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'People forget the unpleasant things. They only remember what they want to
In Rashomon the editing tells ½ of the story. It may feel experimental or unconventional, but Kurosawa perfects the concept second by second, directing and editing. This film didn't need a big budget to come perfectly to the point. It's a simple tale, but not a superficial tale. Different points of view and selective memories ('It's true! I saw it!') don't only make the woods unsafe, but are one of the most universal topics of humanity. 'We humans are weak creatures. That's why we lie, even to ourselves' says it all actually: it's about what people want to hear and when they start being interested at all, apart from wishful thinking. Selfish excuses vs trust in other people.
Rashomon gets masterful when in one instant there is literally a different point of view: the camera takes another position to shoot the same sequence, thereby forcing the audience to reconsider what they just saw. That is the sort of storytelling that the supposed masters of cinema in our time yet have to equal, or try to copy when they fail. Admitted 'Memento' (2000, Nolan) is a truly great one. Still not THAT universal. 'Pulp Fiction' (1994) didn't come close, 'La Commare Secca' (1962) also didn't. 'Ghost dog: the way of the samurai' (1999) touched another border of the concept, or does it?
The use of (non-original) music in my opinion reveals a certain interest for western influence, not only in Rashomon, but also in Kurosawa's forthcoming films, and is probably why his films were so influential on western filmmakers too.
The cinematography is dynamic and changes scene by scene to emphasize exactly what is going on. The shadows of leaves and branches, captured by cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, make you really feel 'in the woods', while the actors (Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura) convince the remaining part of the audience (which adds up to 100% breathless viewers). It may be after days that you first realize you saw an important film. After weeks you realize that you must see it again to comprehend (despite it's only 85 min), and ironically that is just one of the crucial points that Kurosawa made. 10/10
Akira Kurosawa was one of those directors, the first from the Eastern
hemisphere, to develop the form and structure of cinema in ways it
hadn't been. The story he used for Rashomon is now, like Seven Samurai,
Hidden Fortress, and Yojimbo, a near archetype that at this point in
the history of film has become formula and common knowledge for writers
and directors. In that sense, Rashomon is as important and entertaining
as a film as Citizen Kane, Battleship Potemkin, Rear Window, or Open
City. Tee basic premise- Four different people give four different
accounts on the rape and murder of a couple in the woods. A key
ingredient to the success of Rashomon, is that the recollections given
to the courts by the woman, the bandit, the as well as the four in
discussion, is that their emotions reveal their humanity, even if their
details reveal nothing, or everything. It's difficult to say whether
character goes over story here, or if they have equal importance to
understand Kurosawa's psychology with these people.
The opening shot of the house is a perfect representation of the mature of the picture, something that has fallen apart over time due to disasters that go beyond control of individuals. The man who heard the testimonies of the trial says "I don't understand". This has been a discussed line, since essentially he's saying the point right up front. All the information won't ease his puzzlement. The three who discuss the details of the crimes and confessions are crucial- they speak for us, what our opinions might be, and we listen to each version of the story, the characters, the fears, the pride, the shame, and the search for judgment and/or truth in the situation.
Along with being director and co-adapter, Kurosawa's mastery is revealed heavily in his use of editing- there are short, fleeting moments that hint, or rather pronounce, emotions and thoughts. For instance, when we first see Tajomaru, the bandit, played by action-legend Toshiro Mifune, he is looking up at the sky, bound in straps to keep him from moving, and for a second, or less than a second, there's a shot of what he sees in the sky, then back to his face which reveals an expression that borders on skeptical, and a bit crazed, or more. Mifune's part is of a barbarian, but all the more believable as a human barbarian since he acts as such with animal desires- he sees the woman in the woods, and knows he wants her, and while he reflects that he didn't have to have killed the man, he did as a last resort as a man with an urge. This is intensified by a sadistic flee with his actions.
