Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Books and films

Tagged: ,

  •   link

    Vili Maunula

    I have moved the following from this thread, as it no longer seemed to have much to do with the main topic of that thread.

    Coco: Everyone has their favorites bookshelf-either a real one or one made of memories, and mine actually does include the Narnia series, (with some reservations-there’s some repellent, sexist stuff in Lewis that makes me cringe, and his brand of Christianity constricts my ability to breathe-and wow that sounds harsh, but I also take great delight in certain images in his work. I find it strange and interesting that, for example, the sea forms some kind of end-to-mortality-edge-of-faith thing that it does in Tolkien’s imagination, and wonder if that is generational and relevant to the World Wars and North America, or if it is indicative of an island nation mentality, generally?). I read Narnia much after my initial readings of Tolkien, and reluctantly at first, (I did not want to betray Tolkien) then, gladly, once I got into them. I went on to read more deeply into the Lewis canon, including the Great Divorce (which brought to mind William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell-an unfortunate comparison for Lewis, as I am wild about Blake’s poetry, and his delicious illuminations and prints).

    I don’t feel like evaluating the qualities of either Tolkien’s or Lewis’ minds, and enjoy them both as part of the histori-pop canon, but since we are talking about adaptations of the written word in Macbeth, LOTR and Lion, Witch and Wardrobe, I will go out on a limb and say that, as films, Throne and LOTR succeed quite well for me. I’m not interested in the point-to-point comparison of written word to film-in fact, I think that LOTR reminds me that in popular culture at least, a film can be every bit as vital as a book, and can take huge liberties with the text. The really surprising thing is that Throne succeeds as pop culture and as film art. Gotta give Kurosawa the kudos!

    It used to be my stance: “Yeah, I like the movie The Ten Commandments but the book is better”. (I think that is a mangled steal from Billy Crystal, whose “Where’s your messiah now?” impression of my distant cousin Edward G. Robinson in the movie makes me weak with delight.)

    “I like the movie but the book is better” used to be quite commonly stated. People often expressed disappointment with a film-and that’s shifted lately-people are accepting film on its own terms more. Imean, it is quite a new thing, isn’t it, that people don’t disparage the film? They seem to look at film differently. What does that signify? Are people less and less familiar with reading books? Or, are people much more savvy about film? (I think film used to suffer a bit from the same kind of attitudes that made photography once hold a position as lesser in some way than fine art. That’s been pretty much done away with. I see a big shift toward respect and appreciation of documentary photography in particular-and it reminds me that the current generation of young adults have a real interest in public service and social issues, at least in my neck of the woods. So, are people not reading or are they more willing to accept film on it’s own terms or what the heck?

    Talk amongst yourselves. I will read with great interest.

      link

    Jon Hooper

    “his brand of Christianity constricts my ability to breathe-and wow that sounds harsh, but I also take great delight in certain images in his work.”

    I can understand how someone today would find some of Lewis’ theology unsavoury. But it has to be put in context. Some of what he wrote is relatively liberal in comparison to some people of the time (or even some today). His rejection, for example, in the Great Divorce, of the traditional fire and brimstone vision of hell for a depiction of a hell as self-imposed exile, drawing on George MacDonald and Milton, is quite progressive in its way. He was not a fundamentalist, he realised that the Bible contains stories which are not necessarily literally true, and like Tolkien he celebrated the good stuff in paganism. His virtuous Mohammedan in The Last Battle (can’t remember the character name off hand but he clearly stands for a person of another faith, particularly a Muslim, who is good but who worships the wrong god) is actual quite radical an idea for its time. He is saying that non-Christians can get into heaven. Yes, he is going to offend some because the character in question is a thinly veiled Muslim, but how many other Christian writers would go so far? In many ways, actually, Tolkien was the more conservative of the two when it came to religious ideas. As for sexism? Well, there are a few instances of it, but I think it’s made tolerable by his depiction of strong female characters like Lucy and Jill. No one in the Chronicles is more virtuous than Lucy. That has to count for something. Compare Tolkien, where females are shunted off to the sidelines. No, not even Eowyn makes up for that.

    So, are people not reading or are they more willing to accept film on it’s own terms or what the heck?

