Rashomon



Rashōmon is a 1950 Japanese motion picture directed by Akira Kurosawa (in collaboration with Kazuo Miyagawa) and starring Toshiro Mifune.

The movie's theme is the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of obtaining the truth about an event from conflicting witness accounts. Rashōmon can be said to have introduced Kurosawa and Japanese cinema to Western audiences, and is considered one of his masterpieces.

In English and other languages, "Rashomon" has become a by-word for any situation wherein the truth of an event becomes difficult to verify due to the conflicting accounts of different witnesses. In psychology, the film has lent its name to the Rashomon effect.

Based on two stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa ("Rashōmon" provides the setting, while "In a Grove" provides the characters and plot), it describes a rape and murder through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses, including the perpetrator and, through a medium, the murder victim. The story unfolds in flashback as the four characters—the bandit Tajōmaru (Toshiro Mifune), the murdered samurai Kanazawa-no-Takehiro (Masayuki Mori), his wife Masago (Machiko Kyō), and the nameless Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura)—recount the events of one afternoon in a grove. But it is also a flashback within a flashback, where the woodcutter or priest has told what each individual said at the court. Each story is mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer unable to determine the truth of the events.

The unnamed Woodcutter claims he found the body of the victim (the Samurai) three days ago while looking for wood in the forest.

The traveling Buddhist priest claims that he saw the Samurai and the Woman the same day the murder happened. (Since his report does not tell anything about the murder, and does not contradict the other reports, he is presumably telling the truth.)

Tajōmaru, a notorious brigand, claims that he tricked the Samurai and his wife to step off the mountain trail with him and look at some swords he was selling. When he had them far off the trail, he separated them, and tied the Samurai to a tree. He planned to rape the woman, but she willingly gave in to him instead. The woman, filled with shame, then begged him to duel to the death with her husband, to save her from the guilt and shame of knowing two men. He honorably set the Samurai free so they could duel. In Tajōmaru's recollection they fight skillfully and fiercely, but in the end Tajōmaru is the victor and the woman runs away. At the end of the story he is asked about an expensive dagger owned by the samurai's wife: he says that, in the confusion, he forgot all about it, and that it was foolish of him to leave behind such a valuable object.

The Samurai's wife, Masago, claims that after she was raped by Tajōmaru, who left her to weep, she begged her husband to forgive her; but he simply looked at her coldly. She then freed him and begged him to kill her so that she would be at peace. He continued to stare at her coldly, and then she fainted with dagger in hand. She awakens to find her husband dead with the dagger in his chest, supposedly an accident that happened when she fell over. She recalls attempting to drown herself some time later by a nearby lake.

Through a medium, the deceased Samurai, Kanazawa-no-Takehiro, claims that after he was captured by Tajōmaru, and after the bandit raped his wife, Tajōmaru asked her to travel with him. She accepted and asked Tajōmaru to kill her husband so that she wouldn't feel the guilt of knowing two men. Tajōmaru, shocked by this request, grabbed her, and gave the Samurai a choice of letting the woman go or killing her ("At this", the dead samurai recounted, "I almost forgave the bandit."). The woman fled, and Tajōmaru, after attempting to recapture her, gave up and set the Samurai free. The Samurai then killed himself with his own dagger. The ghost then mentions that somebody removed the dagger from his chest; upon hearing this (or more precisely, in the frame sequence after this part of the trial flashback is recounted), the woodcutter is startled, and claims that the dead man must be lying, because he was killed by a sword.

