Rashomon (1950)

Original Title : Rashomon
Director : Akira Kurosawa
Writer : Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Akira Kurosawa
Shinobu Hashimoto
Genre : Crime
Country : Japan
Language : Japanese
Producer : Minoru Jingo , Masaichi Nagata
Music : Fumio Hayasaka
Photography : Kazuo Miyagawa
Distributor : Daiei Motion Picture Co. Ltd. [jp]
IMDB ID : 0042876
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poster for "Rashomon" by Akira Kurosawa (1950)
Rashomon (1950) - Akira Kurosawa


ÂToshirô Mifune Tajomaru
ÂMachiko Kyô Masako
ÂMachiko Kyô Masako


In ancient Japan, a woman is raped and her husband killed. The film gives us four viewpoints of the incident - one for each defendant - each revealing a little more detail. Which version, if any, is the real truth about what happened ? Rashomon (1950) is a Japanese crime drama, that is produced with both philosophical and psychological overtones. An episode (rape and murder) in a forest is reported by four witnesses, each from their own point of view. - Who is telling the truth? What is truth?


Kurosawa?Big wow-a! Spoiler warning! Rashomon is one of those supposedly great movies that, if no one told you beforehand that it was regarded as such, you'd never guess it in a million years. The film that introduced the mind-bogglingly overrated Akira Kurosawa to Western audiences, Rashomon proves that he's part film director and part chef, because he takes every scene and makes a meal out of it! Ho ho ho! Anyway, this philosophical chin-scratcher muses over the ability of the human mind to deceive both yourself and others - yes, apparently people don't always tell the truth, especially when pride is at stake. Well well. The one interesting aspect of the film is its construction, with one event being told from four different viewpoints by four different people. Basically: in medieval Japan, a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) watches a husband and wife (Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyo) trotting through the forest on a horse. He immediately falls in love with the woman and decides he must have her for himself. Before too long the wife has been raped and her husband murdered. But how did this come about? Told to a stranger by a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki), we see the differing versions of events as told by the bandit, the wife, the husband and a witness to the crimes. I had a major problem with this film. I don't care what culture or what time period we're dealing with here, the approach to the rape is approaching despicability. Because this movie is fiction and not based on a true story, its depiction of the rape could have been given some balance rather than taking place in a moral vacuum. In the bandit's version of what happens following the rape, the woman pleads with him to duel to the death with her husband, in her version, she begs her husband to kill her and then kills him when he does nothing but stare impassively at her, the husband's story has her wanting to run off with the bandit and have him kill her husband, and the witness says the husband calls her a whore, shouts at her for crying and tells her she'd be better off dead after being 'disgraced' in front of two men! Even when she rebukes her husband, she tells him that if he were a real man he'd kill the bandit and then tell her to kill herself! I'm not an historian, so maybe that's how it was, maybe the Japanese culture of honour before all else was so prevalent back then that something as disgusting as rape was seen as being not so bad as loss of face. But the movie doesn't even treat the rape as the crime. The murder is the thing, everything else, including the rape, is seen as events leading up to the true misdeed, rather than a crime in itself. There's a shot of the woman's fingers curling in pleasure as the bandit kisses her, giving the impression that she's somehow enjoying it - and that's a fault of the movie, not a bygone attitude it's portraying. This makes a movie as misogynistic as Death Wish II look like a feminist's wet dream. In every version of the events, the woman is given the least amount of dignity but the most amount of responsibility for what happened. Yes, the characters are trying to alleviate the blame from themselves, but this does not excuse the rape victim making herself seem somehow blameful. Could this have been a fantastic film? Yes. Is it? No. By centering the movie around just seven characters, Kurosawa uses the viewer as judge, having the actors tell their stories to the 'court' by looking almost directly into the camera, supposedly bringing the viewer into the film by using them as an eighth character (the questioners in the court are neither seen nor heard). But while this could have brought a modicum of power to the proceedings, it's instead one idea that does work in a long, drawn out series of off-kilter and occasionally laughable scenes that bore more than anything else. Take Mifune's performance as the bandit - apparently laughing maniacally and jumping about like Rumpelstiltskin equals great acting. Kurosawa's love of overlong shots of not-very-interesting stuff means that the introduction in the rain, the duel, the woodcutter plodding through the forest and the bandit watching the husband and wife go by all last at least twice as long as they really need to. The point's been made, why not make it two or three more times? Even though the movie doesn't exactly have its feet on the ground at the best of times, the scene where a medium shows up to channel the dead husband so he can tell his side of the story is just plain dumb. By this point I was thinking: who's gonna turn up to testify next, the horse? Is Dr. Dolittle going to appear and do the translation? Surely, in a movie that tries to distance itself from reality in style, it would have been better just to ditch the surrounding scenes with the priest and the woodcutter and have the four characters, dead or alive, tell their stories to camera? I've got to admit, I don't have the best radar for sub-texts and metaphors. But even on the surface, on the level of pure storytelling, Rashomon is bodged by dragged-out direction, yawny editing and overwrought performances. It's a hypnotic film - hypnotic as in `You are feeeeeling sleeeeepy...' Constantly praised for Kurosawa's stylised direction and the power of its 'insights' into and truth and perception, Rashomon is certainly a boring film and actually quite an ugly one to boot. In concept, it's compelling, morally, it's up doo-doo creek without a paddle.
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