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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 December 2013
Although particularly notable as being the Kurosawa film that broke the Japanese director in the 'west', and (rightly) cited as a ground-breaking piece of cinema, 1950's Rashomon is a film (I have found) whose qualities gradually 'crept up on me'. Of course, its sensorial appeal is pretty much immediate, with its (for its time) innovative three-point flashback narrative, Kazuo Miyagawa's stunning cinematography (in particular the depiction of light through forests and clouds) and Fumio Hayasaka's mesmerising soundtrack tracking Rashomon's storyline almost to the second. However, its thematic and symbolic significance is more subtle (not to say deliberately opaque), as Kurosawa's film searches for 'the truth' in humanity (whilst along the way touching on elements of fate, chance, memory, honour, jealousy and love (or perhaps lust)).

In one of the most stunning openings in cinema (Kurosawa's influence on Leone seems obvious here), as rain and wind lashes down on the dilapidated Kyoto city gate (a 'hell on earth'), the great Takashi Shimura's woodcutter and Minoru Chiaki's priest stare into nowhere, the woodcutter sighing, 'I don't understand. I just don't understand' (a metaphor for much audience reaction, no doubt!). What follows are (at least) three versions of the truth as Masayuki Mori's travelling samurai and wife (Machiko Kyo) encounter 'notorious' bandit Toshiro Mifune's Tajamuro, leaving the samurai dead. Is it a simple case of 'bandit rape and murder' or is there a 'ritual murder' or even suicide involved? Kurosawa leaves it for us to decide, as the three (the deceased samurai via a medium, no less) give their accounts of events (in court) straight to camera. Throughout, in order to emphasise the 'differing POV' theme, Miyagawa's camera constantly (and cleverly) shifts between 'over the shoulder' shots from each of the three protagonists.

Acting-wise, given the film's cultural milieu these are stylised performances, owing much to the preceding silent film era. Mifune presages his Seven Samurai turn as Kikuchiyo, here as animated (hysterical even) bandit, in a performance of great infectiousness - a dreamer and liar who lives on base instinct certainly, more a petty criminal than cruel murderer, however. Kyo is equally impressive (insecure, desperate, fearful) as the dishonoured wife - either a brazen hussy or a devoted, compromised spouse (depending on your POV), whilst Mori is also good as the stoic cuckold. Shimura is (of course) superb as the priest's co-starer in a (relatively) peripheral role (albeit he is key to the film's denouement).

By the film's conclusion, at which woodcutter and priest achieve some degree of 'redemption', we are left with the strong suspicion that Kurosawa's (almost mythological) characters are mere ciphers for the failings of humanity, moulding the truth to suit their own (nefarious) purposes (base desire, social honour, reputation, etc). Whilst (for me) Rashomon does not quite convey the feel for humanity of Ikiru or the character development (or, of course, pyrotechnics) of Seven Samurai, it makes up for this via its subtle perception, evocative symbolism and technical innovation. And just to reiterate, it is a film (for me at least) whose power (and reputation) grows with each repeat viewing.
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on 6 March 2009
Look, in all honesty forget the hyperbole and arty farty notions about this sort of esoteric cinema. This film is just simply great. Treat yourself to a treasure.
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on 8 July 2009
Akira Kurosawa's calling card to cinema worldwide is a brillant film in almost everyway, filmed with a handful of actors in no more then 3 locations it shows subjective nature of truth as told through a drama set in 11th century japan involving a rape and murder as told through 5 diffent accounts. This is a film that I really feel everyone should see at least one in there lives as even after almost 60 years it still is a eye-opener to what good cinema is and how it can affect the way we think.
Like all of Kurosawas films the direction, pace and sheer skill is second to none, I could could review and praise all his films however I feel this (ikiru & seven samurai close seconds) is my favorate of his films
Don't watch and you are missing out.
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VINE VOICEon 8 April 2013
Rashomon is a groundbreaking 1950 film by the legendary Akira Kurosawa and starring the peerless Toshiro Mifune relatively early in his career. It is largely based on the short story In a Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. What makes Rashomon so innovative is the explicit and repeated use of the unreliable narrator concept. The plot features the telling of the same story from four different perspectives, each perspective imposing the storyteller's own personality and prejudices onto the action.

