Set in feudal Japan, this film presents an intriguing tale of violent crime in the woods, told from the perspective of four different characters -- a bandit, a woman, her husband and a woodcutter. Only two things about the incident seem to be clear -- the woman was raped and her husband is now dead. However, the other elements radically differ as the four participants and/or witnesses relate their own stories (with the dead man, eerily enough, speaking through a medium). As each account is revealed, what seemed black-and-white turns to various hues of gray, leading to surprising -- and confounding -- revelations.
In 2014 this interestingly structured story of a rape and murder in a forest might not seem to be a five star film, but I think that is because its true brilliance is hidden by some misleading and perhaps pretentious reviews that go on about supposedly stunning and groundbreaking cinematography and direction. Yes, it was good in 1950, and it did indeed lead to the magnificent Kurosawa epics of later years, but it now looks dated to the majority of viewers. You need to know an awful lot of cinema history to appreciate all that stuff, (er... I know a bit), but if you're not a film geek, there is another, more important and more accessible layer of genius for you.
Many reviewers will say that the central concept of the film is the way that the story of the rape and murder are cleverly told by four (not three as some people suggest) conflicting narrators through flashbacks. This concept has been well-used in recent years, most notably in Zhang Yimou's "Hero", and in "The Usual Suspects". In 1950 this ingenious concept broke the mould of story-telling in cinema.
However, the conflicting narratives of the central characters - a bandit, a samurai, his wife, and a woodcutter - are just a side show. If you watch the film for that, and all you take away is how cleverly that was dealt with, or how good the cinematography, acting and direction were then you have missed the main attraction. Many reviewers have suggested that the film is about the search for the truth amongst the conflicting narratives, or perhaps it is about the elusive nature of truth, or the subjective nature of truth. I disagree with those views, because the film makes it plain that all the narrators lie.
In my view, the film neither asks us to look for an objective truth of what happened in the forest nor does it try to show it to us. The truth of that episode does not matter. There is instead a very different, very obvious and much more troubling truth which the film sets out for us - it is what one of the characters refers to when he says "I have seen hundreds of men dying like animals, but even I've never before heard anything as terrible as this... worse than fires, wars, epidemics, or bandits!"
The rape and murder are shocking events, but what makes these events "worse than fires, wars and epidemics" is the the dark reactions which the events trigger within the souls of the four different narrators. The thing about this film which really stands the test of time is the way the story examines and exposes the evil, self-serving and self-deceiving dishonesty of human nature which can surface at moments when we are pushed to our emotional limits - by lust, vanity, anger, shame, jealousy and greed. Each narrator tells a story which seems to cover up their failings and accentuate their virtues. That we lie to each other is not surprising, but it is far, far worse when we lie to ourselves; we might strip away the idea of objective truth in order to take refuge in our own subjective truths, but self-deception means that that may leave us with little or no truth at all. And what becomes of us then? Whereas in Hamlet, Polonius rightly advises the young prince "And this above all, to thine own self be true, and it must surely follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man", Kurosawa shows us that the reality of the human experience is better expressed in Byron's lines "Men are what they name not to themselves, And trust not to each other."
It is this eternal and horrifying truth of human nature which the film lays bare. This is the rotten seed in the hearts of each of the four central characters - the brave and noble samurai, the chaste and beautiful wife, the debauched and wanton bandit and even the hard-working and simple woodcutter. They are the microcosm of all societies through all history and, despite outward appearances, they are no different from each other in how they lie to everyone, including to themselves, to serve their own interests. The sight of this twisted face of humanity causes the sensitive young priest, who hears the self-serving lies, to lose his faith in man, and it prompts another, more worldly-wise listener to chillingly declare that "the demon living here in Rashomon fled in fear of the ferocity of man".
For me the story, and its continued relevance, is summed up by that one line. If I look at the history of cinema over the 64 years since this film was made, there is nothing which comes so close to an examination of the darkness of the human soul with such simplicity and brutality. The central question which the film poses is not "What really happened in the forest?". It asks, more universally, "If we lie to ourselves, how far are we from the fiercest demons of our nature?"
