Story: A hiker (Kichijiro Ueda) seeks shelter from the rain under the roof of the "Rashomon Gate". There he
meets a priest (Minoru Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) who tell him of a gruesome story. The hiker wants to
know more and so he listens to the story about the bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune) who killed a samurai (Masayuki Mori)
wandering through the woods of a near forest and raped his wife (Machiko Kyo), told from the perspective from four
different individuals. Tajomaru's story differs greatly from the one of the samurai's raped wife, but even the story
of the killed samurai himself, who depicts his version of the events leading to his death through a medium, and the
one of a fourth eyewitness, the woodcutter, don't add up to a congruous picture of what happened. What really happened
that day and what motives do the four different eyewitnesses have to falsify the true story?
Review: There are some classics that stand as must-sees not only for Asian movie lovers, but for filmgoers in
general. "Rashomon" by directing legend Akira Kurosawa is one of those works. Even the more amazing is that only
few of the relevant internet sites revolving around Asian cinema take a closer look at these films, sadly including my
little site. Actually, Kurosawa's work stands as a forerunner in many respects. The story of four individuals, who
provide a report about the same event with great differences, is an element in movies that is often made use of
by directors today who then even think to have created something genuine. But we are not just talking about Hollywood,
even Zhang Yimou got some inspiration for his "Hero" from Kurosawa's work. Also interesting, and viewers should keep
this in mind while watching the movie so that they don't end up disappointed, is the fact that the director doesn't
deliver any real resolution or truth, but instead different attempts of an explanation.
Because that's what "Rashomon" is all about: Truth and lies. What world are we living in that every individual, for different reasons, is dependant on lies in order to protect him-/herself or his/her self image? A cruel world, as the priest in the movie points out. The most common lies seem to be those that we want to believe in ourselves, resp. those we spread to deceive ourselves. Men cannot be honest with or about themselves, they can't talk about their own person without beautifying themselves, as Akira Kurosawa stated in an interview and as he transfered it onto screen in the form of a fascinating movie.
Moreover, "Rashomon" is one of the first movies to make use of flashbacks in which the same event is depicted in different ways. Within the flashbacks there are even more of them, so that a multi-leveled story-fabric is woven in the end. It's just this kind of storytelling that makes this movie so enthralling and captivating, because the pacing itself is actually a little bit too slow leading to "Rashomon" sometimes feeling a bit lengthy.
However, you also have to take in respect that the movie is from the year 1950, when a different kind of pacing was the norm. Anyway, you shouldn't get fooled by the exaggerated acting, because this surely wasn't usual routine in that time. Actually, Kurosawa wanted to put more emphasis on the emotions in the way that actors had to do during the time of silent films when they strived to convey emotions to the audience without their voice. This somewhat intrusive acting works surprisingly well, though, and Toshiro Mifune's lunatic laughter is something that will stick to you long after the movie. But even in other respects Kurosawa's favourite actor Mifune once again delivers a great portrayal that easily outshines those of anyone else in the film. At first, especially the wife of the samurai, played by Machiko Kyo, may seem a bit clichéloaden concerning the depiction of the devoted spouse of an honorable samurai, but that's also where one nice twist is hidden within one of the stories, therefore making up for that flaw right away.
There has been put special emphasis on the cinematography, too. Kazuo Miyagawa does an amazing job, here, and most of all showed his expertise in his profession when it comes to the shadow of the leaves playing on the ground and the faces of the protagonists. Furthermore, "Rashomon" is often given credit to be the first movie, in which a camera has been directly facing the sun, a big no-go during that time. The cinematography greatly contributes to making the heat and tropical atmosphere of the woods in which most of the movie takes place almost physically tangible.
Also feeling very thrilling and realistic are the fights. There is no superfluous aesthetics or impressive choreography to be found in the sword duels, but these are solely fights for bare survival. Wildly flailing around with swords, tripping or running away are therefore important parts of the duels, which simply make the movie look realistic and create emotional tension.
Maybe you can criticize "Rashomon" for its somewhat emotional and morally correct ending, yet, Kurosawa manages to create a picture, in which hope seems to be out of reach, thanks to a world full of humans who lie to others and themselves. Every one of the eyewitnesses or alleged culprits lies for a different reason, may it be to protects one's pride, honor or reputation. In the end, this behavior seems to corrupt the world itself. Still, Kurosawa presents us with a small ray of hope. Can we really criticize him for that?
The score doesn't seem to be composed especially for the movie, but derived from certain classic music pieces, which mainly was done to win over the western audience as well. It worked, anyway. "Rashomon" has been Kurosawa's big international breakthrough and even won him an Academy Award, and this four years before his "The Seven Samurai". The reason for that is simple: Even though the film may seem somewhat alienating concerning its pacing and acting these days, "Rashomon" hasn't lost any of its magic and counts as a truely genuine work even today. The importance of this work for Japanese/international cinema may be realized by viewers only hours or days after watching this piece of classic, but it surely will.