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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...
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Very interesting - but a top 50 movie?
I always divide "classic movies" in two groups. There's the TRUE classic movie, one that tells a timeless story executed flawlessly; and then we have the so-called film academy classic, usually a movie that is a landmark in cinema history for introducing a fresh technique to the filmmaker's tool set. The really old films from this second group always receive overly generous grades on IMDb because they are too obscure to be watched by anybody but film students, whose opinion is clouded by their focus on history and technique.

Case in point - "Rashomon". Even though the underlying idea is indeed timeless, this Kurosawa classic is clearly in the second group. It's over-the-top acting, rudimentary dialogue, static scenery, sexist characters and tedious pacing make it feel VERY dated. However - the execution of the story is as genius as it is original, and I would recommend this movie to anybody who is interested in screen writing techniques.

Compare this to "Casablanca", for example - a classic made around the same time. "Casablanca" is perfectly suited for modern viewers. "Rashomon" is not.
A Simple Story Touching on Complex Themes
While sharing the name of the short-story Rashômon, this Kurosawa film is actually in large part based on another Akutagawa story called In a Bamboo Grove. The closest relation it has to its namesake comes through sharing the Rashômon Gate as a location, as well as another small similarity touched upon later.

There are some key differences between the film and the short-story, which serve to illustrate a lot of what Kurosawa attempted with the film. The most obvious one is that while we in the original are only related the testimonies of the different parties involved, we are first taken to the Rashômon in the film. The opening scene is stunningly well-composed, with the broken-down building providing shelter for a peasant (played by Takashi Shimura) and a priest from a seemingly endless rainstorm. As with so many of his other movies, Kurosawa knows how to use nature to produce a mood for his scene. The relentless flood, the shattered gate, the two men with their heads dropped, all speak of a distraught situation. Suddenly another man comes running in through the rain, from the direction of the camera, stomping through the mud to reach shelter.

He asks the peasant and the priest what they are so upset about, and after the newcomer lights a fire, the peasant starts telling the story of a murder. Yet, the murder itself holds not the strangeness of this tale. How it is related to the police is what leaves all those involved confused. The thing is that everyone related (including the victim via a medium) has given a different account of the events. The only common elements being that a bandit loured a couple into a grove, tied up the man, and raped his wife. Here we see the second difference between the stories, because whereas Akutagawa only include the testimonies, Kurosawa includes a second account by the peasant that found the body. This is not related to the police, but rather to the newcomer under the Rashômon, revealing that he thinks everyone else was lying. But, as the newcomer points out, he could very well be lying too. In this way, whilst the original story subtly points out how truth can quickly become a subjective matter, as well as addressing the sadness in the woman's situation – as she is rejected by her husband after being dishonoured by the bandit – Kurosawa instead makes almost a mockery of how our ideas of ourselves end up being what we relate, and how reality often ends up being much less honourable. This is particularly evident in the peasants second account, as the two men almost quiver whilst fighting each other, losing their swords and stumbling several times.

To me, this is where the film almost fumbles a bit. As if it is slightly uncertain what idea it wishes to espouse, the following scene tries to deal with both the consequence of not being able to trust anyone, where the story the peasant told seemed to include a theme of its own. The problem is that if you trust the peasant, the story loses the subtle aspect of Akutagawa's original in that it instead of painting the truth as a loose concept, it paints the people testifying as egotistical. And if you don't trust him, the tale loses the aspect of, almost comically, rendering reality a much less impressive fact than our stories about it. The film ends with the men under the Rashômon finding an abandoned baby and one of them stealing the kimono it is wrapped in, saying that if he does not take it, someone else will (which is similar to Akutagawa's Rashômon story where one of the characters is stealing from the dead under the same mores). After having an argument with the peasant, the kimono-stealer wanders off. The priest has picked up the baby, and when the peasant tries to take him he asks if he wants to steal his linens too. After which the peasant says he has six children and it won't make a difference if he raises another (reminding me of a Turgenev poem about the generosity of those who give from what little they have). The priest apologises, the rain stops, and the film ends. Despite its dour depiction of people, it still wants us to believe in them.

Aside from the slight muddling of themes, Rashômon is a great film filled with lots of great visual elements. Kurosawa, is, as always, a master of movement. His characters move together with the background and the camera to fill every scene with emotion. My favourite shot in the film was of the bandit (portrayed by masterful Toshirô Mifune) on his stomach in the sand, sprawling in agony as he just pushed the policeman that found him into the water. The way Mifune moves is combined with the camera movement to show his traces in the sand, telling the story of his last few minutes in a matter of seconds. Throughout the film, this camera use and Kurosawa's blocking is thoroughly enjoyable, adding onto each scene, whether that is in terms of comedy or tragedy. The acting is also top notch, if at times as over-the-top as is usual with Kurosawa.

