Transcending Cultures: Exploring Universality in Art
Prof. Ariya Rajakaruna-Academician par excellence
Up-close and personal by Ranga Chandrarathne
Professor D. Ariya Rajakaruna
Pix by Ranga Chandrarathne
A proper education cannot be imparted only in the medium of Sinhalese
and the Sri Lankan system of education should be reversed to the
Colonial system of education says Professor Ariya Rajakaruna, commenting
on the lack of interest in Sinhala language and Fine Arts.
He is of the view that the future of Sinhala language and literature
is at stake as it is increasingly becoming useless in the face of
ever-shrinking employment opportunities for those who have been educated
only in the Sinhala medium.
In order to make a positive change towards infusing knowledge of
English into the universities and other educational institutions, a
broad-base discussion should have been started. However, so far Sri
Lankan society including the academics have failed even to commence such
a discussion. Such a discussion might take two, three years to come to a
settlement and the future is very bleak.
Commenting on censorship, he opined that it should be done by persons
who are familiar with various art forms. On the other hand, different
countries have rules governing the art forms. For instance, in Japan,
pubic hair cannot be displayed even in an artistic film.
Political interference will definitely affect artistic creations, and
the creativity of artists to a certain extent. However, it depends on
the nature of the work of art. For instance, Japanese film, Oshima's
"The Realm of Senses" which was not allowed to be shown in Japan was
shown in France as that rule is not applicable in France.
Observing on politically influenced censorship, Prof. Rajakaruna is
of the belief that politicians should consult experts in the respective
fields prior to making ad hoc decisions on the boundaries of arts and
culture albeit Sri Lanka does not possess such experts.
In order to promote and propagate serious literature, a positive
change should be brought about in the system of education.
Measures such as prescribing text books of reputed authors like
Martin Wickremesinghe, introducing films, screen-plays (even from other
countries) and translations of literary works such as Julius Caesar can
be taken at preliminary level. Short stories and short plays of serious
nature should also be introduced to the school curricula.
At university level, books should be prescribed for students to read
in the first, second and third years and the evaluation should also be
done in order to ascertain that the students have achieved the degree of
proficiency they are required of and library facilities and other
amenities should also be provided to facilitate the education.
Only after introducing these reforms into the system of education,
that Western drama can be introduced into primary classes.
Citing an example for teaching drama and music from Japanese
education, Prof. Rajakaruna states that, in Japan, for the last hundred
years, only Western music is included in the school curricula and not
Japanese Traditional Music.
He is of the view that it is of no use studying classical dramas such
as 'Caucasian Chalk Circle' (Hunuwataye Katawa) which had been a
prescribed text for Advanced Level syllabus, should never have been
recommended in East Germany at school level. It is obvious that students
should be familiar with Western traditional drama before studying
experimental drama such as 'Caucasian Chalk Circle'.
"Maname and Singhabahu" are more suitable for university level
students and for the beginners, traditional realistic Western drama
should be taught before they graduate into studying Eastern and
classical Western drama.
Commenting on cinema and cinema allied literature, Prof. Rajakaruna
is of the view that Sri Lankan cinema and cinema literature have not
been developed into a distinct form of art compared to Japan where
screen-plays are considered as a form of literature and are read and
appreciated by Japanese scholars.
Since the early 80s Prof. Rajakaruna has been translating Japanese
screen-plays into Sinhala and English; seven Japanese screen-plays were
translated from Japanese into Sinhala and five from Japanese into
English. In addition, Prof. Rajakaruna has published ten books
containing Japanese film scripts.
It is of his view that translating film scripts is necessary for
studying cinema as an art form at the University level. Most of the
screen-plays of Japanese films are published in Japan in Japanese.
In 1977, Professor Howard of the University of Harvard published an
Anthology of Japanese Literature where he included translations of two
film scripts, for the first time, as he considered screen-play as a form
of literature in Japan. The book was titled 'Contemporary Japanese
In Asia, Japan's contribution to cinema is outstanding and produced
several great film-directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu and
Kinugasa. 1950s is supposed to be the golden era of Japanese films and
the films that Prof. Rajakaruna had translated belonged to that era and
had won international prestigious awards.
Commenting on Sri Lankan cinema, he is of the belief that none of Sri
Lankan films have won the highest awards at international prestigious
film festivals though several films won and shared certain awards at
international film festivals.
Even Dr. Lester James Peries's "Wakanda Walauwwa" (Mansion by the
Lake) had not been considered for an award in Cannes. It is obvious that
Sri Lankan film-makers have not attempted in serious film-making. Prof.
Rajakaruna has translated several Japanese screen-plays, some of them
for the first time, into Sinhala with a view to introducing the serious
classical films to Sri Lanka.
For instance, his translation of Gate of Hell into Sinhalese is the
only translation of the original Japanese screen-play in any other
language. It is also not found in book form in Japan and Prof.
Rajakaruna found it in the Film Village in Kyoto. "Red Light District",
"Early Summer", "Late Spring", "A crazy page" and "Cross Roads" are
translated, for the first time, into English by Prof.Rajakaruna.
However, a French translation is available for "Early Summer" and
"Late Spring" but not in book form.
Though these screen-plays are translated into Sinhala, they are not
often read as serious readers are lacking among the Sinhala readership.
