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The New Rashomon Based TV Series Coming to HBO Max

Back in 2018, I wrote about news that the Steven Spielberg founded production company Amblin Television had acquired television rights to Akira Kurosawa’s film classic Rashomon. There hasn’t been much news about the project since, but now a new press release announces that the project has landed at HBO Max for further development.

The series will not be a direct adaptation of the source film, but apparently still revolves around a murder and sexual assault that is seen through multiple competing points of view. The production team consists of industry veterans whose backgrounds include films and shows like The Americans, 300 and Den of Thieves, while the writing duties are shared by the silver screen screenwriter Bill Ray whose credits include Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games and Terminator: Dark Fate, and the television veteran Virgil Williams who has written and produced shows like 24, ER and Criminal Minds. All in all, the show should be in great hands.

The press release also emphasises the upcoming show’s relationship with Kurosawa’s original film, quoting the writing partners saying that “Our partnership on ‘Rashomon’ is based on our mutual pledge to make every single episode, every scene, and every character of this show a loving homage to Kurosawa’s talent as an artist. That’s our true north.”

And even Kurosawa Productions seems to be involved on some level, or at least the press release quotes Akira Kurosawa’s son and Kurosawa Productions president Hisao Kurosawa as saying that he is: “delighted to work with Amblin Partners and HBO Max to reimagine Rashomon for today’s audience. I am excited to see my dad’s vision through this inspirational story kept alive and made accessible to a new generation.”

No word yet on when the show will be released, but this one looks like something to keep an eye on!





I’ve just finished watching a Japanese series on Netflix, and its only a week after finishing that it suddenly occurred to me that it was essentially Rashomon as an urban romantic drama!

Its from 2017, and called The Many Faces of Ito in English, Ito from A to E in more direct translation – its based on a novel by Asako Yuzuki. Its billed on Netflix as a romantic comedy, but its neither romantic nor particularly funny, I’d describe it more of a high concept drama. Two of the main characters are scriptwriters, so part of the theme is clearly the way fiction and stories and real life intersect.

In broad outline (some spoilers ahead), the series follows Rio Yazaki, a thirtysomething screenwriter who found fame with a mega hit a few years previously with a drama about contemporary young women and their love lives in Tokyo, but has since been struggling with writers block. Her agent persuades her to set herself up as a celebrity agony aunt – she reluctantly agrees, thinking she may get inspiration from the stories sent in. She becomes intrigued by four letters sent in to her by women (she labels them A to D), all about their relationships with a man called Ito – its not obvious to her, or the viewers, if this Ito is the same man, although we know from all the stories that he’s a failed scriptwriter and not exactly a great catch.

She calls each of the women in to talk to them over tea in turn – ostensibly to help them out, but really she just wants to see if the stories interest her. The series then follows each of the stories told by the women – but Yazaki is not a passive listener, she gives each of them quite bad advice, to see if this provokes something more interesting for her upcoming script. In each of the stories ‘Ito’ is played by a different male actor – we are never quite sure if its the same man, each ‘Ito’ being quite a different character depending on the story told by the woman involved, or if its different because we see the story through Yazaki’s eyes, or if indeed these are different men, just having the same name. To add in complications, it later appears that Yazaki herself may actually know this Ito (the ‘E’ of the title turns out to be Yazaki herself).

Its an intriguing series (it led to a follow-up TV film, but I haven’t seen it), but I’m not sure I’d recommend it as anything but a curiosity. Its well made and quite high concept for this type of drama (i.e. different actors playing the same role), and the actors are generally very good. I confess to finding myself disliking all the characters, I’m not sure if they were deliberately dislikable or I just missed something cultural. I found the ending a bit confusing, I suspect the writer had simply run out of ideas and didn’t really know how to roll it up (spoiler alert: It turns out that Ito may well be much nastier and more manipulative than we’ve guessed through the series). Although again, I may well have missed something cultural within the story, so those with better Japanese may get more out of it.

Anyway, it should certainly join the list of those TV series that clearly take Rashomon as their starting point, and it follows the template of four different stories, each of which may or may not be accurate depending on which subjective viewpoint you choose to believe to be the truth. Unfortunately, reading the source book is way beyond my Japanese ability now, but from the Wikipedia entry for the author, she seems to have used the ‘four interlocking stories about the same people’ structure before, and it may be that the Rashomon use of differing subjective viewpoints was the idea of the screenwriter and was not part of the novels structure.

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