The music is pretty good, but did not stand out to me as particularly memorable. It worked well with the scenes it was in, and sometimes preceded the on-camera reveal.

The story is a simple one, and it fumbles a bit in trying to handle several themes, but the film is very well directed and though there isn't much dialogue, the visual acting is tremendous. Mifune stands out. I do wish it was a bit subtler in letting its story speak for itself, like Akutagawa did with the original short-story, as it does not really come through in dealing with the consequences of its themes. In lack of a 8.5 score, I gave the film a 9. Definitely worth watching.
A great movie which is almost perfect
While "Seven Samurai" is usually referred to as Kurosawa's best film as it usually ranks the highest out of all of his films in "Best of" lists, "Rashomon" is often compared to it, and the 2 films can often be seen as rivals. The impact that "Rashomon" has had on cinema history makes it a pretty strong contender to top it as well.

After a priest, a woodcutter, and a commoner take shelter in a former gatehouse, they discuss a murder which happened days earlier. They discuss different sides to the story that the people involved in it said when questioned by the police, all of which contradict each other.

What this film is most famous for is its use of flashbacks. Flashbacks were practically non-existent for old movies back then, and most of them were straightforward. "Rashomon" stood out from them, and it was very influential when it was released. In the scenes where it shows the suspects giving their sides of the story at the courtyard, they are faced directly at the screen. The police in front of them who you'd expect to be asking questions are never shown on screen, and they never say a word. It feels like the characters are communicating with the viewer, and they're telling them so they can decide which story they believe. This is known as "Breaking the 4th Wall". It could be possible that this film influenced this film technique.

Another aspect of this film which deserves recognition is its cinematography. The symbolic use of sunlight gives the movie a greater sense of ambiguity. Film critics and professors have discussed what it means in the film. Some critics have said that it's used to represent evil and sin in the film. There was one scene where the woman gave into the bandits demands after she looks up at the sunlight. You could argue that sunlight is used to represent good, while darkness is used to represent evil. Also, director Akira Kurosawa wanted to film in only natural light. However, he had trouble getting enough of it as it was too weak. To solve that problem, he used mirrors to reflect the light. Also, the water used as rain in the gatehouse had to be tinted with black ink so that the cameras would be able to capture it.

The weather is a crucial aspect in this film and it also is in many other Kurosawa films. In the scenes at the gatehouse, the weather is rainy most of the time since most of the characters are in a depressed mood after what they experienced at the courtyard. The parts of the film where they discuss the murder all happen during the rainstorm. The rain symbolizes mankind's wickedness. It is present up until the ending where the priest finally restores his faith in humanity. After that, the rain immediately stops and it is replaced with sunshine.

A common criticism people have with this film is that they think that its acting is over-the-top. It bugged me at first, but the more I thought about it, I began to realize that there may be a deeper reason for why the acting seemed weak at times. The several scenes of the crime aren't really happening in real life. These are all secondhand accounts of the crime told by the criminals. For all we know, the criminals could've been acting real mellow. We don't know for sure. We are relying on different viewpoints of the crime told by people who all probably have unfavorable opinions of the other people involved in the crime. Even during the scene where the bandit does an over-the-top laugh at the courtyard isn't really happening as well. Those scenes are flashbacks as well told by the 3 men at the gatehouse. This is a very creative technique that Kurosawa added in the film. From what I read, the acting is an extension to a common style of Japanese theatrical acting. However, while the acting may be over-the-top, I still liked it, because it was passionate and charismatic. Something tells me that the acting would've been more sterile if the movie had been released today.

Overall, this was a really great movie. It's not my idea of a masterpiece as I felt like the priests' sudden change in opinion at the end of the film was a bit vague. However, that's the only flaw to this film in my opinion. Everything else in it is really good. The flashbacks that Kurosawa presented were really good and original for their time, the cinematography is really symbolic, the weather contributes to the film (which is only the tip of the iceberg), and the acting is actually pretty creative. Despite being over-the-top, it gets much deeper than what many filmgoers say about it. Overall, this is a really great movie, and I'm glad that I watched it. It changed cinema many years ago, and it remains just as vital today.
What happened is what people will believe
Rashomon is the story of a heinous crime told through the views of different characters that were involved with it.

A few years ago a buddy of mine told me about a movie that I had to see. This movie that he was talking about was Seven Samurai. I usually took his word in such situations but when he gave me the DVD and I saw that it was an old black & white Japanese movie I never made an effort to watch it. After watching Rashomon, by Akira Kurosawa – same director as Seven Samurai, I must say that I'm intrigued to see his other work now.

