Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

HBO Max is making a Rashomon TV show (but without any samurai)

Rashomon
Rashomon
Photo: Hulton Archive (Getty Images)

According to Deadline, HBO Max is developing a (loose) TV adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon from Captain Phillips writer Billy Ray, Mudbound co-writer Virgil Williams, and Amblin Television. In a somewhat odd turn, though, it sounds like this Rashomon won’t be an actual adaptation, but rather it will “retain the key plot device of the Kurasawa film”—or at least that’s how Deadline remembers it. (That’s a Rashomon joke.) Like the movie, the show will be about violent attack and “the unraveling mystery seen through multiple characters’ competing narratives,” but it will take place in “a modern setting” rather than pre-Feudal Japan and therefore won’t have a samurai or a big sword fight. So, in other words, it will be a lot like the many, many Rashomon-inspired works that have come along since Rashomon (like, say, Showtime’s The Affair), but with the added prestige of either actually having the rights to use the name Rashomon or simply the opportunity to officially acknowledge Rashomon in the credits.

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For those who have somehow made it this far in life without learning about the central conceit of the original Kurosawa film (or “In A Grove,” the 1922 Ryünosuke Akutagawa story it’s based on), Rashomon tells its story through multiple different contradictory perspectives, with each person lying about what they witnessed in order to make themselves look better before culminating in one, final “correct” interpretation that could easily just be another lie. Pretty much every TV show ever has done a Rashomon-style episode, from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Hanna Montana to Star Trek: The Next Generation and CSI. Movies do it too, like with the various portrayals of Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK or the conflicting flashbacks to Kylo Ren’s training in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (actually, a good chunk of Knives Out is pretty Rashomon, so Rian Johnson might just have a particular affinity for this trope).

The point is: Rashomon has been done many times in pop culture, but by officially invoking the name of the movie, HBO Max is seemingly setting itself up to have the definitive interpretation of the Rashomon structure, leaving us with no choice but to trust that it was the “correct” one. Is that a Rashomon joke? See, that’s the genius of it: We’ll never know for sure.

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