I guess in many ways this is one of the most pointless reviews I have ever done. It’s a classic film made by one of the all-time great directors. It’s generally considered the movie that bought Japanese cinema to the attention of modern western audiences. It basically won best foreign film at the Oscars before there was even such a category! And its very name is now a critical shortcut when talking about any movie that uses multiple points of view to both enlighten and obfuscate the audience.
So yeah. Recommended.
OK, Maybe that’s a bit short. “Rashōmon” tells the story of the murder of a Samurai and the rape of his wife, from the point of view of a Woodsman (Takashi Shimura), a Bandit (Toshiro Mifune), the wife (Machiko Kyō) and (via a female Shamen) the Samurai (Masayuki Mori) himself. Whilst the story seems straightforward, it becomes clear that each retelling is coloured by the self-interest of each party.
Now I could talk about the almost silent film approach to the sets and locations. I could talk about the methods used by director Akira Kurusawa uses (such as filming directly into sunlight, and using mirrors to direct the light when this proved impossible). I could mention the way it actually uses light in the way others might use darkness to act as a metaphor for the lack of truth. I could be a little critical and mention that Toshiro Mifune give a performance that might seem a little hyperactive, or that some of the gender politics at play seem.. dated to say the least. I could add to your film trivia by telling you whilst it is named after author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s titular story, it actually is mostly based on another of his tales, “In a Grove”.
But I won’t, because this is probably the Japanese film that is written about more than any other in the world. It’s really good, so if you haven’t watched it, then please track it down and have a look.
The reason I bought it up today is because this film teaches us an important lesson. A few days ago the Counselor to the President of the United States, Kellyanne Conway, provoked much hilarity when talking about “Alternative Facts”. Now I am no fan of what seems to be happening over the Atlantic, and I am not going to turn this into a political blog! However, in some ways, what she said was quite true. We all add our own bias into what we say, and how we recieve and interpret facts. In “Rashōmon” the audience is placed in the role of some kind of lawmaker – yet the four accounts are equally full and valid, yet so tainted by self-serving bias, that we cannot distill the truth about horrific events such as murder and a rape. Even the testimony of the Woodcutter, which is clearly the most unbiased, is tainted by an act of self-preservation. The same is true of anything today, whether it be the chastened Left or the angry Right. Even witnesses to events cannot be trusted.
So in this sense, “Rashōmon” remains as valid a commentary today as it did 67 years ago. And just as the Monk in the film realises, despite this, despite the self-serving nature of people – one has to believe in the inherent goodness of the human race. The Woodsman was as guilty as anyone of telling a tainted story – but in his heart was something much more important. And I hope everyone in the world tries to remember that.