Not only is his directing and scenery like what we are use to seeing in movies today, he is the pioneer of this. His camera angles and lighting are amazing. I like the way that he shows the sun through the trees as the woodcutter is walking through the woods and also as the camera follows the bandit and Samurai. Also, I must say that I am a fan of the way he incorporated the rain as a mood throughout the movie.

Another quality thing about this movie was the characters. I would say really good job on the actors' parts, although the bandit's laughing annoyed me. I really like the way the Samurai's story was told through a medium. The scene was dark and scary; an element I didn't know could be used so well in older movies such as this one.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this movie. Although, just as all movies, its not one that everyone will like. I would say fans of film, movie buffs, and fans of Japanese work would love this. Hats off to Kurosawa, I pay close attention to the way that films are directed and edited because it is one of my favorite elements of a movie, and he did a fantastic job. The actors also deserve credit for this film also, because they did a wonderful job making these characters believable and interesting. I definitely plan on checking out other work by Kurosawa after seeing this movie.
"This time, I may finally lose my faith in the human soul."
This film has a lot in common with movies that turn out to be a dream in which the main character wakes up to realize that what just happened never occurred. I find those kinds of pictures less than satisfying because they seem to cop out of a final resolution to the story. "Rashomon" takes a somewhat similar approach, but instead of setting up a dream narrative, Kurosawa has his characters relate the circumstances of a murder from the perspective of four different observers. I can't say that that isn't a valid approach, but the problem I have is that the characters relating their stories don't seem to have credibility on their side. If I had to make a personal judgment, I'd say the woodcutter's appraisal of events seemed most valid because he didn't have a personal stake in the outcome of a murder investigation.

Looking individually at each of the players - the bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune) relates a tale that builds up his own self esteem - he valiantly fights the husband (Masayuki Mori), crossing swords with him twenty three times. The wife (Machiko Kyo) relating her version of events seems to be seeking atonement for her shame in being victimized by Tajomaru. The husband, telling his story through a medium after his death, seems willing to spare his wife the agony of betrayal and for suffering the shame of her rape. Finally, the woodcutter, who has nothing to gain by telling what he saw, except for the possible humiliation for not intervening because he was cowardly, was probably the closest to the truth about what happened. But we'll never know because the truth, which lies in the eye of the beholder, can potentially shift and change with each viewing of the film.

It will probably take some more viewings of the movie for me to gain a greater appreciation of it. As with "Seven Samurai", I find Kurosawa's pacing to be drawn out more than necessary; note the long time it took for the woodcutter to make his way to the scene of the crime in his version of the story. I'm also put off by the histrionics of a character like Tojomaru, who's over the top and manic delivery make him seem out of control. Granted, these are matters of preference with me, so I look at them somewhat like the players in the film who have their own biases in telling their story.
Technique sends differing messages
A must see movie for film technique.

"Rashomon" is a movie that encompasses both, "In a Grove" and "Rashomon," two stories written in pre-war Japan, into one cohesive, post-war film. In the movie, a samurai is found dead in a forest. The movie is the accumulation of accounts from different people, each telling their story of what happened. Conflict ensues when the accounts, while similar, have vastly different conclusions.

From a technical standpoint "Rashomon" is a movie that is a pioneer it its time. The use of nature, sky, and weather are truly one of a kind. For example, when people are shown as small creatures inside of a huge forest that envelops them, the insignificance of one man over all of nature shines through.

While on the topic of shinning, deliberate shots of a sun-filled sky are scattered throughout the film. These spots of intense sun splashing through the tree tops is always paired with a time in the story the when viewer beings to think they are listening to an untrue portrayal of events.

Knowing that in film, sunshine is typically used to show truth and purity, this indicates that while there is bad in all humans (as seen through the incessant lying) there is at least a little bit of good that lives with the bad (as is seen through the sun.) Keeping this same theme in mind, the sun points to the individual accounts as not being a total fabrication, indicating that there is a little bit of truth in all of the accounts. However, the film indicates that while there is perhaps some good in people, the bad side is what will always prevail, it is the easiest to satiate.

A step further.

The words of the characters tend to indicate that they are all false and all bad (this is a post-war perspective.) The environment, tells a different story, allowing for the possibility of some good (this is a pre-war perspective.) With these ideas in mind, it is fair to say that the language of the film is modern, while the ambiance sends a traditional outlook.

These subtleties make the film. By bring many opposites and situations into the same screen, Akira Kurosawa (director), is allowing the viewer to draw many of their own conclusions. Each person can take a different message from the film. In fact, it would be fair to say that within each person a different meaning may come to pass with each successive viewing.

Check it out.
Well ahead of its time
I watched Rashomon for the first time yesterday. Although I've seen plenty of Japanese movies in the past, this is the first Akira Kurosawa movie I've ever seen.

