Rashomon (1950): Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's treatise on the subjectivity of truth

An Akira Kurosawa Japanese film that propounded the Rashomon Effect 

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews



toshiro mifune as the bandit, Rashomon (1950), rashomon effect, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Rashomon (1950) By Akira Kurosawa
Our Rating: 10.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.4
Genre: Crime  | Drama
CastToshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, Masayuki Mori
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Runtime: 88 min
Color: Black and White

Summary: A heinous crime and its aftermath are recalled from differing points of view.

Rashomon (1950), a Japanese film directed by master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, introduced the Japanese cinema to the whole world. In the movie Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa highlighted, for the first time in cinema, that discrepancies can exist among the different versions of the same event (as narrated from the perspective of different parties). These discrepancies testify the subjective nature of truth. Rashomon's extraordinarily unique concept and Kurosawa's brilliant treatment of the subject matter make it an undisputed masterpiece. Rashomon - the 1950 Akira Kurosawa Japanese movie which propounded the "Rashomon Effect" - vividly limns the artistry of contrivance innate in the human psyche owing to the unending desire of humans to placate their insatiable egos. This manipulation of facts has no limits and entirely depends upon the skill of imaginative improvisation of the individual along with his level of comfort at trickery. The ability to misinterpret comes naturally to the humans as an obvious tool to counter the adversities of life, and perhaps that's what makes it indispensable. As a direct consequence of contrivance, the concept of truth no longer remains universal but becomes rather subjective and a matter of individualistic perception. Whether by design or inadvertence, this subjectivity of perception with respect to veracity must not be overlooked under any circumstance so as to surmise the most befitting conclusion.

samurai's wife with knife in her hand, Rashomon, in the woods, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
A Still from Rashomon
Rashomon pioneered Akira Kurosawa's dream tryst with perpetual brilliance and undoubtedly played a pivotal part in making his name a mark of excellence in the world of cinema. The film is based on two stories, written by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa: "Rashomon" and "In a Grove". The all-famous Rashomon story revolves around a supercilious samurai, his whimsical wife and a barbaric bandit (brilliantly portrayed by Toshiro Mifune). The bandit inveigles the samurai into imprisonment and has his way with samurai's wife. The dead body of the samurai is later discovered under mysterious circumstances by a woodcutter. The bandit is captured and arraigned along with the deranged widow of the samurai. 

toshiro mifune as the bandit, Rashomon, the wife hides behind th bandit, defies the husband, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune  in Rashomon
Subsequently, the bandit and the widow testify in the court. Their narrated versions seem so contrasting that a psychic is called upon to conjure up the dead samurai's spirit to record his testimony in order to corroborate the facts that seem to be excessively manipulated. The samurai's version yet again differs considerably from the testimonies of the other two. What makes this bizarre scenario even more convoluted is that each version, while completely different from the other, seems to appease the very ego of testifier in contention. The woodcutter, who   seemed disinclined to get involved personally, later makes a confession to a local priest that he's actually been a witness to the incident, and comes up with a version of his own which falsifies the other three. 

Takashi Shimura as woodcutter, Rashomon, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
A Still from Rashomon
Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is ingenious as its actual motive has nothing to do with the revelation of truth for verity is merely a matter of perception. On the contrary, Rashomon propounds to highlight the discrepancies among the different versions as a medium to depict the irrational complexities associated with the human psyche. Vintage Rashomon, such effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection in the modern day parlance is more commonly known as the Rashomon Effect. The concept, as propagated by the Rashomon story described above, though well ahead of its time, sowed the seeds for creative innovation in the world of cinema and has served as the undisputed benchmark of innovative excellence for well over five decades.  

PS. Rashomon (1950) is a quintessential Akira Kurosawa classic and is strongly recommended to the masses for its sheer brilliance and enigmatic charm. 

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. Your feedback is highly appreciated!  