    This is going to need more time to think about, but my first thought is that people are still reading, at least that’s my perspective as a teacher of English, and that the shift is because attitudes towards cinema have grown. I also think that there are some kinds of story – fantasy is the obvious example – which in the past were limited in their cinematic forms by inferior effects. Now, of course, they can do most anything. That said, as a kid I never remember being disappointed in any way by the monsters in, say, Ray Harryhausen films or even Doug McClure monster flicks. But back to the point…yes, people are more savvy about film. Is the book usually better than the film? It’s the standard response, but it isn’t always so. I prefer Apocalypse Now to Heart of Darkness myself, and frankly prefer Kurosawa’s Macbeth or Lear to Shakespeare’s. But with some, Lord of the Rings for example, you can just beat the old tome.

      link

    cocoskyavitch

    Hey Jon, thanks for your insight into readership and film. As you are a professor of English, you must have a closer sense of what people are reading.

    I tend to think you are right about the general understanding of film. People have become much more sophisticated. Now, my next question is…why? Can we give credit to the Criterion-style commentary tracks?

    (Finally, as just an aside-I agree that the whole Muslim character getting into “heaven” in the last book of the Narnia series is admirable. Thanks for that pleasant reminder. My irritation with Lewis is elsewhere.)

      link

    Jon Hooper

    Just a quick response – I don’t think it’s in any significant way down to the commentary tracks. I don’t know how many people listen to those in any case. Certainly if you are fond of a particular director and tend to do a lot of background reading you might listen and they might contribute to one’s understanding then. But I think people have become more sophisticated and film literate through experiencing film first hand, whereas commentaries, like criticism in a way, are at a level of remove. I have to give it more thought. It could be in some way to do with the availability of films now, online or on DVDs. By the way, I am in no way a professor of English, just a mere teacher – the equivalent of a high school teacher really. My kids are mostly quite young so they read Rowling, Tolkien, Lewis etc. But some do read books, at least as many as when I was young. And if you count the net then they probably do more reading than we ever did.

      link

    cocoskyavitch

    Jon, I am so pleased to know that your students are reading as much or more than we did!

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Coco raised some very interesting questions here, and it has taken me a few days to mull over them.

    Coco: “I like the movie but the book is better” used to be quite commonly stated. People often expressed disappointment with a film-and that’s shifted lately-people are accepting film on its own terms more.

    Maybe film adaptations are in a no-win situation here. The scope of a typical novel is so much wider, already because a book usually has anything between five and thirty hours of the reader’s time (or maybe you are faster readers than I am), while a movie has only somewhere between an hour and half and four hours at its disposal.

    Also, and perhaps even more importantly, it is easier to present complex ideas in written works since the reader always has the ability to pause, go back, and so on. Although the technology is there also with video releases, films are usually not intended to be watched in that manner.

    This is not to say that film adaptations cannot work. However, in order to make them work, screenwriters and directors will usually have to make many “streamlining” changes to the stories and the way they are presented. As a result, I feel that most of the actually successful adaptations become “based on” rather than real “adaptations of” the original work.

    Which is nothing to be ashamed of, of course. But it does lead to a situation where we as the audience perhaps perceive there to be no (or very few) good “real adaptations”, since most of the actually good adaptations have so considerably departed from the works they have been based on that we don’t really any more see them as versions of the original work.

    Kurosawa, for me, was a master of adaptations. This is not something that is very often stressed, however. Maybe because it is perceived that it would somehow take away from the image of him as an “auteur”?

    Coco: So, are people not reading or are they more willing to accept film on it’s own terms or what the heck?

    I would agree with Jon here — people are still reading. Not everyone is, of course, but then again that has never been the case.

      link

    Ugetsu

    Vili:

    Kurosawa, for me, was a master of adaptations. This is not something that is very often stressed, however. Maybe because it is perceived that it would somehow take away from the image of him as an “auteur”?

    Very good point. Its interesting that (from my reading) it is Shakesperean experts (as opposed to film critics) who are most impressed by ToB and Ran. They see him as having got to the root of the story in a way Welles, Polanski, etc., did not. I think we tend not to think of AK’s movies as adaptions simply because they are so good as cinema. Mind you, I think that the fact that he adapted ‘classic’ books and stories is one reason why some of the later generation of Japanese filmmakers disliked him so much (as Joan Mellon outlines in her book on Seven Samurai).

    I have noticed that some of my favorite golden era Japanese films were literary adaptions, although not being very well read I can’t say whether they are better or worse than the source novels. Naruse made some wonderful adaptions, I particularly love ‘Sound of the Mountain’. I believe that her contemporaries considered Natto Wada (partner of Kon Ichikawa) as being the best writer of adapted screenplays.