What's intriguing about that first description/recollection of the battle between him and the other man, is that it seems like it could be the truth, and to one viewer it could, and to another it seems like it could all be apart of his hyperactive and trapped imagination. And in the attack of the bandit on the woman, at first to him, it's like a game, then in later descriptions, he feels a little more un-easy, then later, it's of neither pleasure or discomfort, it just is. This kind of technique later happens with the woman who was victim (who has conviction, though is herself an archetype of Lifetime women), the presence who saw it "all", and with the man who in the beginning didn't understand. In each telling the expressions, the cut-aways, the lighting and movement by Kazuo Miyagawa, it's equally startling, exhilarating.
That the film gives off such a hypnotic aura isn't surprising, or perhaps it is for those in the grips of the emotion of it all- the dead man's story is like the hook ripping into a twelve foot bass. The final accouter of the tale proves the most accurate to the common observer, yet Kurosawa knows that's not the point- if he made it as such to be bold AND had a definite concrete point, the ending would be as poignant when revealed is the truth, or what one could believe as the closest thing to it is. We know why that last person didn't want to get involved with the courts with what he knows: his story is no more a revelation, of any comfort or consolation to the listeners, than the others. I highly recommend this to anyone, and to those who have distaste to foreign films should view it once anyway- it's certainly not a long movie, and it won't loose its grip on anyone willing to give itself to the tale(s). For me, it's another to add to my top 50 of all time.
"Rashomon" was Akira Kurosawa's first national hit (becoming, at the
time, the highest-grossing foreign film in America) and even gained an
Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but almost sixty years later it still
hasn't lost any of its impact. It is widely revered as one of the most
influential films of all-time, but unlike some other movies, it is not
a film that feels dated. The revolutionary methods of Kurosawa are
still effective and on-par with the cinema of today -- this isn't a
movie where you say, "Yeah, fifty years ago it might have been
different, but now it's done in all the movies." Kurosawa's techniques
are still superior to most of his imitators. Look at the 2003 John
McTiernan film, "Basic," which copies a good portion of "Rashomon's"
concept. Which is the better film? It's not a hard choice.
The film begins under a structure which reads "Rashomon" on its exterior, in a small Japanese village. It's raining outside and a woodcutter (Takashi Shumura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) inadvertently find themselves in the company of a wandering commoner (Kichijiro Ueda), and as he asks them what is the matter they both begin to relay the most horrific story they claim to know -- of a brutal murder a few days prior.
Kurosawa then switches to flashback and we see three different versions of the exact same event -- the slaying of an innocent man (the murderer played by Kurosawa film regular Toshirô Mifune) in the woods outside the village. Was it because of lust? Betrayal? Envy? Or insanity? We hear from the murderer, the wife of the victim, and a woman channeling the spirit of the dead man.
"Rashomon" is brilliant. Some people have complained that the ending is a cop-out and sentimental hogwash, but I think Kurosawa was fond of sentimentality to a point (he uses a good deal of it in "Ikiru") but the difference between what he does with sentimentality as opposed to many filmmakers of today is that he uses to to ENRICH the story, not provide an easy solution to all the problems.
Is there resolution in the finale of "Rashomon"? To a degree. But, like "Ikiru," it also leaves an open answer to its audience -- this film questions us, and our humanity, and it says something about the human condition and our weaknesses as a species. Yet it also proposes that along with the evil is an inherent good, and in my opinion the message of "Rashomon" is just as important and effective as its film-making techniques and acting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This fabulous work was years and years ahead of its time when it was
made in 1950, being a work of art that engages the eyes and the ears,
but most essentially, the brain. The film is both aesthetically
beautiful, using amazing camera techniques, extensive periods of
silence and a very limited cast to deliver the action, and the story is
typically Japanese...ostensibly amazingly simple, but complex to the
point of sending you cross-eyed!
The basic tale is this: a woman and her husband, a Samurai, are travelling through a forest when they meet a bandit. The bandit has sex with the woman and the Samurai ends up dead. That's it. This tale is related to us through the woodcutter and a monk who saw the protagonists give their evidence to the police (the dead Samurai through a medium), but unfortunately the three tales conflict with one another. Each confessor says that they killed the Samurai, and then we hear from the woodcutter who in fact witnessed the event, who gives us a version of events that borrows from each individual account, and is still less credible!