The woodcutter then confesses that his earlier view was a lie and that he did in fact witness the murder. He says that Tajōmaru raped the Samurai's wife, and then begged the weeping woman to marry him. She instead freed her husband, then continued weeping. Tajōmaru began advancing upon her husband, with her encouragement. Upon realizing he was about to be attacked, the Samurai said that he was unwilling to die for a woman such as her, and that he would mourn the loss of his horse more than the loss of his wife. At this, the woman was provoked into a rage, demanding that the two men duel in order to win her (that "a woman's love is won by swords"), and expressing her exhaustion at the role she was asked to play. At her speech, Tajōmaru and the Samurai began to fight, but in the Woodcutter's recollection the struggle only showed how clumsy and frightened they were, each man leaving much to be desired by way of both courage and combat skill. After an extended sequence of fighting, Tajōmaru won the duel, plunging his sword into the chest of the Samurai as he (the Samurai) was attempting to scramble up a hillock. After killing the Samurai, Tajōmaru advanced on the woman, attempting to grab her. The woman fled as he chased her, and the recollection closed.

At the temple, the woodcutter, priest, and commoner are interrupted from their discussion of the woodcutter's account by the sound of a crying baby. They find the baby abandoned, and the commoner takes the clothes protecting the baby as it lay in a basket. The woodcutter reproaches the commoner for stealing from the abandoned baby, but the commoner retorts that he knows the truth: that the woodcutter, too, is a thief, having stolen the dagger used in the murder of the samurai. The commoner claims that all men are selfish, and all men are looking out for themselves in the end.

These deceptions and lies shake the priest's faith in the goodness of humanity. He is brought back to his senses when the woodcutter reaches for the baby in the priest's arms. After initially snapping at the woodcutter ("Are you trying to take all that he has left?") he relents when the woodcutter explains that he has six other children at home, and that the addition of one more (the baby) would not make life any more difficult. This simple revelation recasts the woodcutter's story and the subsequent theft of the dagger in a new light. The priest gives the baby to the woodcutter, saying that the woodcutter has given him reason to continue having hope in humanity. The film closes on the woodcutter, walking home with the baby. The rain has stopped.

When Daiei, a film production company in Japan, got the script of the film, the head of the company didn't understand what the film was about. The company was reluctant to support the film so they gave the director a small budget to create the film. Even though they were reluctant to support the film, they opened a two-week premiere, twice as long as usual. However, how Japanese critics reacted to the film is crucial. Most critics said that the film was a failure "for visualizing the style of the original stories," "too complicated," "too monotonous," and contained "too much cursing." Japanese critics didn't understand why the film got a good reputation from Western countries. They came to the conclusion that the film was "exotic." Therefore, the film was appealing to Western countries. But some critics found that the reason the film got the good reputation and numerous awards is not only because it was exotic to western eyes but also because it was "Western." In a collection of interpretations of Rashomon, Donald Richie writes that what was "Western" about the film was that "the confines of 'Japanese' thought could not contain the director, who thereby joined the world at large." He also quotes Kurosawa criticizing how "Japanese think too little of our [Japanese] own things."

The film won a Golden Lion Award at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, and is widely credited to have introduced both Kurosawa and Japanese cinema to Western audiences. The film pioneered several cinematographic techniques, such as shooting directly into the sun and using mirrors to reflect sunlight onto the actor's faces. The film is also notable as an instance in which the camera "acts," or plays an active and important role in the story or its symbolism.

The film's concept has been influential on many other subsequent works, such as the films Courage Under Fire and Hoodwinked, the television series Boomtown and episodes of televison programs such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, A Different World and CSI. The 1964 western movie The Outrage, which starred Paul Newman, Claire Bloom and Edward G. Robinson, was a remake of Rashōmon. The movie Hero has also been compared to Rashōmon.

In the film Inside the Edges, German filmmaker Werner Herzog said that Rashōmon is the closest to "perfect" a film can get.

Kurosawa’s admiration for silent movies and modern art can be seen in this film. There are only three settings in the film: Rashomon gate, the woods and the courtyard. The gate and the courtyard are simply constructed. The woods are real. One of the reasons why settings are simple is because of the low budget that Kurosawa got from Daiei. However, what made Kurosawa create simplicity in the film is his admiration for silent movies and modern art. Sound films make themselves more sophisticated by sounds because of "cinematic sound," according to Kurosawa in The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie. "Cinematic sound is never merely accompaniment, never merely what the sound machine caught while you took the scene. Real sound does not merely add to the images, it multiplies it." A director who creates a sound film has to focus on sounds and images as one work of art. Kurosawa, who rarely talks about his own style, has told his own way to restore the beauty of silent films that is lost in sound films. "I like silent pictures and I always have…I wanted to restore some of this beauty. I thought of it, I remember in this way: one of techniques of modern art is simplification, and that I must therefore simplify this film." When Kurosawa was younger, he studied and painted western paintings. His knowledge of modern art helped him balance the complication of sound films by making images simpler.

