"This 1950 film by Akira Kurosawa is more than a classic: it’s a cinematic archetype that has served as a template for many a film since. (Its most direct influence was on a Western remake, The Outrage, starring Paul Newman and directed by Martin Ritt.) In essence, the facts surrounding a rape and murder are told from four different and contradictory points of view, suggesting the nature of truth is something less than absolute. The cast, headed by Kurosawa’s favorite actor, Toshiro Mifune, is superb." (text taken from Amazon)
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A timeless idea with little Japanese identity
Review by Bryan Hanrahan, Spanish Teacher, Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School
Rashomon is a film that highlights the subjectivity of truth and the negativity of the human spirit. Centered on the dark crime of rape and murder, there are four accounts taken into consideration at trial. The accused, the samurai who was killed, the samurai’s wife who was raped, and a witness to the crime all give their separate accounts. The samurai’s spirit is brought to the trial by a medium to speak on his behalf of the crime. No re-telling of the crime is the same, and each person maintains subtle differences to preserve their own reputation and honor.
While the film is ahead of its time visually using new lighting strategies to enhance the woods scene, Rashomon is outdated visually being from the 1950s and in black and white. Despite its outdated effects, the film’s theme is timeless. Questioning humanity and its motives can be a societal issue for all cultures in any era. Moreover, the famed actor Toshiro Mifune conveys pure madness as he stands accused of the crime at hand. In addition to Mifune’s performance, the director Akira Kurosawa uses the rain as an added element to enhance the central theme. At the beginning and throughout the film, the rain is pouring and the sky is dark and brooding. However at the end of the film, one of the three men discussing the trial does an uplifting deed and the rain clouds part suggesting there is still hope for humanity.
While there are timeless elements and effects to further enhance the story, I do not believe Rashomon has much educational value. The film would be great to study in a classic film class but does not contain much of a Japanese message or theme. The only specific Japanese elements are the samurai and buildings seen throughout the film. Overall, I – like the previous review – would only recommend this film for aficionados of filmography.
Review of Rashomon
Review by Tim Jekel
Black and white, melodramatic acting. A rape and murder is retold four times and in four different ways, giving subtle shades of differences. In each account, the story is told by the participants, each presenting their actions in the best light. In the end it is impossible to reconstruct what actually happened.
Can a story ever be told objectively? How can truth be extracted from a tale told four different ways, each to present a different participant in the most favorable light? Is human nature hopelessly corrupt? These are questions explored by this artful film. Fans of The Seven Samurai will recognize three of the main characters in different roles. This is an art house film; it explores questions universal to human nature, not particularly to the Japanese.
While there is nothing objectionable, most students and even adults will find the film boring. It is only recommended for those who are connoisseurs of cinema.