Rashomon (1950)
July 14, 2018 12:54 PM - Subscribe

A heinous crime and its aftermath are recalled from differing points of view [content warning].

Empire: The film that woke up the world to Japanese cinema, this is a still-effective 'gimmick' melodrama about a rape-murder seen from four different viewpoints, each wildly different. The abused wife, the embittered husband and the lecherous bandit all get to tell their stories - the husband speaking through a medium - and all present themselves in the best light (as brave, noble, ferocious, self-sacrificing) while doing down the others (as cowardly, grasping, lecherous, hypocritical), but finally a bystander comes along and reveals that actually everyone involved is a moral and physical coward, reducing high tragedy to black slapstick as a duel we’ve seen as an epic struggle is re-presented as a knockabout between two men too terrified to fight properly with the final death caused by an accident rather than malice or skill.

AV Club: Flip-flopping the conventional whodunit, which starts out with confusion and leads to a clear answer, Rashomon moves further away from the truth as more information comes to light. Every element in the film, from the dense thicket of forest branches to master cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa's deceptive framing and lighting design, is precisely calibrated to make the facts more difficult to discern. Winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1952, Rashomon not only altered film language significantly (and brought the legal term "the Rashomon effect" into the lexicon), but also opened up Japanese cinema to the Western world, which may be its most enduring achievement of all. With his elegant essay on the slipperiness of vision, Kurosawa bridged cultures with the common truth that what they see may be a lie.

Roger Ebert: The genius of "Rashomon" is that all of the flashbacks are both true and false. True, in that they present an accurate portrait of what each witness thinks happened. False, because as Kurosawa observes in his autobiography, "Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing."

The wonder of "Rashomon" is that while the shadowplay of truth and memory is going on, we are absorbed by what we trust is an unfolding story. The film's engine is our faith that we'll get to the bottom of things--even though the woodcutter tells us at the outset he doesn't understand, and if an eyewitness who has heard the testimony of the other three participants doesn't understand, why should we expect to?

Slant: In lesser hands the film could be inhumanly conceptual and too “worked out” to come alive dramatically, but the filmmaking is so dense and immediate that Rashomon is often overpowering in its emotional intensity. Every image counts, commenting on the characters’ evolving relationships (most obviously exemplified in the repeated use of triangular shapes), and the actors give performances of exacting subtlety that quietly shift to fit the specific storyteller’s contortions of the events. Aspiring to reclaim the succinct image-consciousness of silent films, Kurosawa creates a rich visual fabric that’s surreal in its hyper-reality, which is particularly clear in the close-ups of the actors (the sweat on Mifune’s brow is more dramatic than many actors’ entire performances) and in the blocking of actions, such as the swordfights and the woman passing by the bandit, ghostly, in her carriage. The ultimate achievement of Rashomon is that it’s a film that has remained, to an extent, elusive since its release over 60 years ago; it seems like a different film every time you watch it depending on your age and your specific emotional emphasis at the time of revisiting it, which was, of course, almost certainly Kurosawa’s ultimate aim.


Streaming on Kanopy


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posted by MoonOrb (4 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For me the two stand outs of this film are Mifune's acting and Kurosawa's great composition.

If you like Rashomon, the book of short stories it comes from by Ryonosuke Akutagawa is fantastic and I highly recommend it..
posted by smoke at 2:52 PM on July 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

People said I liked this movie, but that’s not how I remember it.
posted by Servo5678 at 3:48 PM on July 15, 2018 [12 favorites]

I saw this film, begrudgingly, after I had been exposed many times to "roshomon episodes" and so on. I didn't really want to see it because I felt like I had been exposed to its concept so many times, but I ended up really loving it. It's a testament to this film that it inspired so many imitators, but also that it has a depth and interest the imitators can't ever take away. Above and beyond the "same event, different takes" concept, there's something fresh and surprising about it.
posted by Rinku at 11:39 AM on July 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Part of why Rashomon works so much better than its imitators is that the point is not to find the "true events" or to mock subjective bias, but rather to see two characters -- the priest and the woodsman -- (re)awakened to the need for empathy and compassion.

The other is that the characters' "filters" are not the usual self-interest, but reflect more complex ways people not only justify themselves or puff themselves up, but also blame themselves or romanticize and de-romanticize what they see.
posted by kewb at 10:30 AM on July 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

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