Akira Kurosawa’s Adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death Finally in Production, Coming in 2020

The film­mak­ers we most respect tend not to stop work­ing until the very end, and so almost always leave pieces of incom­plete projects behind. Stan­ley Kubrick did, giv­ing Steven Spiel­berg the chance to pick up where his elder col­league left off on the sci-fi dra­ma A.I.: Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence. That film began in the late 1970s as an adap­ta­tion of Bri­an Ald­iss’ short sto­ry “Super­toys Last All Sum­mer Long,” but over the decades became some­thing more tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex, and — giv­en Spiel­berg’s involve­ment — more emo­tion­al. What, now, will emerge from the res­ur­rec­tion of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa’s The Mask of the Black Death, a sim­i­lar­ly unmade adap­ta­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”?

“Chi­nese stu­dios Huayi Broth­ers and CKF Pic­tures will pro­duce the film based on the late Japan­ese filmmaker’s screen­play,” report­ed Indiewire’s Yoselin Aceve­do last week. “He start­ed pen­ning the film right after his 1975’s Der­su Uza­la.

Orig­i­nal­ly, the project was sup­posed to be filmed in 1998, but was shelved after Kuro­sawa suf­fered a stroke, and lat­er died that same year.” Kuro­sawa intend­ed to set his ver­sion of “The Masque of the Red Death” in Rus­sia, where he’d made Der­su Uza­la, and in an ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry when, accord­ing to a Cinephil­ia & Beyond post fea­tur­ing an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the screen­play, “human­i­ty is faced with a dead­ly con­ta­gion, and people’s char­ac­ters, resilience and sur­vival are being test­ed as the soci­ety is pushed well into the brinks of despair and pos­si­ble anni­hi­la­tion.”

“The ‘Red Death,’ ” wrote Poe, “had long dev­as­tat­ed the coun­try. No pesti­lence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.” A prince of this unnamed land sum­moned “a thou­sand hale and light-heart­ed friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclu­sion of one of his castel­lat­ed abbeys,” lav­ish­ly sup­plied behind its tight­ly barred doors. “With such pre­cau­tions the courtiers might bid defi­ance to con­ta­gion. The exter­nal world could take care of itself. In the mean­time it was fol­ly to grieve, or to think.” But months lat­er, at the stroke of mid­night dur­ing one of the prince’s mas­quer­ade balls, a “masked fig­ure which had arrest­ed the atten­tion of no sin­gle indi­vid­ual before” makes itself seen, pro­vok­ing “a buzz, or mur­mur, expres­sive of dis­ap­pro­ba­tion and sur­prise — then, final­ly, of ter­ror, of hor­ror, and of dis­gust.”

One imag­ines that such a milieu, as any­one who’s seen the omi­nous rev­el­ry on dis­play in Eyes Wide Shut, might have appealed to Kubrick as well. It cer­tain­ly appealed to pro­lif­ic “B‑movie” pro­duc­er Roger Cor­man, the man respon­si­ble for a 1964 adap­ta­tion star­ring Vin­cent Price and anoth­er 25 years lat­er star­ring Adri­an Paul from High­lander. But Kuro­sawa, a film­mak­er who showed a strong the­mat­ic inter­est in the upper class­es’ dis­re­gard for the rest of soci­ety in every­thing from katana-and-top­knots peri­od pieces like Sev­en Samu­rai to mod­ern-day crime sto­ries like High and Low, could have done Poe’s chill­ing Goth­ic tale spe­cial jus­tice. As for whether Huayi Broth­ers and CKF Pic­tures can do jus­tice to Kuro­sawa’s vision, his fans will find out in 2020 — per­haps walled tight­ly up in their home the­aters with his clas­sic pic­tures until then.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aki­ra Kurosawa’s Advice to Aspir­ing Film­mak­ers: Write, Write, Write and Read

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa & Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez Talk About Film­mak­ing (and Nuclear Bombs) in Six Hour Inter­view

When Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Watched Solaris with Andrei Tarkovsky: I Was “Very Hap­py to Find Myself Liv­ing on Earth”

William S. Bur­roughs Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”

Down­load The Com­plete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Macabre Sto­ries as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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