The seller was very helpful. I did not realise that there are no English sub titles, only Japanese and Italian. As so many reviews were written in English I had wrongly assumed that English or English sub titles would be available. A pity, as I was looking forward to seeing this classic film.
A man is dead, a woman was raped, and that's all that can be definitely said. Somebody has committed murder, but nobody knows whodunnit. Genius filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" is a classic for its skillful direction, suspense and wonderful acting. It's one of those movies you think must be vastly overrated until you see it, and are blown away by it.
At the Rashomon Gate in eleventh-century Japan, a man (Kichijiro Ueda) takes shelter with a priest (Minoru Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) during a rainstorm. The woodcutter is depressed and the priest is horrified, over a recent crime: the vicious bandit Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune) was arrested for murdering a man named Takehiro (Masayuki Mori) and raping his wife Masako (Machiko Kyô). But when taken before the police, Tajômaru claims that he has his fun with the woman and killed her husband honorably in a fight.
But Masako begs to differ; she claims to be the victim first of the sadistic bandit, then of her cold-hearted husband. And when a medium calls up the spirit of Takehiro, he claims that Masako was unfaithful, asking the bandit to murder him, then spurned by Tajômaru. Her actions drove Takehiro to suicide. And the woodcutter himself claims to have seen the altercation -- and his version is wildly different from them all.
During the filming of "Rashomon," director Akira Kurosawa stated that the film is a reflection of life, which doesn't always have clear meanings. The same could be said of truth. Questions are raised by the events of "Rashomon," but given no easy answers -- sometimes no answers at all (my biggest question was how Masako's gown stays so white if she's always weeping on the ground).
Light and shadow whirl and dance in a frankly beautiful woodland setting, serving as a pretty backdrop for some very ugly acts. The fight scenes are masterful -- they look like real fights, as opposed to choreography. Tajômaru's are more stylized, whereas the woodcutter sees two guys rolling and staggering around with swords, obviously freaked out. Kurosawa was even brave enough to touch on the unique idea of having the deceased testify. The spinechilling seance scene, starring a downright spooky, stark-faced Fumiko Honma, is a haunting classic scene.
Are Kurosawa's insights dark and depressing? In a fascinating, hypnotic way... yes. But while calmly pointing out the ability of human beings to lie even to themselves, he acknowledges that there's good in there too (a scene where the woodcutter adopts an abandoned baby as the priest watches). We lose our illusions and innocence as the priest loses his, forced to look on how despicable people can be, but while being comforted with the knowledge that people aren't all bad, and that unadulterated truth isn't really necessary to have good in you.
Toshirô Mifune chews the scenery with gusto as the barbarian bandit, laughing and jerking like a hyena just to see people jump. At first glance, Machiko Kyô seems to be overacting, until you see how unhinged her character has become by whatever happened. Masayuki Mori doesn't get to act as much as the others (the poor guy spends most of his time tied to a tree), but is good when the camera zooms in on him. Minoru Chiaki and Takashi Shimura add an extra dimension as the innocent young priest and the tormented woodcutter.
Gloomy, thought-provoking and ultimately quite freaky, "Rashomon" still defies conventional filmmaking and will suck you right in. It's brilliantly crafted and exceptionally directed, and must be seen by all lovers of cinema. And that's the truth!
Rashomon has changed the way cinema goers think of storytelling. As many will know it it a retelling of the story of a crime told by 3 different participants and we never know which story is the true one. All involved try to present it in the manner that is most flattering to them but the stories are contradicting each other. It challenges notions of truth in this most illusionistic of mediums: cinema and it does so in a straight forward, unpretentious way that makes a film to be enjoyed by all.
Rashomon, is an amazingly well crafted film. Some of the images are going to stay with you for ever. Maybe some will underrate the film because it has been so influential we have grown to take its contribution to cinema as a matter of fact, but i think it is impossible to dismiss how beautiful the film is and how well it is told.
This is a great edition though it is difficult to think of an edition good enough to do Rashomon justice.