Nearly 70 years after receiving one of the first Oscar honors for international film, cinephile staple Rashomon is getting some more love from the Academy. Members and Oscar-nominated writers Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Virgil Williams (Mudbound) are scripting an adaptation of the Akira Kurosawa masterpiece, and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment is producing.
The fact that Rashomon is top of mind for filmmakers is no surprise. Since winning at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, the classic has enjoyed nearly immovable global acclaim. Quite reliably, Rashomon can be found on film school syllabi and critics’ best-ever lists.
What is surprising, though, is the format of the upcoming adaptation: the drama will not be a feature but a 10-episode series for HBO Max.
Some film purists might cry outrage, but let it be known that the project is more of an homage to, rather than a direct remake of, Rashomon. And that’s probably for the better. Like the 1950 original, this new Rashomon will focus on the recounting of one crime from the (greatly varying) perspective of four witnesses. But the series will be set in the modern day, avoiding some of its predecessor’s outdated gender representations as well as the pressure to measure up as a retelling of the same story. Instead, the distinctive narrative structure will serve as a compelling framework for contemporary themes, and each season will focus on a new crime.
The Academy has always had a thing for Rashomon. After winning the pioneering international Oscar in 1952 (it was the first non-European film to do so), Rashomon made a rare reappearance at the next year’s show, then being recognized for its stunning black-and-white art direction. Decades later, an honorary Oscar—presented by Spielberg, in fact—was awarded to director Akira Kurosawa in proper recognition of a stunning career. And decades later again, the Academy Film Archive oversaw a 2008 Rashomon restoration project, leading to the crisp quality feature you can now enjoy on the Criterion Channel.