The conclusion presented by Kurosawa seems to be firstly that individuals see things from different perspectives, but secondly, and most importantly, that there is no objective truth. There is no answer as to what took place in the forest, and Kurosawa offers us no way of knowing what went on. Each story is as credible as the other, and so no conclusion about guilt can be reached. We even have to think at the end that as the whole thing is reported to us by the woodcutter and priest, was there any truth in anything we heard at all?
This film leads to an especially tricky conclusion for a movie-goer! Your eyes are supposed to show you objective truth, but they don't. The camera is supposed not to lie, but it does. I feel that the simple message is that subjectivity lies at the heart of life, and this subjectivity needs to be recognised before any attempt is made to understand events.
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 *****
"Rashomon" tells a very simple tale in a very complicated manner,
presenting four 'versions' of the truth, each from a party either
witness to or involved in the incident depicted. It is not the film's
intent to have you piece together a puzzle since that would be
impossible based on how drastically the four tales differ. We know that
lies don't enter the equation since the participating persons all claim
to be guilty. "Rashomon" is not about choosing a version of the
incident you believe is true; it is about human perspective and how it
shapes what we see. Even if we truly believe what we have seen is true,
is it really?
The film opens when a priest and woodcutter are encountered by a man who engages in a conversation about crime with them and subsequently learns that a samurai has been killed in the woods and his wife raped by a bandit. These two details are the basic, practically undisputed facts which make up the foundation of the four versions of the story we hear: the bandit's, the woman's, her husband's (through a medium), and the woodcutter's (the only presumably objective account, which still does not make sense in relation to the others). In many ways the best thing about "Rashomon" is that it never reveals what actually happens (or if any of the four accounts is in fact true), and although we are not meant to solve the mystery (the idea here is that there is no objective truth since humans are too selfish and dishonest to view anything without bias) the story structure is still brilliant and adds a lot of ambiance to the film. The narrative flow is strong and the method seems fresh and inventive today despite countless imitations (including one inexplicably popular one- "The Usual Suspects").
"Rashomon" is very much a visual film. It would be reduced to unimportant and insignificant fare without the cinematography, which captures the mood and feel of the jungle perfectly, as does the score. The film achieves an epic feel very rare for films filmed in fullscreen, especially during the battle between the bandit and the samurai during the last telling of the story. Kurosawa was also wise enough to choose a location for the film that would accurately capture the eerie, slightly disturbing mood of the story. Just picture the events taking place anywhere other than a jungle.
"Rashomon" is not without its (minor) flaws, however. While theatrical acting (Kurosawa was fascinated with silent film) worked perfectly with films like "Seven Samurai" and "Throne of Blood", it does nothing but take away from the realism of this oft claustrophobic human drama. Yes, Mifune (Tajomaru, the bandit) does provide an interesting spin on his character for each telling, and Takashi Shumura (the woodcutter) seems as honest and real as any character could possibly be, but nearly all of that effect is lost every time Machiko Kyo appears on screen. It is hard to take her seriously and during moments when I should have been close to tears I was much closer to laughter. I'm not sure how much blame I would place on her as Kurosawa probably asked her to act exactly as she does. While discussing actors I have to (unconventionally) note Fumiko Honma as the medium, who brings a wonderfully eerie air to the film during its greatest scenes.
I don't think "Rashomon" is Kurosawa's best or most important film, but it is still a masterful piece of cinema which is absolutely essential for any film lover. It's extraordinary how much Kurosawa accomplished at such an early stage in his career and without the benefit of the lavish budgets he was allotted for later projects. The film's main question is also still relevant and confusing today: is what we think we see really the truth, and to what extent does subjectivity affect perception?
