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Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ revisited

by Alex Martin

Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece “Rashomon” has undergone a makeover.

Digitally restored for the first time by a U.S.-Japan research team who spent six months repairing the movie’s 120,000 frames one by one, the new version featuring enhanced audiovisuals will be playing at Shinjuku’s Kadokawa Cinema from Saturday.

According to Yuniko Amano of Kadokawa Pictures, which owns the copyright to the film, the project initially kicked off last summer to be wrapped up this year in time to mark 10 years since the movie-legend’s death in 1998.

“We wanted to have it finished before we premiered the film at a Kurosawa retrospective held at the U.S. Academy Awards headquarters in September,” said Amano, who explained that the film has been stored at the National Film Center at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, since 1962, but has been suffering a deterioration in quality over the years.

The international team — led by Michael Pogorzelski, director of the U.S.-based Academy Film Archive and a leading authority in film restoration — used cutting-edge computer software to spot and repair damaged frames, as well as to clean out noise to give the film back its clear black-and-white visuals and crisp sound.

Akira Tochigi, curator of film at the National Film Center who supervised the project, said they had difficulty determining whether frames from fast moving scenes or rainfall were actually damaged or not.

“Another issue we had to deal with was the high-pitched noise that could be heard in the background,” Tochigi said, explaining that since the film incorporated simultaneous sound-recordings, anonymous noise from the movie set were included in the voice recordings.

“We told the American team that some of the noise came from a chorus of cicadas singing in the background, something they weren’t aware of,” he said.

A winner of the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, “Rashomon” is based on two stories written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and is widely credited for introducing Japanese cinema to audiences abroad, a few years prior to “Seven Samurai.”

The plot involves the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband, a samurai, retold by four witnesses in four contradicting accounts which leads viewers guessing as to where the truth of the incident lies.

“Rashomon” will be playing at the Kadokawa Cinema Shinjuku from Nov. 29 to Dec. 12. But there will be no English subtitles.