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Runaway Train (Kurosawa’s Original Script)

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    Christopher

    Is this available anywhere online to read? I would like to know how different it is from the 1985 Konchalovsky film, and if there is any chance this might be (re)made – much like “The Sea Is Watching”, “Dora-Heita”, and “After the Rain” – using the original script.

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    Vili Maunula

    The Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive used to have a digital copy of the original Japanese script, but unfortunately the archive has since closed. I don’t think the English translation has been circulating

    It would definitely be interesting to see someone film the original script!

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    Christopher

    I wonder who he would have cast in the film if it had been made in 1967 or so? I’m thinking Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood or Steve McQueen would have been good. Eastwood and McQueen owed their stardom largely to remakes of Kurosawa’s films anyway, so that would have been nice to see the favor returned. This is the one unmade film by Kurosawa that really pains me, because he was at the height of his powers at the time and I think it would have been quite a film.

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    Vili Maunula

    I wonder who he would have cast in the film if it had been made in 1967 or so?

    Stuart Galbraith IV (page 445) mentions Variety as having reported at the time that Lee Marvin would likely have played Manny, while Henry Fonda was attached to play Charlie, a character who I think became Sara in Konchalovsky’s version. I haven’t seen mention of who would have appeared in the role of Buck.

    While those names are magazine speculation, the cast must certainly have been selected since Kurosawa cancelled the production so late in pre-production. Hiroshi Tasogawa (page 52) writes that this happened on November 15 1966, only a month before the planned start of shooting. The American producers had already scheduled a 40-day shoot and assembled a crew of 130, including the two-time Oscar winner Haskell Wexler as the cinematographer. The cast announcement was apparently “imminent”, but Tasogawa doesn’t mention or speculate who might have been revealed as the leads.

    Kurosawa’s late career could definitely have been very different had this film been made successfully. Its a pity we never got to see how it would have turned out.

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    NoelCT

    It’s interesting that Lee Marvin was in the running for the film, given that he went on to make Emperor of the North a few years later. A film I highly recommend. While a very different plot than Runaway Train, it’s a solid script, masterfully directed by Robert Aldrich, and has a power and thematic depth that very much makes it a worthy companion piece to this film.

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    Ugetsu

    I first saw Runaway Train many years ago on TV and I was fascinated by it and I can still remember many scenes vividly. This was years before I got into Kurosawa. While it is unfortunate that we never got to see AK’s take on it, at least a good movie did come from the script.

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    NoelCT

    So by random happenstance, as I was digging around for my current Kurosawa re-rewatch, an acquaintance asked if I’d be interested in taking a look at Kurosawa’s original script for Runaway Train. In English! I was quite flabbergasted at this, but it turns out they have a completely copy in the archives at UCLA. I don’t have a copy I can share as I only had access to it, but it was a fascinating read, and confirms that about 70% of the finished film still comes from that script.

    In general:
    – The opening half hour in the prison and with the escape, that’s all added material from Edward Bunker. The script opens with Manny and Buck sneaking into the train yard and hopping onto the strung together quartet of engines, which take off due to a malfunction during maintenance. Them being escaped convicts is alluded to, but not actually revealed until the midpoint of the script.
    – The two are still largely portrayed as they are in the finished film, with Manny the bullying braggart and Buck the sincere meathead (a man and a buck, of course). Instead of ending with Manny taking his sacrificial stand on the train, he instead ends the story a meek coward, beaten down once Buck finally takes a stand against him.
    – It’s still set in winter, with snow and ice, and has people scrambling to clear the tracks so the train won’t smash into heavy snow. Instead of Alaska, it’s set in rural New York, with the ticking clock being the train running into the town of Lexington where a sharp curve would cause it to derail into homes. It doesn’t state what period this is set in, but reads like it’s contemporary to the late 60s.
    – As with the film, it cuts between the train and the control center as people are scrambling to clear all incoming traffic and find safe routes for the train to pass, as they discuss the ethics of whether or not to derail. While this would have been a different style of action for Kurosawa, it reminded me a lot of the later half of High and Low, as we’re following both the perpetrator and the police investigation.
    – The film added the train plowing into another, causing the front car to be mangled and damaged. It also added the silly thread of the warden chasing after them in a helicopter.
    – The Rebecca De Mornay character was originally a man named Charlie, but is otherwise largely the same role. He’s a simple guy who was eating his lunch on the train to avoid the bullying of his co-workers when it took off. He and Buck forge a bond along the way and stand up against Manny together.
    – Much of the same plot unfolds, with them working their way up the train, shutting off one car after another, only to have difficulty in reaching the front car. Instead of the mangled damage, there’s a hatch entrance they don’t know about, and the control room has a train pass them with a note written across the side of its car.
    – It ends with them stopping the train. Charlie urges Buck to make a run for it, but Buck looks at the sniveling Manny and decides not to run anymore, so Charlie watches as the two are taken back into custody.
    – There’s a fun thread where Buck snatched a guitar along the way, and starts working on a song about the passing towns and people from the point of view of the train. At the end, the script has the credits playing over the finished song.

    So yeah, a good majority of what was in that script is still in the finished film. The narrow misses. The bridge that might collapse. Company politics against a pending disaster. Lots of arguments, with a pure heart vs cruel machismo. So much ice. I’m actually quite delighted that we can still sincerely credit much of it to Kurosawa, Kikushima, and Oguni, and am super thankful to have gotten the opportunity.

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