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Crime, Drama, Mystery
IMDB rating:
Akira Kurosawa
Toshirô Mifune as Tajômaru
Machiko Kyô as Masako Kanazawa
Masayuki Mori as Takehiro Kanazawa
Takashi Shimura as Woodcutter
Minoru Chiaki as Priest
Kichijiro Ueda as Commoner
Fumiko Honma as Medium
Daisuke Katô as Policeman
Storyline: A priest, a woodcutter and another man are taking refuge from a rainstorm in the shell of a former gatehouse called Rashômon. The priest and the woodcutter are recounting the story of a murdered samurai whose body the woodcutter discovered three days earlier in a forest grove. Both were summoned to testify at the murder trial, the priest who ran into the samurai and his wife traveling through the forest just before the murder occurred. Three other people who testified at the trial are supposedly the only direct witnesses: a notorious bandit named Tajômaru, who allegedly murdered the samurai and raped his wife; the white veil cloaked wife of the samurai; and the samurai himself who testifies through the use of a medium. The three tell a similarly structured story - that Tajômaru kidnapped and bound the samurai so that he could rape the wife - but which ultimately contradict each other, the motivations and the actual killing being what differ. The woodcutter reveals at Rashômon that he ...
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Different cultures, different aesthetic values
I just watched this film for a film history class, and I have a somewhat ambivalent reaction to it. I recognize the qualities that make it great, in terms of the theme (i.e.--a visual examination of the subjectivity of knowledge), but their are aspects of the cinematography that are very off-putting for a 21st century American audience. Most notable are the exceptionally long takes focused on an actor's face while he/she emotes for the camera. After the first few seconds of this type of shot, no new intelligence is communicated by continuing to view the actor's face. I did like the realism of the fight scenes, which struck me as much more in line with reality than the highly choreographed demonstrations of virtuoso sword-play that many more modern action films offer.

Overall, I give the film a 3, based on the fact that it's just not all that accessible to most modern viewers, due to differences in culture and aesthetic values between 1950 Japan and 2004 America. Since the purpose of any text is to reach out in a meaningful way to its audience, that inaccessibility constitutes a fatal flaw in the film. In other words, it's dated, badly.
To what extent does subjectivity affect perception?
"Rashomon" tells a very simple tale in a very complicated manner, presenting four 'versions' of the truth, each from a party either witness to or involved in the incident depicted. It is not the film's intent to have you piece together a puzzle since that would be impossible based on how drastically the four tales differ. We know that lies don't enter the equation since the participating persons all claim to be guilty. "Rashomon" is not about choosing a version of the incident you believe is true; it is about human perspective and how it shapes what we see. Even if we truly believe what we have seen is true, is it really?

The film opens when a priest and woodcutter are encountered by a man who engages in a conversation about crime with them and subsequently learns that a samurai has been killed in the woods and his wife raped by a bandit. These two details are the basic, practically undisputed facts which make up the foundation of the four versions of the story we hear: the bandit's, the woman's, her husband's (through a medium), and the woodcutter's (the only presumably objective account, which still does not make sense in relation to the others). In many ways the best thing about "Rashomon" is that it never reveals what actually happens (or if any of the four accounts is in fact true), and although we are not meant to solve the mystery (the idea here is that there is no objective truth since humans are too selfish and dishonest to view anything without bias) the story structure is still brilliant and adds a lot of ambiance to the film. The narrative flow is strong and the method seems fresh and inventive today despite countless imitations (including one inexplicably popular one- "The Usual Suspects").

"Rashomon" is very much a visual film. It would be reduced to unimportant and insignificant fare without the cinematography, which captures the mood and feel of the jungle perfectly, as does the score. The film achieves an epic feel very rare for films filmed in fullscreen, especially during the battle between the bandit and the samurai during the last telling of the story. Kurosawa was also wise enough to choose a location for the film that would accurately capture the eerie, slightly disturbing mood of the story. Just picture the events taking place anywhere other than a jungle.

"Rashomon" is not without its (minor) flaws, however. While theatrical acting (Kurosawa was fascinated with silent film) worked perfectly with films like "Seven Samurai" and "Throne of Blood", it does nothing but take away from the realism of this oft claustrophobic human drama. Yes, Mifune (Tajomaru, the bandit) does provide an interesting spin on his character for each telling, and Takashi Shumura (the woodcutter) seems as honest and real as any character could possibly be, but nearly all of that effect is lost every time Machiko Kyo appears on screen. It is hard to take her seriously and during moments when I should have been close to tears I was much closer to laughter. I'm not sure how much blame I would place on her as Kurosawa probably asked her to act exactly as she does. While discussing actors I have to (unconventionally) note Fumiko Honma as the medium, who brings a wonderfully eerie air to the film during its greatest scenes.