When Kurosawa shot Rashomon, the actors and the staff lived together. He remembers how it was to spend a lot of time with the actors and the staff. Donald Richie quotes Kurosawa in The Films of Akira Kurosawa, “We were a very small group and it was as though I was directing Rashomon every minute of the day and night. At times like this, you can talk everything over and get very close indeed.” Spending time with the actors and the staff let Kurosawa direct as he wanted to (and create the film with them). Rashomon is one of many examples of Kurosawa’s success on acting direction. When actors and Kurosawa were waiting for the set to be built, they watched a film on Africa directed by husband and wife directing team Martin and Osa Johnson. While they were watching a lion roaming around, Kurosawa suggested Mifune who played the bandit to be like the lion. As a result, Mifune’s acting was wild, insane and inhumane in the film.

The cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa contributed an enormous amount of ideas and support to create a film as Kurosawa’s masterpiece. For example, they use single close-ups to emphasize the triangle of the bandit, wife and husband. The process of a shot of the wife then a shot of the bandit then a shot of the husband continues. Cinema critics call it “‘silent-film technique.’”Silent films use close-ups to express emotion from an actor’s facial expression. It is understandable to see this technique because Kurosawa admires silent films. Use of contrasting shots is another example of techniques in Rashomon. According to Richie, the time of a shot of the wife and the time of a shot of the bandit are the same. The shots go back and forth. It is hard to tell why that is but both of them are equally insane. The bandit is barbarically crazy and the wife is hysterically crazy.

There are some other techniques used in the film. The film was the first to shoot directly into the sun. Kurosawa and his lighting artist, Kenichi Okamoto used a mirror to reflect the natural light because the reflected light was still weak with the bead board. The technique gives an interesting quality to the film. It looks like the strong sunlight travels through the branches, hitting the actors. The rain was tinted by black ink because camera lenses couldn’t capture rain made with regular water.

Stanley Kauffman writes in "The Impact of Rashomon" that Kurosawa refers to a few cameras shooting at the same time because he can “cut the film freely and splice together the pieces which have caught the action forcefully, as if flying from one piece to another.” On the other hand, he is also good at smooth short cuts that the audience sees as one cut. Even critics are tricked by carefully edited cuts. Richie says in his essay that “there are 407 separate shots in the body of the film…This is more than twice the number in the usual film, and yet these shots never call attention to themselves.”

Symbolism of light and dark is used in Rashomon. Tadao Sato writes in his essay “Rashomon” that the sunlight symbolizes evil and sin in the film. He mentions how the wife gives herself to the bandit when she sees the sun. However, Keiko I. McDonald opposes Sato’s idea in “The Dialectic of Light and Darkness in Kurosawa’s Rashomon.” She says light symbolizes “good” or “reason” and darkness symbolizes “bad” or “impulse.” She observes the scene aforementioned by Sato differently. She says that the wife gives herself to the bandit when the sun slowly fades out. She also reveals that Kurosawa was waiting for a big cloud to be over Rashomon gate to shoot the final scene when the woodcutter takes the abandoned baby home. He wanted to show that there might be another dark rain any time soon even though the sky is clear at this moment. Unfortunately, the final scene seems a little optimistic because it was too sunny and clear to produce the effects of an overcast sky.

The film Rashōmon, due to its emphasis of the subjectivity of truth and the uncertainty of factual accuracy, has been read as an allegory by some, particularly regarding the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II. However, Akutagawa's In a Grove predates the film adaptation by 28 years, and any intentional postwar allegory would have been the result of Kurosawa's influence (based more in the framing of the tale than the events themselves).