The first thing that stands out when watching the movie is the direction and cinematography which looks well ahead of its time, like the shots where the camera occasionally points towards the sun. As the story begins to unfold, the next obvious thing we notice is the innovative premise of the film, now known in academic circles as the "Rashomon effect", where several witnesses give different interpretations of what happened at a scene.

The best performance in the movie was definitely from Toshiro Mifune in one of his first major roles. Whether he was over-the-top earlier on or more subtle and realistic later on, his performance was incredibly versatile.

After I finished watching the film, I was initially a bit disappointed that the film didn't spoon-feed us with a final answer, but I've realized that this is exactly what makes it such a thought-provoking movie. Now I'm really looking forward to watching Kurosawa's other most famous movie, The Seven Samurai.

Everybody Lies
Took me some time to realize how good this movie actually was. One thing was crystal clear - Everybody was lying. Everybody was trying to tell a version of the story which showed them in a better light. What confused me was the baby. Why get a baby in the end and give the whole movie a emotional ending? Just to drive a simple point across. The baby, before even it's began to speak is absorbing the lies in the system. Everybody around is lying. What else will the baby learn but to lie? It doesn't matter at all on what the real version of the story was. It doesn't matter on who was telling the truth.

Everybody Lies.
Confusion and Hope
I saw Rashomon for the first time last Sunday, on Father's day; it was a good day to watch this film. The movie centers on the interpretation of a murder laced with a rape, so most of it is a dialog among three men: a woodcutter who is a witness to the crime, a monk, and a vagabond. The dialog occurs in the remains of a temple while a heavy rain falls outside. The theme of the dialog revolves around a samurai, his wife and a bandit.

The bandit sees the samurai and his wife traveling through the forest, catches a glimpse of the woman's face when the breeze opens her veil, and discovers that an impetuous desire to have that woman has taken possession of his will. He catches up with the couple and through trickery ties the samurai to a tree. He then rapes the wife. So far the story is unique.

The samurai dies. The woodcutter encounters his remains and reports the crime to the police. The bandit is captured and tells the jury a story of the crime. The wife tells a different story. A medium is brought up and through the medium the samurai tells a different story. And finally the woodcutter tells yet another story. There is some amazing dialog between the samurai and his wife about honor, love, and dignity. Betrayal surfaces when it is convenient to betray.

While the woodcutter narrates the events to his friends, the vagabond lights a bonfire with pieces of wood he tears from the ruinous construction. The woodcutter is interrupted occasionally by his friends. The camera work in the temple is unremarkable, with plenty of close-ups of the aging and rough men. Same goes for the scenes at the courtroom. One strange point here is that we never see any magistrate. We learn about the questions because the witness repeats them. It is like the movie about the Prophet, where the camera never shows the Prophet himself.

The forest scenes are much better. Since the crime is narrated four times, there is plenty of action in the forest as the samurai and the bandit fight each other.

After the woodcutter finishes narrating the four different versions of the crime, including his, they hear a baby crying in a room of the temple. They find a little child wrapped in a kimono. The vagabond grabs the kimono. Despite the woodcutter's protest that the kimono had an amulet most likely left by the parents to protect the baby, the vagabond makes a bundle with the kimono and leaves the temple, as the rain ceases, disappearing down the same path where he first appeared.

The monk cuddles the baby but the woodcutter asks to have the baby. The monk refuses, with indignation in his eyes. Then the woodcutter explains that he already has six children and that one more would not be much trouble. The monk hears him, and with a smile on his faces hands over the baby. The movie ends. Until then, there has not been a single instance of brotherhood in the entire movie. Until then the emotions have been on the sordid side of the human scenario: lust, envy, betrayal, deceit, murder, rape, fights, and lies.

Some critics have commented that the ending is a license with sentimentality that Kurosawa allowed himself. To me, the ending is the movie. In the film, we are taken on a long trip throughout the wasteland of human feelings. Human greed and mistrust distort the truth and create confusion. From the affairs of adults emanates a toxic mist of confusion. People mistrust one another. Is there any hope? At the end, Kurosawa shows us the hope, the reason that makes one man trust another man: a future life. The human adventure is an adventure of hope.

The same message is found in Sondheim and Lapine's musical Into the Woods. A marvelous musical mixing half a dozen fables that end up very happily like fables use to end. The difference is that at this stage the musical is only half way through. The other half reverses the fortunes of all players when the giant comes to town seeking revenge. Here once more all the nasty feelings seep out of the human soul. At the end, it is a little child who brings the survivors together. They decide to unite to care for the baby.

So, on Father's day, with my daughter Laura I watched this great film.
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