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Intertextuality in Kurosawa's Film Adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot

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    Vili Maunula

    There’s a new downloadable Kurosawa article by Saera Yoon titled Intertextuality in Kurosawa’s Film Adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot that is available through CLCWeb, Purdue University’s online journal of comparative literature and culture.

    Here is the abstract:

    In her article, “Intertextuality in Kurosawa’s Film Adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot” Saera Yoon analyzes the role intertextuality plays in the adjustments Akira Kurosawa made when he translated the classic novel by Dostoevsky onto screen. Kurosawa’s 白痴 (Hakuchi), a film adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, has been the subject of mixed reviews. While some consider the film a successful adaptation that captures the spirit of the original, others criticize Hakuchi for its overly faithful rendition of the novel. What has been missing is an investigation of Kurosawa’s filmic strategy. Yoon examines the transposition of a chronotope — the spatial move from the center to the periphery and the treatment of the time setting — and suggests that Hakuchi is no simple modernization of the novel, but a work in which we can see how Kurosawa fleshes out his own interpretation of a tragic journey. In so doing, it becomes apparent that Kurosawa rationalizes the polyphonic novel and attempts to create a new kind of melodrama.

    I haven’t read it yet, but it looks quite interesting.



    Thank you for this! I read the article and found it interesting and mostly enlightening, although I think some of the differences are less important than the author seems to think.

    She doesn’t make much of what’s in the book that Kurosawa leaves out. Perhaps this is due to the assumption that some of it is in what’s been excised from the film, but it’s fairly clear that the hangers-on, for example, have been left out entirely. Dostoevsky spends a lot of time on them even though the only purpose they serve is to further illustrate Myshkin’s character and to depict the kind of lowlife hangers-on that lived on the fringes of society in St. Petersburg at the time. They don’t advance the main narrative nor do they propel any narrative of their own, and I, for one, am grateful that Kurosawa left them out. It’s one of the strengths of his adaptation.

    I happen to be one of those who think this is a vastly underrated film and that the movie holds together well after the first half-hour or so, suggesting that the studio’s cuts aren’t as harmful as they’ve been depicted. The fact that Russians like his adaptation while others don’t suggests to me that what most others have a problem with is the story itself, not Kurosawa’s adaptation or the way the studio edited it.




    The fact that Russians like his adaptation while others don’t suggests to me that what most others have a problem with is the story itself, not Kurosawa’s adaptation or the way the studio edited it.

    I think this is very true. I have to confess here that I really struggle with Russian literature and film – I couldn’t even finish reading The Idiot, and thats not unusual for me every time I try to read some Russian ‘great’ novels and films (Tarkovsky leaves me completely cold for some reason). Turgenev is the only Russian writer I’ve liked, and thats maybe because I prefer short stories. The themes and preoccupations of Dostoevsky (or to be precise, the manner in which he explores them) just don’t interest me very much, and I suspect I’m not alone in this. This is probably why I love individual scenes in Hakuchi, but not the film as a whole.



    I haven’t read a lot of Russian authors — only Dostoevsky’s four longest novels and Gogol’s “The Overcoat” — but clearly there is something in Dostoevsky that appeals to me. The Idiot and The Demons/The Possessed need some editing; both suffer from a divided vision between his depiction of a neuroatypical (Myshkin in The Idiot, Stavrogin in The Demons/The Possessed) and his depiction of the society around him and its politics. But Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, the latter of which is my favorite novel ever, are masterpieces, though not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. Not coincidentally, they’re the only novels of his that were assigned for the college course I took on Dostoevsky.

    Then there’s The Lower Depths, which I like very much and which I understand is close to a word-by-word version of the play. As for Russian directors, the only one whose movies I’ve seen is Eisenstein. I hadn’t heard of Tarkovsky until recently.

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