As oppose to its commonplace plot, Rashomon as a concept is
extraordinarily idiosyncratic and perhaps it is this striking attribute
that makes it an undisputed masterpiece, howsoever improbable. It
vividly limns the artistry of contrivance innate in the human psyche
owing to the importunate desire of humans to placate their insatiable
egos. This manipulation of facts has no limits and entirely depends
upon the skill of imaginative improvisation of the individual along
with his level of comfort at skullduggery. The ability to misinterpret
comes naturally to the humans as a desperate ploy to counter the
adversities of life and that's what makes it indispensable. As a direct
consequence of contrivance, the concept of truth no longer remains
universal but becomes rather subjective and a matter of individualistic
Rashomon pioneered Kurosawa's dream tryst with perpetual brilliance and undoubtedly played a pivotal part in making his name a mark of excellence in the world of cinema. Rashomon is a well knitted tale about a supercilious samurai, his whimsical wife and a boorish bandit. The bandit inveigles the samurai into imprisonment and has his way with samurai's wife. The dead body of the samurai is later discovered under mysterious circumstances by a woodcutter. The bandit is captured and arraigned along with the deranged widow of the samurai. Their narrated versions seem such contrasting that a psychic is called upon to conjure up the dead samurai's spirit to record his testimony in order to corroborate the facts that seemed excessively manipulated. The samurai's version yet again differs considerably from the testimonies of the other two. Each version though different seemed to satiate the respective ego of the testifier. The woodcutter, who didn't want to get involved personally, later confesses to a priest to have actually witnessed the incident and comes up with a version of his own which falsifies the other three. The movie is ingenious as its actual motive has nothing to do with the revelation of truth as verity is merely a matter of lame perception, but rather is to highlight the discrepancies among the different versions as a medium to depict the irrational complexities associated with the human psyche.
The concept of Rashomon though well ahead of its time, sowed the seeds for creative innovation in the world of cinema and has served as the undisputed benchmark of innovative excellence for well over five decades. A quintessential Kurosawa classic, strongly recommended to the masses for its sheer brilliance and enigmatic charm. 10/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The more I watch and re-watch Kurosawa's films, the more I am sure that he
will be remembered as the greatest director of the 20th century. Although I
prefer "Ran" and "The Seven Samurai" for reasons of personal taste, I don't
think I would argue very much with anyone who proposed that "Rashomon" was
his best film. Made in 1950, it is so unusual and so far ahead of it's time
that it takes your breath away.
The story itself deserves a mention: A husband & wife travelling through woods are attacked by a thief, who ties up the husband and rapes the wife. This is as much of the story as we can be sure of. The husband ends up dead of a stab wound. How did he die? Who was responsible? Each of the three give their accounts before a court (the dead husband through a medium!), and each account is entirely different. A woodcutter who witnessed the events gives a fourth, entirely different, account.
Each flashback is an absolute gem in itself, and lives long in the mind. Toshiro Mifune as the thief exudes more raw masculinity and charisma that I think I have ever seen in ANY movie, and creates a totally believeable character. Machiko Kyo as the wife is superb in what are essentially four different roles, her own version being the highlight. The husband's character is the least well developed, but since he spends a lot of the time either tied up or dead, that's not really surprising.
Because the viewer knows that each flashback is highly personal to the teller, a vast amount of brainpower and concentration are required if you are going to try to work out what actually DID happen. Alternatively, watch the film twice back-to-back, once for the visuals and acting, and once for the detective work and philosophical implications.
My favourite shot in the movie is one which starts with the husband and wife kneeling, facing each other, a view of the wife over the shoulder of the husband; the camera then moves round to the side and simultaneously zooms in on the wife's profile; then pulls back behind the wife, ending with a view of the husband's face over the shoulder of the wife - a mirror image of the initial shot in the sequence. Absolutely awesome! And dating from 1950! Unbelievable!