I don't think "Rashomon" is Kurosawa's best or most important film, but it is still a masterful piece of cinema which is absolutely essential for any film lover. It's extraordinary how much Kurosawa accomplished at such an early stage in his career and without the benefit of the lavish budgets he was allotted for later projects. The film's main question is also still relevant and confusing today: is what we think we see really the truth, and to what extent does subjectivity affect perception?

I had a different perception about this classic film
"Well, men are only men. That's why they lie. They can't tell the truth, even to themselves."

Rashomon was the first film from critically acclaimed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, that I got to see. I was expecting some great things from this film considering it ranks among the best films in history. The black and white cinematography was breathtaking and there were some great long shots, but the story fell flat and the performances here were a bit theatrical for my taste. The film is only 85 minutes long, but it seemed to drag forever. The film was made in 1950 so I can imagine there were several inventive elements incorporated here, but they really don't stand out today because we've seen those tricks so many times now. For example, it is claimed that this was the first time that a camera was pointed directly at the sun, but of course that doesn't have an effect on the viewer today. However, I've seen many other classic films which I thought still managed to seduce me and have timed really well, but it wasn't the case with Rashomon. The film focuses on different realities and perceptions about humanity, but in doing so it really never manages to find a deep meaning. It focuses on the lies we tell, our selfish desires, and our pursuit or need to believe in the goodness of humanity (reflected through the Priest in this film), but ultimately it plays down to discovering that sometimes reality is just a matter of perception and differing point of views. "Rashomon is a reflection of life, and life does not always have clear meaning," is what Kurosawa would say about this film when approached about its meaning. What I can say about Rashomon is that the cinematography is great and the lighting effects were also astonishing for its time.

The film takes place during a heavy rain storm (classic trade mark from Kurosawa) as a priest (Minoru Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) are taking refuge from the rain and talking about a terrible crime that has been committed. A peasant (Kichijiro Ueda) who is unfamiliar with what they are talking about joins the conversation and the two men recount the events of what they consider the most horrific crime they have experienced. The woodcutter happened to discover the body of a samurai three days ago as he walked across the woods and was summoned to testify at a trial for the samurai's murder. The priest also has to testify since he had run into the samurai (Machiko Kyo) and his wife (Masayuki Mori) as they were passing through the town before the murder took place. The woodcutter and the priest then recount what they heard from the three direct witnesses of the murder: the suspected bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune) who apparently raped the wife and killed the samurai, the wife, and the samurai himself who testifies through a medium. They all give different accounts of what took place, and each account is as unreasonable as the next. The story is told in the form of flashbacks through the perception of each witness.

The main issue I had with the film is that the horrendous crime never felt like it was that terrible or memorable to begin with. It was just a common crime, a terrible one, but nothing to have an existential or philosophical debate about. Besides the main concern they had wasn't because a murder was committed but rather that everyone seemed to be lying about what happened. They couldn't find a reasonable explanation for an unreasonable act. The flashbacks were sort of interesting despite me not liking the performances, and I really liked the fighting choreography staged near the end between the bandit and the samurai. It was nothing you would expect from a Japanese samurai film. That was probably my favorite scene in this film and it had some funny moments as well. I can see the influence the director has had in modern films like Vantage Point or The Usual Suspects, but despite that I had a difficult time carrying about this movie. Well I guess I'm on the minority here, but Kurosawa would have to accept my opinion and the perception I had of this film because that is what this film is really about: differing perceptions of what we believe to be real.
An Intriguing Study Of The Human Condition As Well As The Malleable Nature Of Truth
Notable for bringing the Japanese film industry on the global stage, Rashômon is a well- conceptualized & beautifully realized study of human nature that explores our perception of reality with its unconventional narrative structure and is also responsible for introducing numerous storytelling techniques that have inspired & influenced countless films over the years.

Rashômon begins with two men seeking refuge from rain in a former gatehouse and still trying to make sense of the event they witnessed earlier that day. When another guy arrives, they recount the whole story to him, following which the incident concerning a heinous crime is revisited many times and is told from the perspective of all the eye-witnesses, each contradicting the other.

Co-written & directed by Akira Kurosawa, Rashômon is crafted with a clever eye and is masterly layered to keep the viewers invested. However, it's not about who is telling the truth & who isn't because the incident is merely a plot device that's meant to reflect a faith-shattering side of the human condition, and reveals how we are capable of molding any particular event to fit our own self-serving interests.

