ghosts of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Considering no one owns the rights to a multiple-POV approach to storytelling, they’re likely using Rashomon like a brand, a familiar title, rather than taking a risk by launching an original property. If the series follows its source material closely, the outcome could be downright sacrilegious, and they’ll be contending with thorny material, i.e. the rape of Masako (Machiko Kyô). They’re also courting a possible whitewashing controversy, depending on how they handle - or bungle - casting and adapting the details of Rashomon. Plus, it seems as if they plan on more than one season, which makes a legit remake even weirder.
Another Rashomon adds to the modern-day glut of riffs and remakes. Rashomon itself has been remade, riffed on, spoofed, and homaged countless times. Sidney Lumet made a Rashomon TV movie in 1960. Martin Ritt adapted it as a western called The Outrage starring Paul Newman, William Shatner, and Edward G. Robinson. Demme did a biker reworking of Rashomon called Angels Hard as they Come with Gary Busey and a real Chuck Norris-looking Scott Glenn. And it’s obligatory for every television show since 1950 to air at least one episode inspired by Rashomon. Everyone’s done it, including The Simpsons, The X-Files, All in the Family, Mama’s Family, and CSI (this episode is regrettably titled “Rashomama”). They even coined the term “the Rashomon effect.” What’s been established, at least, is that the plot device works, and part of the beauty of Rashomon is that the story is universal and flexible, easily translated into different genres, media, and cultures. But any attempt to ape Rashomon is an affront to god, a.k.a. Kurosawa.
Depending on the showrunner, writers, and actors, it could be wonderful. If the talent is stacked, I’ll be watching. Canton isn’t wrong about the show’s timeliness: subjective reality, memory, and truth are themes worth exploring and questioning, as evidenced by Lee Chang-dong’s mysterious Burning or Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma just this year. Rashomon itself was an adaptation of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s story “In a Grove,” and some of the film’s loose remakes have been solid in their own right. But it’s hubris to think anyone could improve on Akira Kurosawa’s creation or Toshiro Mifune’s performance. Maybe we don’t need to invoke Kurosawa’s unsurpassable work whenever a narrative plays with perspective. We’re only setting ourselves up for disappointment.