Friday, October 24, 2008

Akutagawa's short story: In a Grove

One of Kurosawa's best known films is Rashomon, the story of a rape and death from three different points of view: the husband, the wife, and the bandit. Kurosawa adapted this film from two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, considered by some to be one of Japan's top writers in the 20th century.

The film was remade in 1964. The director is Martin Ritt, and the cast of characters includes Paul Newman as the bandit, Laurence Harvey as the husband, Claire Bloom, as the wife. In the frame, Edward G. Robinson plays the role of the con man/thief and William Shatner (Capt Kirk of Star Trek fame) is the preacher. Unfortunately, I've been unable so far to find a copy of this film on DVD. It would be fascinating to see what Hollywood did with this gem by Kurosawa.

The core of the film's story is based on Akutagawa's short story, "The Grove" (aka "The Cedar Grove," "The Willow Grove," "In a Grove," or "The Bamboo Grove").  The film's title comes from another short story by Akutagawa, "Rashomon," which provides the setting for the film's frame of the three men telling the story in an abandoned town gate. The gate does exist, according to all accounts that I've read.

In a collection of Akutagawa's short stories, Rashomon and 17 Other Stories, Jay Rubin, who translated the stories and provided notes for them, says that Akutagawa's inspiration for "The Grove" and for "Rashomon" came from tales from the 12th century. I'm presently searching for those now.

Rubin, however, goes on to say that another source for "The Grove" might be a short story by Ambrose Bierce, of whom Akutagawa was an enthusiastic supporter. This story, "The Moonlit Road," I was able to find on the internet.

Bierce's story is told in the form of separate statements by each of the three--the Son, the Father, and the Mother, whose tale had to be told through a medium since she had been murdered.

The commonalities between Bierce's tale and Akutagawa's are twofold. First, the format is the same as both tell the story in the form of separate statements by various individuals involved in the incident. There is no interplay among those making the statements.  Secondly, the last statement in both stories has to be told through a medium or shaman (in the Japanese version) because the individual is dead at the time of the telling of the story. It is this person's death that is the mystery that is to be resolved by the various statements.

I don't know, just now, the importance of Bierce's tale, "The Moonlit Road," for Akutagawa's story, but I'm curious enough to attempt to find the 12th century source for "The Grove." Perhaps that might provide some clues. Besides, it's always interesting to read the source for a particular work and see just what the later author did with the original material.

Rashomon is a great film, and I recommend it highly. The short stories are also quite good, both Akutagawa's and Bierce's.


  1. Why didn't this one get a "film adaptation" tag?

  2. Coach Paul,

    Good question. Just didn't think of it. Thanks for the reminder. I shall add it.

  3. This post caused me to go out and get "Rashomon and Other Stories". Mine only had four stories other than Rashomon and In a Grove. :-( So if anybody else is so moved, look for the edition with more stories.

  4. Coach Paul,

    Yes, there are at least two collections of Akutagawa's short stories out now. My first one was the one with only six stories. I found the second one, _Rashomon and 17 Other Stories_, just recently on

    Of the eighteen stories, only three are found in the edition with six stories: "In a Grove," "Rashomon," and "Dragon."


    a link to the film

    hope this is useful.


    a link to the film
    hoping it's rlevant still and of use to anyone.