    I think William Goldman wrote that adaptions will always be inferior, simply because a screenplay is so much shorter than a typical novel, something is always lost on condensing a book. So maybe short stories are easier to use (my favorite literary adaption is John Heustons ‘The Dead’ from a short story by James Joyce).

    But maybe there are also structural reasons? Maybe a clue is in Richies theory of the difference between Japanese and Western film is that Japanese are presentational, while Western films are representational. i.e. that the ‘artificiality’ inherent in Japanese film makes them more suitable for literary or stage adaptions. Just a thought 😉

      link

    Ugetsu

    Oh, and to change the subject completely – a question for all of you (especially Lawless) about anime and manga, etc….

    Edit by Vili: “Changing the subject completely” works best by including the new subject in a brand new thread –> post moved here.

      link

    lawless

    Responding to Vili’s comments about Kurosawa as an adapter – maybe the critics have missed it, but it’s been evident to me, what with Ran and Throne of Blood being excellent adaptations that vary from but get to the heart of the themes of their Shakespearean sources. (Imagine what he might have done with Othello, perhaps without the racial aspect but with the jealousy?) Rashomon (not my favorite film of his) is also an adaptation of sorts. He also did well by The Lower Depths and some other adaptations I’ve yet to see (High and Low , The Idiot, which I know was hacked up by the studio, and Derzu Usala among them).

    Some people argue that Yojimbo was an adaptation but from what I’ve read that’s not true.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    I’m actually not so sure if the general consensus in Shakespeare criticism is that Kurosawa managed to bring Shakespeare onto the big screen better than anyone else. My experience has rather been that Kurosawa is loved by Shakespeare critics for his creativity with the source material — the way he, with ultimately quite minor changes, made those works truly his own, while still retaining some sort of a strong connection with the source text. This is, after all, what literary critics themselves do.

    But that, of course, is just my interpretation of Shakespeare criticism.

    And although I am almost completely ignorant of most of Kurosawa’s source texts (I think that altogether around half of his films are adaptations of others’ material, and many other films were based on actual events that Kurosawa heard about), from what I have read and seen, I would say that this is where Kurosawa’s strength as an “adaptor” lies — he not only makes the texts his own, but also has the uncanny ability to see what is needed to make them work on the big screen. This, I think, is something that also Coco mentioned in another thread.

    Actually, maybe we can hold this thought (not that we have to), and return to it next month when we discuss The Idiot, which is usually criticised for attempting to be too faithful to its source text.

    And Akira Kurosawa’s Othello? Wow. Now, that would have been interesting! Would that be Mifune as Othello and Nakadai as Iago, then? (Although my vote would actually go for Shimura as Iago — a very atypical casting choice, I know, but I somehow feel also a very interesting one.)

      link

    lawless

    I hadn’t gone so far as to think of casting, but yes, the natural impulse would be to cast Mifune as Othello. Personally, I think Shimura would be a better Iago than Nakadai. Nakadai’s naturally imposing and charismatic. I think of Iago as small and petty – kind of a higher class Uriah Heep. Shimura has a lot of acting range. Other possibilities: Kamitari Fujiwara (Manzo in Seven Samurai, the drunken actor in The Lower Depths) and Bokuzen Hidari (Yohei in Seven Samurai, the priest/pilgrim in The Lower Depths – I know he’s mostly a comic actor, but he was great in The Lower Depths and I think could easily play a slimy annoying character whose malevolence is overlooked or underestimated.).

      link

    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, if Wikipedia’s definition of film adaptation is used,

    “Film adaptation is the transfer of a written work to a feature film. It is a type of derivative work.”

    surely you’re right that to consider Kurosawa great at “adapting” as something that takes the luster of his “auteur” status.

    I also think that Kurosawa did more than just adapt. I think he made amazing cinema! His choices are stunning-in a way that parallels certain literary techniques, yet are wholly cinematic.

    I too would love to see Mifune in a Kurosawa Othello…!

      link

    NoelCT

    All of this talk of OTHELLO has me imagining Kurosawa approaching it in the loose, modernized way he did THE BAD SLEEP WELL, set post-WWII, with the lead being either a Japanese man who married an American woman, or an American who married a Japanese woman.

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)



Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!