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
War, earthquake, winds, fire, famine, the plague. Year after year, it's been nothing but disasters. And bandits descend upon us every night. I've seen so many men getting killed like insects, but even I have never heard a story as horrible as this. Yes. So horrible. This time, I may finally lose my faith in the human soul. It's worse than worse than bandits, the plague, famine, fire or wars.
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In order to get the film into more mainstream U.S. theatres, RKO also released this film in an English dubbed version. See more »
Woman's Tale Theme (Bolero)
Written by Fumio Hayasaka inspired by Maurice Ravel's "Bolero", using the same background rhythm, and similar orchestration and build-up, but different melodic lines. See more »
'People forget the unpleasant things. They only remember what they want to remember.'
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
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