Thursday, 16 March 2017

Rashomon (1950)

Fig 1 - Rashomon Poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa and based on the short story In a Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Rashomon tells the tale of a terrible crime from the vastly differing perspectives of those involved. The story begins under the 'Rashomon' city gate, with a Priest and a Woodcutter taking shelter from the rain. Before long, a 'Commoner' joins them and the two tell him of the disturbing events that took place in the past three days. When the Woodcutter stumbles upon a dead body in the mountains, he takes the matter to the police at which point a court must decide who is responsible. The rest of the story takes place jumping between the court setting, various scenarios and the story-tellers themselves. We follow the testimonies of the 'infamous bandit' Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune), the wife of the deceased Masako (Machiko Kyo) and a Medium (Noriko Honma) channeling the dead man's side of the story.

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. The opening gives an incredible hook, just from the sheer horror on the faces of the men recounting the tale and their assurance that this event that happened was too despicable, too disturbing and awful to recount, as if reading from the opening of a Lemony Snicket book. But what ensues happens to be much more of a fable about the nature of truth and the way in which man should not trust even his own recollection of the facts. Toshiro Mifune (as seen on the poster) gives an excellent performance as Tajomaru incidentally, whose erratic and unpredictable delivery gave almost a 'folklore' element to his character.

Fig 2 - Rashomon - Tajomaru in court
The production of the film was notorious in that many of the cast and crew did not understand the script. The nonlinear timeline was not commonplace at the time of its making and thus, Kurosawa was even driven to the point of firing an assistant who would not let up asking for clarification. So it's innovation certainly deserves a level of appreciation. I only wish I had cared more about the characters to care about the truth. It was the same struggle I had with The Usual Suspects, in many ways and, though we do get the truth, it was marred by the fact that I had grown tired of this scenario altogether.

Rashomon is not a bad film by any means. The cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa gave an incredibly rich atmosphere to its setting. Hell, it even coined the phrase 'The Rashomon Effect' as a term to describe an unreliable narrator. I just didn't feel I particularly gained anything from it, and as much as I can appreciate it, I am unlikely to watch again.


Fig. 1 Rashomon Poster (1950) From: Rashomon - Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Fig. 2 Rashomon Screenshot (1950) From: Rashomon - Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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