As Rashomon is a Kurosawa film, it is expertly directed. The pacing of the film is superb. Rashomon has quite limited periods of action but there is seemingly no let-up in the atmosphere. As a black and white film with subtitles for those without sufficient Japanese, it has a somewhat arty feel to it. Rashomon is thought provoking rather than exciting.

Rashomon stars Toshiro Mifune and he is absolutely excellent. He is clearly the class act on screen, able to move his performance with great subtlety to express the different views the story is told from. At times he is the brash and super confident bandit Tajomaru. From the perspectives that see the dangerous bandit as the belligerant, Mifune is imposing and strong, his facial expressions convey his dominance of the environment he inhabits. From other perspectives, Mifune is afflicted by nerves, the very same outcomes happen almost despite Tajomaru rather than because of him.

It is that distinction of perspective that makes Rashomon so cherished. Intriguingly each of the characters plays up their own negative role in the action rather than portraying themselves as heroic. Tajomaru sees himself as a brutal killer when others see him more comedic or even a victim of circumstances. The relationship between the couple in the woods is entirely dependent on the perspective being told from. From Machiko's perspective she is wronged by her partner seeing dishonour in her. From Mayusaki's perspective he is scorned by the woman he loves.

None of the narratives are reliable. There is no real way for the viewer to decide which perspective is true. It is a fascinating study to watch, to be exposed so bluntly to egoistic way each of us understands the actions of others.

Often great film is enhanced by tremendous music. This is not true of Rashomon. Fumio Hayasaka's score is not excellent. The sligtly disjointed tones of the majority of the film are somewhat ruined by an inappropriate use of Ravel's Bolero. Bolero really does not fit Rashomon, it was a bad choice by Kurosawa to insist on it.

There are other aspects of the experience though that are tremendous, in particular the lighting. The oppressive rain experienced by the three characters at the Kyoto city gate is beautifully lit. The various woodland scenes also work very well with incredible use of sunlight.

What makes Rashomon something special is the unreliability of each of the narrators. It is the subjectivity of perception explored so ruthlessly that makes it so intriguing. None of the narrators is willfully unreliable, the tale each tells seems genuinely theirs. These are not narrators manipulating the viewer deliberately and that makes them far more engaging.

The scope and feel of Rashomon does not itself necessarily suit film brilliantly. Kurosawa makes it work thanks to his own genious and the presence of Mifune. They turn a concept into something compelling. Still, Rashomon seems more suited to being a stage performance, it just does not have the scope of Kurosawa's greatest films, tales like Seven Samurai,Yojimbo, or Hidden Fortress. Rashomon is not an epic, it is a thought provoking piece that sets and then exceeds expectations.

The DVD Extras are ok. The Extras mainly offers a discussion among several of those who worked on the 1950 film. It is a somewhat technical discussion about how certain effects were created. The special edition includes a booklet with a terrific extract from The Emperor and the Wolf by Stuart Galbraith as well as text from the novellas Rashomon and In A Grove. Galbraith's history of the film and his own analysis are high quality and offers a fascinating 20 page insight.

Rashomon is a very good film, not the greatest of Kurosawa's unequalled career but still fascinating. The concept is thought provoking and can sit with a viewer for a long time afterwards. The unreliable narrator has a very long tradition but to see that unreliability come about through subjective egoism rather than as a deliberate act is a terrific concept.
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VINE VOICEon 25 April 2013
There are lots of reviews here from viewers who obviously expected to see a modern style sword-fest along the lines of Hero. Others complain that the story setup has been seen many times in modern films. This is the original though, and surely must be given credit for that?

From the huge catalogue of Mr. Kurosawa. This is an earlier work, from 1950, and was awarded an Oscar two years later. Filmed in black and white, and starring Kurosawa's frequent collaborator, Toshiro Mifune, this is set in the 11th Century, at a time of both plague, and Civil War. Today, the story seems simple, dealing with a rape and murder, and three alternative views of the event, seen in flashback, as told by different characters.

