Where does one even start with a film like this? “Rashomon” is widely and rightfully considered to be one of the best films ever made, and because of that it’s also one of the most analyzed films out there. But not only that the film is so influential that its very name is synonymous with a particular storytelling method. Every halfway knowledgeable film fan has heard words like “Rashomonesque” and “Rashomon-like”, and instantly recognizes what may be implied by that.
Of course it referrers to this film’s main plot structure - where you are presented with a narrative that tells one story from multiple points of view. And in the case of “Rashomon” itself the story that gets this treatment is the murder of a samurai, and is told through the testimonies of the bandit that murdered the him (Toshiro Mifune), the samurai’s wife (Machiko Kiyo) and even the dead samurai himself (Masayuki Mori), who speaks through a medium. These stories are told in flashbacks by a woodcutter and a priest who are waiting under the Rashomon gate for the rain to stop, and who where the witnesses to these testimonies during trial.
But the way that “Rashomon” does it is still unique because other films usually use this multiple point of view method to unveil more information and clarify, while “Rashomon” uses it to contradict and confuse and it never openly declares how the events really transpired. Even the fourth testimony by the woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), which could be considered the most objective one, is instantly presented as questionable as well.
This storytelling method makes “Rashomon” a wonderful film to analyze because you could simply get lost in it for hours just trying to figure out what the truth is. However this is a bit of a thankless task in my opinion, and I’d personally rather ponder over this film and its design because it presents a one of a kind mosaic of events that openly invites you to form your own variation of the central story – to build the truth yourself, not merely discover it. And I’d actually argue that this is the film’s greatest achievement, because it allows both.
In a sense “Rashomon” is an artistic examination of the concept of memory. All the characters tell their side of the story through their own prism and obscure and shape the events to their needs. And in retrospect the film has that same curious effect as when you and your buddy are remembering an old shared memory – the major events are in line but the details are quite elusive. Actually in “Rashomon” we only hear one testimony from first hand and the rest are in fact retellings of testimonies. Who cares to remember what here? The only constant seems to be the death of the samurai.
On another note, technically the film is flawless and it is hard not to be impressed with how much Kurosawa gets out of so little. He basically has three sets and a handful of actors and still manages to tell such a captivating and rich narrative. And while his story is intentionally abstract and elusive his direction and editing are clear and brisk despite the task of juggling such storytelling nightmares as consecutive flashbacks and even flashbacks inside flashbacks. It is always clear what is on the screen and any confusion that the audience might have is cushioned by the confusion of the characters that are telling this story, making it anything but frustrating. In fact the desire of these characters to unravel the mystery infects the audience as well.
As I said in the opening paragraph this is widely and rightfully considered one of the best films ever made, and despite the weight of that title and the familiarity and lack of novelty of its method it is still a very effective and enticing film. The exquisite craft of “Rashomon” as well as the exotic setting and the touch of surrealism make it even more fascinating and unforgettable. It is a sublimely unique film by one of the greatest directors ever.
Toshiro Mifune - Tajomaru
Machiko Kyo - Masako Kanazawa
Masayuki Mori - Takehiro Kanazawa
Takashi Shimura - Woodcutter
Minoru Chiaki - Priest
Kichijiro Ueda - Commoner
Original langage: Japanese