An allegorical interpretation of the film is mentioned briefly in a 1995 article Japan: An Ambivalent Nation, an Ambivalent Cinema by David M. Desser. Here the film is seen as an allegory of the atomic bomb and Japanese defeat. It also briefly mentions James Goodwin's view on the influence of post-war events on the film.

James F. Davidson's article Memory of Defeat in Japan: A Reappraisal of Rashomon in the December 1954 issue of the Antioch Review, is an early analysis of the World War II defeat elements. The article has since appeared in some subsequent Rashomon books, including Focus on Rashomon in 1972 and Rashomon (Rutgers Film in Print) in 1987. Davidson's article is referred to in other sources, in support of various ideas. These sources include: The Fifty-Year War: Rashomon, After Life, and Japanese Film Narratives of Remembering a 2003 article by Mike Sugimoto in Japan Studies Review Volume 7, Japanese Cinema: Kurosawa's Ronin by G. Sham, Critical Reception of Rashomon in the West by Greg M. Smith, Asian Cinema 13.2 (Fall/Winter 2002) 115-28, Rashomon vs. Optimistic Rationalism Concerning the Existence of "True Facts", Persistent Ambiguity and Moral Responsibility in Rashomon by Robert van Es and Judgment by Film: Socio-Legal Functions of Rashomon by Orit Kamir.

The last episode of season 3, of the Ken Finkleman TV series The Newsroom, entitled Learning to Fly, is done in an anime style and alludes to the film, including 3 men retelling events in the rain at a ruined gate .

The 1964 movie The Outrage, starring Paul Newman, directed by Martin Ritt, transfers the Japanese setting of Rashōmon to that of the Wild West.

Four characters in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, A Matter of Perspective describe their interactions and a murder scene differently.

The 2006 animated movie Hoodwinked is a similar allusion, retelling the "Little Red Riding Hood" fable using the plot format of Rashōmon.

The episode of the sitcom All in the Family, "Everybody Tells the Truth," featured the same premise.

In the episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" of the TV series The Simpsons, the following exchange takes place, in humorous reference to Rashōmon's themes of ambiguity and conflicting accounts:

Marge: 'You liked Rashōmon.'
Homer: 'That's not how I remember it.'

The 2002-2003 police drama Boomtown used the premise of a criminal investigation each week, seen from various points of view including the investigators, the lawyers, paramedics, reporters, victims and criminals.

A 2006 episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was titled "Rashomama," in reference to the movie.

In the 1999 Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai the story is thrown into action when the daughter of an Italian Mafia Godfather drops a copy of the original book Rashomon to the floor, revealing herself to Ghost Dog, who had just performed a professional hit on her lover in the same room. Ghost Dog takes the book at the girl's insistence, reading it throughout the film. He returns the borrowed copy to the girl at the end of the film, seconds before he dies from bullet wounds. It is an interesting text to be included, because the girl's role as innocent bystander is called into question at the end of the film, as she may have actively influenced some of the events of the film (much like the samurai's wife in Kurosawa's film).

An episode of the 2006 Nicktoon Kappa Mikey spoofs the entire concept, where five members of the main cast recount each of their own inaccurate events leading up to the theft of a tigerfish, and it is fitting, considering the show is a spoof on anime and general Japanese culture.

In the 1990 Ed McBain novel Vespers, the detective investigating the priest's murder makes reference to Rashomon each time he interviews a different witness, since he knows that each witness will tell the story differently.

In Season 2 of the TV show Smallville the episode "Suspect" followed the premise of Rashomon when Jonathan Kent is suspected of murder with different witnesses giving their own account of the events leading to the crime

The film also plays a central role in Martin Heidegger's dialogue between a Japanese and inquirer. Where the inquirer praises the film early on for being a way into the 'mysterious' Japanese world, but the Japanese condemns the film for ultimately being too European and dependent on certain objectifying realism not present in traditional Japanese noh plays.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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