Samurai tale comes to life

Apart from Godzilla movies and anime, Akira Kurosawa’s samurai period pieces are what most of us tend to associate with Japanese film.

Kurosawa was not only one of the most influential filmmakers in history, but his early film Rashomon introduced an entirely new narrative technique by using flashbacks and conflicting vantage points of the same event to tell a story.

In the 1951 film, often credited as the reason the Academy Awards created the best foreign film category, a woman is raped and her samurai husband killed while walking in the woods together in ancient Japan. Rashomon offers the audience four different viewpoints of the incident – the wife’s, the suspect’s, a witness’s and, through a medium, even the dead husband’s – with each revealing a little more detail to determine what happened.

However, you probably wouldn’t guess the subject matter was so dark if you happened to wander into the Burnaby Mountain Secondary studio theatre during a rehearsal, where the high-spirited cast was busy crossing swords, running lines and trying to figure out how to wear a kimono while also hiding protective kneepads when the Burnaby NOW stopped by.

Quinn Johnson, left, crosses swords with Daniel Gorodetsky while rehearsing a scene from Rashomon. (Larry Wright photo)

There’s certainly no shortage of interest in theatre arts at the school, which allowed director Felicity Rudolph to have two entirely different casts for the play – partly out of necessity.

“We double cast it because we had to really,” said the drama teacher, who headed off to Ottawa last week with her young charges after qualifying for the national improv tournament. “Usually we have someone who can fill in, but you can’t do that with a sword fight. I have to protect the cast.”

It’s one thing for an understudy to step in for a main lead for a night, but quite another to have a student who hasn’t fully rehearsed the fight scenes get whacked upside the head with a metal samurai sword, and so Rudolph opted to go with two entirely different sets of actors.

Daniel Gorodetsky, who plays the villain, said learning to use the swords was an interesting challenge.

“It’s fun,” said the Grade 12 student, who hopes to study journalism after graduating. “It can get intimidating sometimes, especially at the very beginning when we first brought out the metal swords after practising with wooden swords. We had a stage combat guy (Harvey Ostroff) come in – he was awesome, and all you see has been choreographed by him.”

Costume designer Jordon Binotto, who shares the same role with Gorodetsky, said he didn’t find learning the sword fighting moves came easily.

“Gosh no,” he said with a laugh. “The others were way better at it than me.”

He added that while the subject matter is quite grim, there is nothing that should alarm worried parents.

“It is definitely mature content, but you’re so involved in the scene, instead of it being shocking, it is just a natural progression of the story,” said Binotto. “Plus it’s not really explicit on the stage. Thanks to Ms. Rudolph’s direction, all the more mature parts are off-stage and suggested except for the kiss, which of course happens all the time!”

Just Bermudez plays the role of The Medium, who channels the spirit of the slain samurai in Rashomon. (Larry Wright photo)

While people may already be familiar with the classic film, Rudolph said the play, which is based more closely on the original 1915 short story the movie is, also has a different ending than Kurosawa’s version.

“There’s a lot of backstory in the play that isn’t in the movie,” she said.

Rashomon runs at Burnaby Mountain Secondary School on May 4 to 6 and May 12 to 14. Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for adults. Showtime is 7 p.m. For more information or to reserve in advance, call 604-664-8552.

(This story was first published April 23, 2011. © Copyright (c) Burnaby Now)
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