The enthusiastic Western critical response to
"Rashomon" established Akira Kurosawa as the
most noted Japanese director. More great films
were to follow, but "Rashomon" was the first.
Its influence was demonstrated by the usually
ethnocentric Academy Awards giving the film
a nomination for So Matsuyama's sets.
The story is set in Japan in the middle ages.
Notorious bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune)
sees a beautiful woman (Machiko Kyo) travelling
a road in the forest with her warrior husband
(Masayuki Mori). The bandit decides that he
must have her. He tricks the husband, ties
him up, then rapes the women. The husband is
subsequently killed, and the woman escapes.
We hear varying versions of the story, from
the point of view of the bandit, the woman,
the dead husband (through a medium) and a
witness. These versions are all quite different,
even disagreeing on who killed the husband.
The most interesting difference in the versions
is between the bandit's and the observer's.
Both end with a dramatic swordfight between
the bandit and the husband, but the bandit's
version is heroic and skillful, while the
observer's version is clumsy and desperate.
The story is framed by a later incident,
which has three men seeking shelter from a
heavy rain and recounting the incident.
The priest (Minoru Chiaki) and firewood dealer
(Takashi Shimura) are in shock over the
extent of man's evil, while the more cynical
man (Kichijiro Ueda) is not surprised at all.
Mifune is a great actor, energetic and
charismatic. Mifune and other cast members
would show up in subsequent Kurosawa films,
such as "The Seven Samurai" and "Throne of Blood".
With "Rashomon", Kurosawa may be saying that
there is no absolute truth, that it varies according
to the pride of the observer. His pessimistic
assessment of man's evil nature is tempered
by a somewhat artificial ending. A baby has
been abandoned and begins to cry (fortunately
waiting until after all the story-telling has
ended). While the cynical man has no sympathy
for the child, both the priest and the firewood
dealer are willing to care for the helpless baby,
with the resulting moral that perhaps humanity
is not so selfish and wicked after all.
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller