In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.
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
[Recalls luring the wife to the grove after telling her her husband has been bitten]
She became very pale and stared at me as though her eyes were frozen. She looked like a child when it turns suddenly serious. The sight of her made me jealous of that man. I started to hate him. I wanted to show her what he looked like, all tied up like that. I hadn't even thought of a thing like that before, but now I did.
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It's hard to tell just how striking "Rashômon" might have seemed to those who watched it in 1950, rather than seeing it after so many subsequent movies and other works have made use of its techniques and ideas. But it's clear that it is a technical and creative success. The story itself is not particularly satisfying, which was most likely by design, and the movie is carried by its structure and by the concept of the markedly different perspectives on the same series of events. The cast also deserve their share of credit for how well it works, and the photography is excellent, as it is in almost all of Kurosawa's films.
Kurosawa's expertise makes the interwoven sequences of past and present
essentially telling two different stories - not only work flawlessly,
but fit together thematically. It's even more commendable when compared to some of the subsequent films that have tried to use similar ideas, only to come off as pretentious rather than creative or innovative. Kurosawa was also working with much less in terms of possible precedents.
In one sense, the choice of specific story material could seem a little odd.
The downbeat, rather sordid scenario makes the movie somewhat less enjoyable than several of Kurosawa's other pictures (which is, admittedly, a pretty high standard), and as a result "Rashômon" is more a film to respect and admire than one to enjoy and take pleasure from. Still, it does have significantly more substance to it than do most of the more recent pictures that have been deliberately downbeat or negative in their portrayals of humanity. Such stories are more trendy at present, and they often receive undue praise simply for so being.
At the same time, the lack of sympathetic characters and the paucity of hopeful developments bring out all the more its success in developing its ideas about narrative and about reality, ideas that are more fundamental and, in their way, perhaps at least as important as any specific story or events.
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