DM Haight

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is a pillar in world cinema. It is not a film unparalleled in today’s vast library of films, but it was directed by a man who ensured that it would resonate with audiences for years to come. Since its 1950 release in Japan, Rashomon has not only made a name for itself as one of Kurowasa’s best works, and one of the samurai genre’s critical entries, but it has also inspired generations with its unique storytelling, compelling characters, and accessible plot.

Rashomon follows the testimony of  three individuals in the case of a murder. A bandit, a passerby, and the deceased’s wife. all of these characters have their own perspectives of the happenings around the murder, but each of them do confirm how and who did the murdering. The trick is understanding why. We never see the judge of this case, leaving us, the audience, to come to our own conclusions once the story has unfolded, breaking the 4th wall by demanding that we pass judgement.

Our judgement is skewed by the stories and their respective lead ups to the murder. Information is skewed by the forest’s dense foliage, a metaphor for how unreliable any testimony will be in this affair. Mifune’s performance as the wild bandit echoes the kabuki-style of storytelling, with embellishments and grand gestures–vastly different from the samurai and his wife, who remain stoic and manipulative. Mifune’s unpredictable character adds comedy and uncertainty to a film that is already narratively indecipherable.

Kurosawa ensured we’d be discussing this film decades later, and we continue to do so because we have yet to conclude the story. There is no truth and there are no lies. we’re treated to a visual feast of burned down temples and dense forests, and barren courtyard. Each one serves a purpose. The courtyard is the staging ground for the story, where plain facts are to be delivered, where the truth is to be revealed to us, the interrogators. Of course, the retelling of the occurrences take place in the forest, where ultimate truth is obscured by perspective and self-preservation. And finally at Rashomon temple, where the rain bears down on the characters who attempt to assign reason and order to the murder itself, drowning in truths and lies, all of which are indistinguishable from each other, like a single drop of rain in a storm.

The indistinguishable qualities have stood the test of time and made Rashomon an impossible film to solve. There are theories, of course, but the mark of Kurosawa’s genius lies in ability to deliver all the facts, but deny us a true resolution. Instead we are left with a naked child in a storm, abandoned and unsure how we came to be in a place where truth and justice are obscure and unconnected.

Despite the unresolved narrative, Kurosawa managed to craft a film that keeps true to a mythology, added weight to a genre, and expanded the audience of Japanese cinema to the shores of Europe and the Americas. Rashomon is a work that never tires of its own confusion and lies, because there is no line between fact and fiction. In a way Rashomon is a nearly perfect film, if only because it leaves its audience with the power to judge, without leaving us out on the drying rack. Kurosawa gives the audience the power of decision, and in the 60 plus years since its release, we have yet to come to an agreed verdict.

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