For a list of Best Films by Akira Kurosawa, please click here

For more information on the title, please click on the following links:


Rashomon Trailer (YouTube)


For more of Kurosawa on A Potpourri of Vestiges, please click on the following links:

Dersu Uzala (1975)


People who liked this also liked...
Share on Google Plus

32 comments:

  1. Very well written! Your review really sparked it up and once again brought the movie to life for me. It turned out to be one heck of an experience when I had watched a couple of decades back :P

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks a ton, mate! However, I would have been happier had you chosen to disclose your identity. Anyway, I can only try to imagine the impact that Rashomon would have had back then because these days it has become a norm to imitate it, surprisingly more so on television. Then again, that's the very beauty of Rashomon that it has succeeded in perpetuating the very concept.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was lucky enough to see this in the cinema recently. the scenes with rain were amazing on the big screen with LOUD sound. Personal favorite Kurosawa movie: Akahige/Redbeard.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm more a Yojimbo man myself, but it's not an either-or. Interestingly enough, Kurosawa was never really embraced in Japan -- his foreign notoriety is much greater than his domestic notoriety.
    Ikiru is my favorite.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @workingdankosh - I too love Yojimbo...there's absolutely no question about it. It's sad but true that his own people never gave him his due.
    Ran and Dersu Uzala are my all time Kurosawa favourites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, Dersu Uzala! My father always forced me and my younger brother to watch these things as kids. Think I was about 10yrs old when I saw it, and wow, what an imprint it left.

      Delete
  6. If you asked me to rank movies, Ran could easily be #1.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @kbergstr - Really good choice...I also would give Ran a slight edge over other Kurosawa movies. Also, do check out my review of Ran:

    http://apotpourriofvestiges.blogspot.com/2012/01/ran-1985-kurosawas-visual-spectacle-and.html

    ReplyDelete
  8. Based on the story, "In a Grove", by Ryunosuke Akutagawa in his book aptly named "Rashomon". Great book and great film.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I saw Rashomon when it first came out in the 50s and was blown away by it and it remains my favorite movie of all time. I've seen seen all of Kurosawa's movies and a few of the Western versions (Magnificent Seven [Seven Samurai], The Outrage [Rashomon], Star Wars [The Hidden Fortress] and Fistful of Dollars [Yojimbo].

    ReplyDelete
  10. In my opinion, Rashomon is a masterwork psychological movie, where as Yojimbo is just an an amazing movie in every way. But they're completely different movies.
    Though personally I'll throw Seven Samurai in there as well. That's my personal favorite.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This article is unnecessarily verbose. Quite honestly, it reads like a "intro to foreign cinema 101" first assignment essay.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Brilliant, brilliant movie. One of the greats of all time..In my opinion it is even better than Seven Samurai, movie that Kurosawa is principally known for.

    ReplyDelete
  13. A lot of the themes from Kurosawa's films have also been splendiforously (not a real word but verbose as well) re-created in the modern films of Yôji Yamada (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0442286/) - The Hidden Blade, Love & Honor, and Twilight Samurai are great Japanese (modern movies) a lot of people haven't heard of!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I believe that each and every Kurosawa movie is a masterpiece in its own right. You talk of High and Low, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Dersu Uzala, Hidden Fortress, or Dreams...each one has something or the other to offer. Perhaps, that's why many of Kurosawa's movies are being imitated endlessly!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I find it really hard to believe that Kurosawa wasn't embraced in Japan. Why do you think he wasnt?

    ReplyDelete
  16. As far as I am concerned, there just cannot be one reason for it! Though, I believe that it could have something to do with his unique style of movie-making. People in the Orient are a bit conservative as compared to the people in the West, who are more open to changes. Moreover, I believe that Kurosawa himself was inspired by the Western directors like Billy Wilder, John Huston and John Ford, which is quite evident in some of his Noire masterpieces like High and Low and Nora inu. So, the inclination of the people of the West towards him was quite natural!

