Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, Masayuki Mori
Tag line: "The great, exciting Japanese production that brings a new experience to the cinema"
Trivia: In his autobiography, Akira Kurosawa recalled that one of the biggest problems his crew encountered while filming in the forest was that slugs kept dropping out of the trees onto their heads
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is a film that demands pages and pages of analysis. There’s so much going on here, from the director’s lyrical approach to the story to the non-linear style in which he tells it, that I fear this short write-up of mine simply won’t do it justice.
But here goes...
Rashomon is set in Medieval Japan, and concerns the trial of a notorious bandit (Toshiro Mifune) who stands accused of raping a woman (Machiko Kyo) and murdering her samurai husband (Masayuki Mori). During the trial, all parties are given a chance to tell their side of the story (even the dead husband testifies through a medium), and each one’s account varies greatly from the others. It soon becomes obvious all three have something to hide, and that the truth of what actually happened may never be known.
Rashomon is, as many critics and historians will attest to, a very visual film (it's one of the first to rely on a hand-held camera, used perfectly to follow the characters through the forest), but amidst the technical brilliance lies a gripping tale of pride, and the treachery it brings about. The Bandit claims to have killed the samurai in a sword fight, yet did so only because the wife, ashamed at having two men know of her disgrace, pleaded with him to murder her husband. The wife, in turn, says she murdered her husband in a moment of temporary insanity, unable to endure either his scornful stares or the accusatory tone he displayed following the rape. Even the deceased husband, speaking through a medium (Fumiko Honma), is more interested in defending his reputation than in speaking the truth, and claims his wife’s dishonorable actions following the assault drove him to suicide. Which story is true? Surely all of them, to one degree or another, are at least partially accurate, yet they are all undoubtedly filled with lies. The real question is ‘why’? Why did they lie? It’s because these characters are slaves to their own deep-seated pride, one that makes them so concerned with honor, each is willing to admit to murder (or suicide) to protect their good name. For them, being branded a killer is more acceptable than living in disgrace.
As engaging as this human story is, its just a single aspect of a film that’s earned its place among the greatest ever made. Not only do I recommend Rashomon, but I strongly suggest you watch it in the company of others. The desire to discuss the film will be so strong that seeing it alone could prove a frustrating experience.
Take it from someone who knows.