In 2004, "Tokyo Story was judged as the fifth film in a survey conducted
by 'Sight and Sound' among the best ten films produced in the world.
However, Prof.Rajakaruna had translated it into Sinhalese as far back
as 1983 though it was not widely read and had not been made use of in
Analysing the Sri Lankan cinema and study of cinema even at the
university level, Prof. Rajakaruna is of the view that even the
lecturers of cinema in Sri Lanka have not been playing adequate
attention to screen-plays as a serious form of literature, for early
Sinhala films did not have screen-plays.
In Japan, the first film script is written and sometimes by several
writers spending months on them. For instance, Kurosawa's film scripts
are written by several script-writers. As one appreciates stage-play,
screen-plays should also be read and appreciated.
In order to produce serious films, Sri Lankans should also study
screen-plays and consider them as serious forms of literature. It is
also imperative that Sri Lanka should have an Academy dedicated to teach
cinema, every aspect of it with minute details.
For example countries like China and Vietnam have Institutes
dedicated to teaching cinema. Although Sri Lanka has institutes such as
University of Visual and Performing Arts, offering subjects of cinema,
drama and television, they have not been expanded up to international
standards. Separate Departments for subjects of Cinema and Western Drama
should be established at the University of Visual and Performing Arts.
In order to be familiar with drama, a student must learn Greek,
Roman, English and other Western drama as well as Indian, Chinese,
Japanese, Sanskrit and Classical as well as modern drama together with
Western music, and teaching only Udarata, Sabaragamuwa and Pahata Rata
dance and Eastern music will not impart a wholesome knowledge of drama.
Commenting on Vimukthi Jayasundera's controversial film, "Sulaga Enu
Pinisa" (The Forsaken land), Prof. Rajakaruna believes that, though he
had attempted to make a serious film, he was not completely successful
in achieving the task as it is not very meaningful in the Sri Lankan
context, considering the way in which Vimukthi has presented the problem
and life in a threatened village, is not artistic.
For him the main problem of the people is sex. Particularly, he does
not see any meaning in the scene where the village-guard is being thrown
into the river by a group of soldiers. If you have other problems, you
give inferior place to sex. He is at a loss to understand why the film
maker wants to show sex as the main problem in the forsaken land.
In his opinion, Prof. Rajakaruna considers that "Wekanda Walauwa" and
even "Rekava" are not up to the international standards. There is not a
single serious study of Sri Lankan Cinema published by an
internationally acclaimed film expert.
It is his view that some of the classics cannot be translated into
another language. They won't be perfect translations. For example,
Shakespeare's work including poetry are extremely difficult to
translate. When it comes to Sinhalese translation, the task will be much
more difficult than translating into English as Sinhalese is not a
Reminiscent of his childhood, Prof. Rajakaruna received his primary
and secondary education from Seevali College Ratnapura and sat for the
University entrance examination from Ananda College, Colombo. He entered
the University of Peradeniya which was then known as University of
Ceylon in 1953 and graduated in 1958.
For a brief spell, Prof. Rajakaruna taught at St. Joseph's College
and at Aquinas College, Colombo. At the university, he read a Special
Degree in Sinhalese with Greek and Roman Drama and Greek and Roman
literary criticism as subsidiary.
In 1959, he joined the University staff as an Assistant Lecturer in
Sinhalese. In 1962, he went to Japan to read for a post graduate degree
in Drama and Theatre at Waseda University in Tokyo where he studied
classical Japanese and Chinese drama. He earned his PhD from the
University of Colombo.
He also held various positions within the university system including
the Head of the Department of Sinhalese. Prof. Rajakaruna was born in
Eswatta Puwakpitiya in Awissawella while his father was a planter from
Weyangoda and mother is from Puwakpitiya.
The screenplays of classic Japanense films translated into Sinhalese
and English from the original Japanese by Prof. D. A. Rajakaruna
1. Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru (To Live) and Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story -
2. Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon - 1989
3. Teinosuke Kinugasa's 'Gate of Hell' - 1994
4. Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu - 2000
5. Yasujiro Ozu's 'Early Summer' - 2001
6. Akira Kurosawa's 'One Wonderful Sunday' - 2005
1. Yasujiro Ozu's 'Early Summer' - 1997
2. Teinosuke Kinugasa's 'A Crazy Page' and 'Crossroads' - 1998
3. Kenji Mizoguchi's 'Red-Light District' or 'Street of Shame' - 2001
4. Yasujiro Ozu's Two Post-War Films: 'Late Spring' and 'Early
Summer' - 2006
Kinugasa's screenplay of 'Gate of Hell' is translated only into
Sinhalese. it has not yet been translated into any other language. The
original screenplay is not available in printed form even in Japan. The
Sinhalese translation is based on the manuscript of the screenplay
obtained from the Film Village Library in Kyoto, Japan.
Ozu's 'Early Summer', Kinugasa's 'A Crazy Page' and 'Crossroads',
Mizoguchi's 'Red-Light District' or 'Street of Shame' and Ozu's 'Two
Post-War Films' are translated into English for the first time.
Kinugasa's 'A Crazy Page' and 'Crossroads' and Mizoguchi's 'Red-Light
District' or 'Street of Shame' are so far not translated into any other