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Rashomon (Kurosawa Akira 1950)



Genre: Frankenstein

review in one breath

"The demons living here have fled in the fear of the ferocity of man."

his movie was one of Akira Kurosawa's first to gain widespread recognition and as is characteristic with many of his films, contains an unusual theme which is later mimiced by myriad others. The movie is based on the novel "Yabu no naka (In a Grove)" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and presents a tale wherein truth appears to be merely in the eye of the beholder.

Historically speaking, "Rashomon" was the name of the largest gate ("mon") in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. According to historians, the gate was constructed in 786 AD when the capital of Japan was transferred to Kyoto. It stood 106 feet wide, 26 feet deep and its stone wall rose 75 feet high. With the decline of West Kyoto, the gate fell into bad repair, cracking, and crumbling in many places, and eventually became a hide out for thieves and robbers and a place for abandoning corpses.

Kurosawa's Rashomon submerses itself in this history as it's three main characters discuss the seemingly irrevocable decline of the human spirit into violence and moral chaos. While taking shelter from a torrential rain under the crumbling arches of the Rashomon gate, our three main characters, a monk, a thief and a woodcutter, wrestle with the incomprehensible meaning of a tale they have heard regarding the capture of the notorious Tajomaru the Bandit (Toshiro Mifune). The capture and subsequent trial involved the radically different recollections of four individuals, each of which prioritizes a different person and human vice as the cause of Tajomaru's downfall.

Although all the accounts agree that the episode involved Tajomaru's lust for a samurai's beautiful wife and his deception of the husband who is quickly tied up, the question of how and why the husband is later found dead remains a mystery as each of the witnesses points a finger in differing directions. According to the boastful Tajomaru, after willingly succumbing to his sexual prowess (!), the woman demanded he fight and kill the husband out of her shame of being looked upon by both men. According to the woman, Tajomaru flees after raping her in front of the husband. After she frees her husband she suggests, out of shame, that the husband kill. However, the cold glare of the unsympathetic and judgmental husband causes her to faint on the husband with the dagger in her hand. Alas, when she awakes she finds the husband dead with the dagger stuck in his chest, intimating that she may have stabbed him accidentally. Finally, through the creepy possession of a Shinto shaman, the dead samurai claims that after Tajomaru raped his wife, Tajomaru begged her to marry him. And yet her insistence that he must first kill her husband so shocks Tajomaru that he asked the samurai what he would have done with the wife. Realizing her fate, the wife flees and Tajomaru pursues her. In their absence the disgraced samurai takes his wife's dagger and commits suicide. As his life fades from him, he hears the approaching footsteps of someone who then removes the expensive dagger from his chest.

In the end, the woodcutter, sitting under the Rashomon is prodded by the monk and thief into admitting having seen the entire ordeal and then provides what the movie suggests is the most reliable version. According to the woodcutter... Well, I guess you'll have to see it if you want to know the ending. Let's just say that in the woodcutter's version, each character comes out looking even more depraved and pitiful than in the other three versions combined. Although the movie does attempt to end with a glimmer of hope through the monk's discovery of an orphaned infant and the woodcutter's selfless willingness to take the infant home and care for it, this glimmer is only dim gray at best against the rather dark human malaise permeating this tale.

Rashomon was remade by director Marin Ritt in 1964 as "Outrage" starring Paul Newman as the bandit (from Mexico), Claire Bloom as the woman he allegedly rapes, Laurence Harvey as her husband, and Edward G. Robinson as the narrator.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
One of the early masterpieces of an unparalleled Director. Wraps Japanese humanistic impulses (and doubts) in a complex murder mystery. Contains absolutely no gore. Several samurai sword fights (one is especially desperate and fascinating) and one suicide. Though this contains absolutely no nudity or vulgarity, the tale involves a pretty "matter of fact" depiction of rape and/or seduction. Though unique in many ways, the spooky Shinto shaman channeling the dead samurai alone deserves one green skull! Very cool!

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