A priest, a woodcutter and another man are taking refuge from a rainstorm in the shell of a former gatehouse called Rashômon. The priest and the woodcutter are recounting the story of a murdered samurai whose body the woodcutter discovered three days earlier in a forest grove. Both were summoned to testify at the murder trial, the priest who ran into the samurai and his wife traveling through the forest just before the murder occurred. Three other people who testified at the trial are supposedly the only direct witnesses: a notorious bandit named Tajômaru, who allegedly murdered the samurai and raped his wife; the white veil cloaked wife of the samurai; and the samurai himself who testifies through the use of a medium. The three tell a similarly structured story - that Tajômaru kidnapped and bound the samurai so that he could rape the wife - but which ultimately contradict each other, the motivations and the actual killing being what differ. The woodcutter reveals at Rashômon that he ... Written by
Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves.
To have a film that holds the coveted title of being the reason that the "Best Foreign Film" category was created for the Oscars is one thing, but to be able to back up that myth with a powerful film that speaks both about humanity and the strength of truth is a whole new angle. Often we witness powerful foreign films that slip through the lines of cinema, regarded by so many as valuable assets to the film community, but never see the gold of Oscar. In the same sense, sometimes the most popular of those foreign films eventually become Oscar contenders, not because they are worthy enough, but because studios had the funds to allow bigger distribution to audiences, thus allowing popularity to do the rest. Rashômon is one of those few films that succeed in giving us both a quality film and the accolades to represent it. Rashômon is a rare breed of film. The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa took many bold steps with this film (pointing his camera at the sun, filming deep within the jungle, and the mockery of truth), that it is unlikely that you could go to a modern day Hollywood film without seeing one of these techniques being "borrowed". His bold storytelling, creative camera work, and powerful characters give us a unique story that should be included in everyone's film library.
While the characters were strong, the direction was flawless, and the story was compelling, there is a theme that needs to be discussed while talking about Rashômon. This is the story of murder, betrayal, and rape and in any typical "courthouse" film you would have some spineless witness finally break down and confess the truth. At the end of these films the truth is discovered, but not in Rashômon. Kurosawa gives us the "black sheep" of themes by never really giving us what we really wanted from the beginning of this story. As I began this film, I thought I was going to get a clear-cut story with honesty and troubled souls, but instead I was handed no prize at the end. What I sought after the most is not handed to me in a Happy Meal container at the end, but instead trapped still within the film. Kurosawa gives us the meaning behind the story, that there possibly is no way of knowing the true "truth". Four different souls, seeing the same event all culminating to four different results means that the "truth" may never be known. Kurosawa has taken the story and provided us with the main character being truth, and like Kaiser Soze, the greatest trick it ever pulled was convincing us that "it didn't exist". Deep within Rashômon the truth is hidden, and it may never emerge, but that is what Kurosawa intended. A viewer could walk away from this film, after several viewings, and discover different truths about the characters and story. This is a constantly evolving film that will continually get better with time.
Outside of these beautiful themes, Rashômon is a flawless film. From the execution of the actors to the simplicity of the direction, there is plenty in this film to keep your mind busy and your jaw nearly dragging on the floor. To begin, the performance by Toshiro Mifune ranks among the best in film history. In each of the stories he is portrayed differently (even in his own) and with precise execution he delivers every time. He is insane, passionate, loyal, and villainous all at the same time. While some may see his acting as eccentric or over-the-top, I found each of his portrayals as accurate and astute. When Mifune is on the screen his presence commands your eyes and you cannot help but become involved. Second to his performance is that of the troubled wife. While her characters is the most confusing/suspicious of them all, Masayuki Mori keeps us intertwined with the story by controlling her character with the greatest of ease. When it is time for her to be unleashed, the true drama of the story is thrown in your face with brilliance and expertise.
Overall, I thought that this was a near perfect film. Kurosawa is intense, original, and adeptly secure about his stories. I have seen the same passion in Ran, and it cannot be denied. My only concern with this film is that if you are going to watch this movie, make sure that you can devote your entire mind to it. I found myself watching it three times because I could not stay focused (outside factors) enough to see those darkly hidden themes. I especially enjoyed the unearthed darkness of humanity, which is hinted on at the end. The fact that after hearing these stories of murder and rape, it doesn't stop one from continuing along a similar path. It is a powerful tale that should be enjoyed by all!
Grade: **** out of *****
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