Rashomon



























Rashomon. Among the most influential of films, this 1950 Akira Kurosawa classic is better after the first experience. I first watched it in the 90s and although scenes stuck with me, something was missing. It's contradictory accounts of the rape and murder, told by four characters, felt unresolved on the whole. Movies and TV shows I'd watched growing up used what's called the "Rashomon effect," but the true version of events was always revealed in the end, as in a detective interviews four witnesses to a crime, each with a different story, and then, after a strike of Holmesian intuition or Columbo detective work, peels away the falsities to give us the truth. This formula was still rooted in me as I tried to suss out the liars and red herrings and awaited the reveal I'd been conditioned to expect. But in Rashomon what actually comes is anagnorisis of a different sort; the search for truth and morality is in part the film's object, not the truth itself.


The second time I watched Rashomon was around eight years ago in the countryside near Joetsu, Niigata—stretched out on tatami mats as cricket chirps came through the door screens with the summer breeze. And this time Rashomon felt right since my expectations had been quelled. What struck me was the contrast between light and dark, the shadows of leaves on faces, the camera shot straight up at the sun followed by the dagger slipping from the wife's hand, the woodcutter running through dense woods, and the bandit's (Toshiro Mifune) gazing at the clouds before his version is told. These images and scenes are unforgettable but were refreshed.


The third time, yesterday, I laughed watching it, which I can't recall doing before. The woodcutter's story shows Tajomaru helplessly in love with the wife, and the farcical inelegance of the bandit and samurai is laughable, as is the wife's untimely shriek afterward. Also this time I was mesmerized by the medium, who delivers the dead samurai's account. When she collapses, it's uncanny how her tied hair seems to bend and keel over.


It's remarkable that Kurosawa had a hard time getting money to make Rashomon and that he had to make do with a fairly lean budget yet created something so visually memorable and incredibly influential. Everyone from Francis Ford Coppola, Fellini, Bertolucci, Spielberg, and Scorsese to George Lucas, Kubrick, Miyazaki, Bergman, and Polanski have talked about how greatly Kurosawa influenced them. Spielberg said, "I have learned more from him than from almost any other filmmaker on the face of the earth." And Scorsese: "Let me say it simply: Akira Kurosawa was my master."

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