At the time of this film's release, such a plot construction was unknown, and it received immense critical acclaim. Most stories of this nature filmed since, certainly owe their origins to this startling original. With twists and turns, tension, action, and brilliant direction at all times, this film is rightly considered for inclusion in the `Masters of Cinema' DVD series.
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on 1 March 2014
Outstanding direction from Akira Kurosawa. This film reached cult status years ago and has influenced film makers since.(eg :Usual Suspects)A young couple are waylaid in the forest by a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) ,the man is killed and the woman is raped. Once the bandit is brought to court ,he and the victim give conflicting stories made worse by a witness(wood cutter) who further muddies the water.Who is to be believed?Kurosawa's atmospheric use of the camera is spellbinding and Mifune's performance is brilliant making this a must see film
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In the Bible, Pilate asks, "What is truth?" and, as Roger Bacon puts it, "would not stay for an answer."

I felt a bit the same way after seeing this remarkable film by Japan's celebrated film maker, Akira Kurosawa. It is set in 12th century Japan, and while most viewers would say it examines the nature of truth and finds it slippery, I think it more properly examines the nature of the feudal Japanese society.

We have as representatives of that society, a priest (Minuru Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) sitting out a rain storm in a place called Rashomon. It might pass for a ruined Greek temple except that its pillars and roof are made of wood. The priest and the woodcutter declare that they just can't understand it. They shake their heads and stare at the ground. Along comes a commoner (Kichijiro Uedo), a cynical man who asks what it is that they cannot understand.

They have witnessed an investigation into the death of a samurai, Takehiro (Masayuki Mori). He is in some ways the equivalent of a medieval knight. He has a horse and lady, Masako (Machiko Kyo). The accused is an infamous outlaw named Tajomaru (played brilliantly by Toshiro Mifune, who obviously had a lot of fun with the part). He tells his story. He admits to having his way with the lady, but lets the court know that she liked it so much that she began to embrace him while her husband was tied up watching. Afterwards he says that she insisted that they fight over her. Tajomaru obliges. He cuts the rope holding Takehiro and they sword fight. Tajomaru wins.

Next the wife tells her story. It is different of course. This causes the court to get a medium (Fumiko Honma) to tell the story from the point of view of the dead Takehiro. His story is different yet again. Finally the woodcutter reveals to the priest and the commoner that he saw the whole thing, and he then gives his version, again different of course.

The commoner has some terrifically cynical lines. Here are three:

"It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves."

(To the priest:) "Not another sermon! I don't mind a lie if it's interesting."

"Man just wants to forget the bad stuff, and believe in the made-up good stuff. It's easier that way."

He speaks for the natural or animalistic man.

His counterpoint, the priest, opines, "If men don't trust each other, this earth might as well be hell."

He speaks for moral man.

Near the end of the film a baby is discovered crying. The woodcutter, who has five or six children of his own, takes the baby home.

He represents civilized man.

Masako represents the samurai's view of the nature of women when she is heard to say, "A man has to make a woman his by his sword."

What impressed me most about this film is the way Kurosawa was able to create an emotional atmosphere in each of the sittings. "In the Grove" we feel the trees and the light that sparkles through the leaves, and the disturbed serenity. At Rashomon in the rain we feel the men isolated and waiting, and in the sterile court scene we feel the severity of the tragedy.
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on 10 February 2014
If you love the Magnificent Seven then you have to get this original story which is still magnificent to watch. A historically important film that should still be watched as it is a Classic from Japan. Cynthia Allen McLaglen
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on 4 February 2014
one of the very greatest films of all time anywhere, gorgeous camera, weird & wonderful story (a murder mystery essentially), absolutely must be seen. good transfer, good titles, nice book. a bargain.
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on 26 May 2013
Rashomon is undoubtedly one of the best Kurosawa films and the additional background documentary makes this particular DVD a treat for Kurosawa fans. The film is multi-layered and never fails to satisfy the viewer even after many viewings; I particularly like this version because of the additional material...added to my knowledge and enjoyment of the film. A must for one's film library!
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