I normally try to keep my reviews a LOT shorter than this, but I make no apologies in this case. Indeed, there are lots of other points I would like to make (I haven't even mentioned the central importance of the dagger, or the relevance of the Rashomon gate itself). I could go on and on and on... however, a better use of your time would be to seek out and watch this film...NOW!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Rashomon", Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film about a horrible crime and the
various versions of the "truth" that come to fruition during the
investigation is absolutely amazing, pure and simple. The story is told
four different times, each time from the point of view of one of the
participants. The basic story of the crime is that a bandit (Mifune)
comes across a husband and wife traveling through the forest. The
bandit, Tajomaru, seduces/assaults the Masako (Kyo) after tying up her
husband Takehiro (Mori), and soon after, Takehiro is dead. What happens
between the times Tajomaru encounters the couple and the discovery of
Takehiro's body is what is left to be discovered. Masako, Tajomaru and
even Takehiro (with the assistance of a medium) each tell their account
of the story, each taking blame for Takehiro's death. The fourth
telling is from a passer-by, and the audience is left to decide which
is the true account.
I absolutely loved this film. I had heard that Yimou Zhang's "Hero" had, if not as an homage, employed the same technique of storytelling and perspective, but seeing this great film was a real treat. The story is original and rich, and Kurosawa always is able to pull great performances from his actors. I found "Rashomon" to be extremely compelling from start to finish, and even managed to be really creeped out at one point. (The psychic medium is pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel) From the very little that I know of Japanese cinema of the 1950's & 1960's, I realize that Kurosawa was not the only director, but he certainly was the trailblazer and set the bar for the genre for decades to come. His peers were putting out material, it was just fairly primitive. (It is easy to forget that not every country's film industry was as opulent as America's) To see this kind of film, a film that is actually incredibly simple, but so ingeniously conceived of and executed makes me remember why I have been and always will be both a student of and lover of film. 8/10 --Shelly
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
These are the opening words of Rashômon, and in a way that's also a
summary of the entire film. It is the story of four testimonies of the
same event that couldn't differ more. It is told by a priest and a
woodcutter to a commoner, as they seek shelter from the rain under the
Rashomon gate. The priest and the woodcutter were witnesses in a trial,
and what they heard there made them puzzled, and after they told
everything, the viewer is just as puzzled as these two.
What happened? Takehiro, a samurai has been murdered and Masako, his wife has been raped, the suspect is Tajômaru. And indeed, in court he confesses to have raped the woman and to have killed the samurai in duel. Masako however tells quite a different story: After Tajômaru took advantage of her, he left and despair and pity made her kill her husband, but to commit suicide, just as she originally planned, she's to weak. Then the murdered samurai speaks, through the voice of a medium. In his story, he committed suicide because of disgust at his wife, who asked Tajomaru to kill him in order to accompany the robber. At the end, we hear even another story from the woodcutter, who was, as he reveals, an eyewitnesses. In his version, Tajômaru killed the samurai in a duel (or rather: in a brawl) that was demanded by his wife.
Now what did really happen? Why did at least three of these four people lie? The reason cannot be (as the commoner says at one point) that everyone told what was useful for him, since, except for the woodcutter, everyone told a story in which he was the killer. So do they all think their story is true? Do they all feel guilty for a reason or another? These questions will cause endless discussions once you watch this film.
And the end, Kurosawa raises another question: If man keeps lying (to others as well as to himself), does that mean he is evil? This question is underlined by the crying baby the three men find in the Rashômon gate. Kurosawa's answer to this question is clearly a no: the woodcutter takes the baby to raise him and the priest realizes that he is a good man, even although he's a lier and a thief.
But if Kurosawa had only raised these questions, Rashômon wouldn't have become such a classic as it is considered today. He is telling his story with breathtaking images, as when he's holding his camera directly into the sun, when he uses the wood, light and shadow to create a dense atmosphere, or when he shows the trial scenes, where he makes the witnesses talk to the viewers to make them feel like the judges. The fight scenes are all terrifically shot, and the scene before Masako kills Takehiro can move you to tears. Rashômon also has some good acting, especially the breathtaking Toshirô Mifune in one of film history's most unforgettable performances as the wild robber Tajômaru, always jumping around and seemingly untamable and unafraid. All this makes Rashômon a mind-boggling experience, that had me talk all night through with friends of mine, and still stirs me whenever i watch it.
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