There are also a number of symbolic & allegorical imagery applied throughout the film, which adds further depth & meaning to the whole premise. Set pieces are kept to a minimum. Cinematography adds a new chapter to the filmmaking manual with its inventive use of lighting, close-ups, camera angles & hand-held photography. Editing allows the plot to unfurl at its own pace but it could've still applied a few trims here n there.

Coming to the performances, the cast consists of Takashi Shimura, Toshikô Mifune, Machiko Kyõ & Masayuki Mori and all play their part responsibly. Shimura contributes with a very subdued input as the guy recounting the whole story to another person while harboring a secret of his own. Mifune plays a bandit with kinetic flair while Mori & Kyō are in as the samurai & wife respectively and both do a brilliant job in their given roles, especially the latter.

On an overall scale, Rashômon is a fascinating examination of human nature, the subjective nature of truth, and the shift in reality when any particular event is approached from a different paradigm. A work of innovative filmmaking that's given an ageless appeal by its universal themes, Rashômon only reveals more on subsequent viewings and what is says about the human character is just as relevant today as it was back then. Its slow pace is bothersome at times but the more you allow it to simmer in your head, the more you will understand & appreciate its enduring legacy. Definitely recommended.
- Most of the time, we can not be too honest with ourselves
Master director Akira Kurosawa released his classic RASHOMON in 1950, and became forever Asian cinema's number one represent. It's a mystery-tale playing like a crime-novel told through five different point-of-views and outplaying on three locations (the Rashomon-house, in the forest, and in court), and the film shows the relativity of truth. The scenes from inside the court involves the viewer, all of the characters are placed directly in front of the camera, addressing themselves - it's like we're the jury, deciding what to believe in, and not. Shot in B&W Kurosawa uses the lighting in the forest in interesting ways, the sunlight that shines through the treetops adverts to the hazy story - faces and situations are partly covered in shadow, and light up by sun. What actually happened, and what's fictitious? And Kurosawa uses many techniques to unveil the plot; the dreamy score, the bandit-character (Toshiro Mifune) is a raucous, beastly troublemaker with farcical acrobatics, long sequences with no sound shows Kurosawa's love for the silent era, the non-linear narrative and the uplifting climax. RASHOMON shows different versions of reality, and Kurosawa pioneered using the camera subjectively.
seeing isn't always believing
Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" is not a whodunit at all. The testimony from each of the witnesses deliberately presents contradictory versions of the events. In fact, the interrogations are possibly the most fascinating scenes in the movie: we see the witnesses describing what they saw (or at least what they claim to have seen), but we don't see the interrogators. It's as if WE are the interrogators. By hearing these different stories, we have to reconsider how sure we can be about what we think we know. Not to mention Kurosawa's use of the forest to create a mysterious setting.

This is beyond an incredible movie. As with "Seven Samurai" a few years later, Kurosawa knows how to do everything perfectly: direction, cinematography, the works. Of course, probably the most important point is what the one character says noting that we make up stories to help us cope with life. All too true. A masterpiece.
Ultimate dismissal of objective truth...
I oftentimes wonder, upon seeing classic films like this, what the atmosphere would have been like in a 1950s movie theatre that had just shown the film. I would imagine that viewers would have experienced the same feelings that I experienced after watching ground-breaking visual spectacles such as THE MATRIX and mind-warping thrillers such as MEMENTO.

This film was lauded at that time (1950) for its stunning visual appeal and epic footage. Watching it in today's high-tech world it is a bit difficult to imagine this as cutting-edge, but one thing remains outstandingly clear: this is yet another one of Akira Kurosawa's brilliant stories.

The story itself is relatively simple by today's standards, yet there is a pervasive air of complexity that surrounds the film long after its 88 minute run-time. The simple story is told and re-told from four different perspectives, as can be read in any generic plot summary. The problem (and fascination) here is that no two stories are the same, and they all conflict with each other. What's even more perplexing is that the fourth story is told form a neutral point of view and it should therefore be easier for the viewer to believe this recreation, but having seen the initial three scenarios (each of which are equally credible), it is hard to buy into even this final telling.

But forget the story, because this film is so much more than just that. This is a film that focuses on truths, untruths, and perspective, all told in a beautifully poetic way. To the viewer, the camera should not lie. The camera is the viewer's perspective into the on-screen world. As such, the camera serves as the viewer's viewpoint and should therefore be totally and objectively honest. It is by such means that people watch movies. However, in this relatively short motion picture, the camera 'lies' to the viewer on at least three occasions, and in the end the viewer is left questioning subjective truth versus objective truth. Many of the core principles are the same as in MEMENTO...that there is no such thing as an objective truth or objective memory. All events are dependent on the observer, and are hence subjective. Indeed, this is a film that has, and will continue to, spark many intellectual conversations/arguments.