    ReplyDelete
  17. @Shantanu - I totally agree with you, there! While, I really like Seven Samurai, I just happen to like Rashomon better! But, Ran and Dersu Uzala happen to top my list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ran was a visual masterpiece, brilliant but little complex to understand, maybe I will like it better on Re-watch. And interestingly, I have seen dozens of Kurosawa movies but never heard of Dersu Uzala. Thanks for the recommendation !!

      Delete
    2. Well, you better because as far as I am concerned there's nothing that can match the power and elegance of Ran. And trust me, you don't want to miss a gem like Dersu Uzala :P

      Delete
  18. Rashomon was great! I never saw a movie quite like it before. There was another one I saw of his that I greatly enjoyed but can't remember what it was called. There were two villagers who started finding gold lost from a captured castle. Toshiro Mifune, that Japenese John Wayne BAMF him, played a samurai who protected a, er, let's just call her a princess I guess, disguising her as a commoner. Had that wicked but beautifully friendly duel to the death between Toshiro and this other large samurai from the enemy clan..... aahhhhhh its on the tip of my tongue!

    ReplyDelete
  19. @Nabbicus - I think you are referring to The Hidden Fotress, which is the very movie that gave George Lucas the inspiration for Star Wars. As far as Mifune is concerned, he indeed is one of my all time favorite actors. It's really sad that Kurosawa and Mifune had a fall out after Red Beard otherwise we would have seen arguably the best director-actor pair of all time in many more movies.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the web the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people think about worries that they plainly don't know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks
    Air Jordan III (3) Retro

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Fred...really appreciate it! I hope to hear from you more often from now on :P

      Delete
  21. Wonderful case study. Hats off to you for writing about this fantastic movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Arun... am really overwhelmed :P

      Delete
  22. Very Well Written ..You May Review Kurosawa's Masterpiece' Dreams'

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thanks Ragesh! I will definitely review it as soon as I watch it :-P

    ReplyDelete
  24. Bhavana UpadhyayaJune 14, 2012 at 10:26 PM

     Rashomon---thank you for such a powerful review. It has been years since I saw Akira Kurosawa movies and I remember the powerful impact this movie made on me! The flashbacks are powerful--smooth, perfect, logical, and dramatic. Yes, there is no Absolute Truth--there are only truths, as myriad the colors of light!!!
    In btw, I have nurtured a massive crush on Toshira Mifune--he is brilliant isn't he? Have you already reviewed Yojimbo and Seven Samurai?

    ReplyDelete
  25. Bhavana UpadhyayaJune 14, 2012 at 10:27 PM

     Oh I love Ran and Dersu Uzala myself!!! Dersu was powerful...Ran I loved the colours!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thanks Bhavana for adding colors to my blog by sharing your thoughts! Ran and Dersu Uzala are right on the top of my all time favorite movies. In my personal opinion both are finest specimens of movie-making but in the exact opposite sense: while Ran is all about grandeur and resplendence, Dersu Uzala is about simplicity and austerity. 

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thanks Bhavan for those kind words! The pleasure is indeed mine. The beauty of Akira Kurosawa's cinema is that it's independent of time and space and it's no mere exaggeration but something that I had experienced first hand. His movies tend to grow on you with each viewing and you as a viewer are just never satisfied and keep on craving for more. The movies also tend to have a lasting impact on one's soul as well as intellect. Rashomon was the movie that introduced not only Kurosawa but also Japanese Cinema to the world and it's epic on a countless number of fronts: be it technique, story-telling, time-switching, etc. And Toshiro Mifune is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of all time. His timing, according to Kurosawa himself, was impeccable. The duo of Kurosawa and Mifune has to be the greatest director-actor pair of all time. Sadly, they had to part due to a conflict that arose at the time of shooting Red Beard, which made it impossible for the two to work together again. Kurosawa found a great replacement in Tatsuya Nakadai who is simply sublime in Kagemusha and Ran, but one wonders what would have been the final result had Mifune played those powerful caricatures. Yes, the two movies have already been reviewed on my blog. You can search for them in the index link given at the top of the page :-P 

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing for valuable opinion. We would be delighted to have you back.