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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Rashomon

Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Rated: NR
RunTime: 83 Minutes
Release Date: December 1951
Genres: Classic, Foreign, Drama

*Also starring: Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Kichijiro Ueda, Fumiko Homma, Daisuke Kato

Review by Brian Koller
3½ stars out of 4

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

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