As with the meticulous Kurosawa, the storytelling and screenplay is marvellous. It is hard to judge the musical aspect of the film simply because it is difficult to compare it to today's standards. All I can say here is that the music appears to 'fit' the movie well. The acting is top notch, and special mention should be paid to Kurosawa's mainstay Toshiro Mifune, as well as Minuro Chiaki, who plays the role of the melancholy priest exceptionally well. My vote for the best actor, however, has to go to Machiko Kyo, who competently takes on a different personality in each version of the story.

While some people find it hard to watch classic movies such as this, I recommend that you see this at least once. It may just be one of the more rewarding 88-minute cinematic experiences you will ever have.

3.5 stars, 8/10. Should enter my Top 150 at about 115. Highly recommended.
What is truth?
Rainy day? Need something to ponder upon? Then take a seat at one of the stairs of the Rashomon gate and listen to a particularly strange murder mystery. But be aware upfront that this is not about the culprit, as you'll hear several confessions, but all won't match. Who's lying? Why? Is it all intentional? Or due to different perceptions? Are people cheating on themselves as well? For their own good, for the sake of accepting reality, or because they are adhering to a principle they consider superior? What is real? What is true? Is it possible at all to understand? Thus are the questions posed under the Rashomon. But that we cannot grasp it is exactly the point.

Kurosawa's version of Akutagawa's tale "In a Bomboo Grove" doesn't shun from irritating the audience by presenting various accounts of the same story without providing a satisfying resolution. With the abandoning of the conventional, objective narrative form he opened the door to distortions of reality shown on screen, broadening the horizons of what a camera can convey, adding another level of sophistication to the medium. Dismissed by the studio he was working for as incomprehensible, Kurosawa's "Rashomon" however hit the western film world like a bomb. With the prizes it won it would become the gateway that opened Japanese cinema to the rest of the world and establish Kurosawa as a director to reckon with. Yet it is not only the fresh idea that makes "Rashomon" different - music and sound undoubtedly are highly effective, but the exceptionally strong point of the film is that it offers flawless cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, who would later also shoot Mizogushi's appraised pearls "Sansho the Bailiff" and "Ugetsu". And of course "Rashomon" already has Kurosawa's future key player Toshiro Mifune as the bandit, who borrows with his extreme expressions from the silent era, and this intensity of acting makes a film about reality in question even more stirring. Good cinema should ask questions, and rarely it is done as masterful as here.
Kurosawa's elaborate, intricately-plotted masterwork
Seen today, sixty years after it was made, RASHOMON is still one of Akira Kurosawa's most accessible works to western viewers. Instead of a sprawling, multi-faceted historical epic, this uniquely original and inspiring film is a different beast entirely; a cinematic experiment if you will, or an exploration of the human psyche. It covers a seemingly straightforward event from different perspectives, throwing into question the nature of truth, while also exploring themes of the unreliable narrator and perception. It's also a highly entertaining film at that.

The small cast work wonderfully with the given material, particularly Toshiro Mifune, who's handed the scene-stealing role of the bandit who starts off the story. However, Machiko Kyo gets the meatiest role as the put-upon wife, and she's required to do the brunt of the emoting. Kudos also to Masayuki Mori, excelling as the typical stony-faced samurai character, and Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura who's present in the framing sequences which help to set up the film's atmosphere.

Kurosawa's camera-work is first rate and he brings his forest backdrop to life, utilising all manner of shots to tell his story. He was famously the first director ever to shoot into the sun, but I particularly liked the stand-off in the second version of the tale between the three characters, which utilises point-of-view shots that Sergio Leone later used most famously for the duel in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. In the end, though, it's the originality of the film – and the clever exploration of a topic that in itself is quite difficult to use in the medium – that makes RASHOMON a classic and well worth anybody's time.
a masterpiece. or only a seed
the book. and its adaptation. emotion, impressions. and memories. Rashomon could be defined as a ball of facts and testimonies, masterpiece or poem about emotions. but, more important, it has the rare gift to be a key. to yourself. it is artistically perfect. the acting, the dialogues, the scenes, the tension, the story who escapes out of screen for become a kind of personal experience. but the virtue of Rashomon is its special status of seed. because it grows up after its end decades and decades in the memory of its viewer. new senses, new sound of words, new nuances of gestures. so, it is a sleep of time. fascinating. and honest. complex. and too simple for not be an axis of questions.
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