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A chance to witness a restored 'Rashomon'

September 16, 2008|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

It's a film so profound that it changed the way we talk about truth and perception.

Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's 1950 masterpiece, "Rashomon," involves the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband from the different accounts of four witnesses, including the rapist. The movie's inventive narrative comments on the subjective nature of memory, hence the term "Rashomon effect."

Now, almost 60 years after "Rashomon" won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as an honorary Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is premiering a restoration of the film Thursday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Times movie critic Kenneth Turan will host a discussion on Kurosawa before the screening.

Subsequently, five more of the filmmaker's Academy Award nominees and winners -- "Kagemusha," "Seven Samurai," "Ran," "Yojimbo" and "Dersu Uzala" -- will screen Friday and Saturday evenings at the Goldwyn and Linwood Dunn theaters through Oct. 4.

The screening series coincides with the academy's latest exhibition, "Akira Kurosawa: Film Artist," in its two galleries. The exhibition, which begins Friday and continues for the next three months, features the late director's original artwork, posters, scripts, memos, photographs and even his trademark sunglasses.

"Rashomon" was restored by the Academy Film Archive in association with the Kadokawa Culture Promotion Foundation and the Film Foundation. The original nitrate negative of the film had been destroyed in Japan in the 1970s after the government passed a law forbidding storage of the combustible nitrate. So a worldwide search began to find any surviving film elements.

"Criterion had put out a DVD that had been made from a fine-grain negative . . . but it hadn't been made from the original negative," says academy archivist Mike Pogorzelski. "I was expecting to see a really long list of archives of elements, but there weren't that many copies."

The National Film Center in Tokyo had made a print in 1962 when the original camera negative still existed. And as far as Pogorzelski could tell, the print hadn't been used. "It became apparent that this print was as close to the original negative as we were going to get."

However, when the film center made the print, the original negative was in bad shape because it had been used frequently. Not only were their dings, scratches, dust and dirt on the frames, the negative was beginning to shrink and warp, so one side of the frame was in focus while the other was fuzzy. The only way to correct the problems built into the print was digitally.

But before they could even taken it to Lowry Digital in Burbank for its frame-by-frame restoration, they had to find a few missing frames from the 1962 print. Luckily, the negative Criterion had used for its DVD had those missing frames.

While the academy archive was restoring "Rashomon," academy programmer Ellen Harrington was working on a Kurosawa exhibition.

The fall of 2008 was chosen for the exhibition, says Harrington, not only because of the archive's completion of "Rashomon" but also because September marks the 10th anniversary of the filmmaker's death. "And in two years, it will be his centennial," she says. "It seemed like a good time."

The exhibition features more than 100 of his original preproduction drawings and paintings -- both pencil drawings and color paintings -- his art supplies, calligraphy sets, annotated screenplays, props, hand-painted costumes from "Ran," samurai helmets, correspondence, film clips, photographs, posters and marketing material.

In addition, Martin Scorsese is lending the exhibition 10 drawings that Kurosawa gave him to help him prepare for his role as Vincent van Gogh in Kurosawa's 1990 film "Dreams."

"From the beginning he was always a fine artist and a well-trained artist," Harrington says of Kurosawa. "He never stopped drawing and conceptualizing on paper throughout his career."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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Academy Salute to Akira Kurosawa

Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Price: $3 to $5

Contact: www.oscars.org/events; (310) 247-3600

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Akira Kurosawa: Film Artist

Where: The academy's Grand Lobby and Fourth Floor Galleries, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

When: Friday through Dec. 14. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, noon-6 p.m. weekends. Closed Nov. 27-30.

Price: Free

Contact: www.oscars.org; (310) 247-3600

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