Chinese production studios Huayi Brothers Media and CKF Pictures have announced that they will collaborate on making a film out of Akira Kurosawa‘s unproduced screenplay The Mask of the Black Death. No director has yet been chosen, but the film is tentatively set for release in 2020.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe‘s 1842 short story The Masque of the Red Death, Kurosawa wrote The Mask of the Black Death screenplay in 1977, at a time when he was also working on scripts for Ran and Kagemusha. Kurosawa set the adaptation in fictional Russia, perhaps with the idea of offering the film to Russian producers who he had just collaborated with on Dersu Uzala. The screenplay greatly expands on Poe’s original story, imagining an apocalyptic world battling with a plague that threatens to wipe out mankind. In many ways, the script is tonally similar to Ran and Kagemusha, as well as Kurosawa’s later Dreams.
An English translation of the screenplay, which Anglicizes the characters’ names, has been available at the Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive (section 24.10) and has also been made available as pdf by Cinephilia and Beyond.
Whether the new film will be shot from this exact screenplay, if changes will be made, or if a later version by Kurosawa exists I do not know. Based on what Kurosawa writes at the beginning of the available screenplay, it was not intended as a finished work or even a first draft, but rather as “a recreation of Poe’s very short story ‘The Mask of the Red Death’.” Kurosawa continues by noting that “I am thinking of developing the personalities of the characters and the unfolding of the story even further and in newer directions than in this initial draft. I would like the result of this further expansion to be considered the scenario.” The document, which for a first pass has a surprisingly finished structure and strong visual ideas, is an intriguing example of what a Kurosawa project looked like at a very initial stage of its development.
As reported by China.org.cn, the Chinese producers Wang Zhonglei and Chen Kuo-Fu don’t have “great confidence in the commercial potential of the film”, which probably means that this will be a relatively low profile and low budget production. According to the producers, they “want to do the film out of respect for Akira Kurosawa’s legacy”.
This will not be the first time that Poe’s short story will be adapted on the big screen. Roger Corman’s 1964 adaptation starring Vincent Price is perhaps the best known example. It was later remade in 1989.
The news of The Mask of the Black Death comes a few months after it was announced that a script for a collaborative project between Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini will be turned into a film and a radio play.