(1950) dir. Akira Kurosawa
It’s always a bit daunting to try to write about the most important or significant films ever made, ones like Rashômon that have had such influence and impact, have attracted so much writing and critique, analysis and history. But then again, the whole point of my film diary is to write about the films that I see, in the context in which I see them. So, as daunting as it might be, I’m just going to start from scratch.
Because I’d never seen Rashômon before.
It’s a little crazy, but searching through my film diary, this is only the second of Kurosawa’s films that I have seen in the past 6 years that I have been keeping notes on films I see. It’s weird because he is such a giant in cinema, with so many important and influential films, and that I actually quite like his films. I think that films like Rashômon, one of his many well-known works, I’ve been kind of waiting to see them in an ideal environment, on the big screen, with an audience, and not wanting to just venture first into a film like The Seven Samurai (1954) on DVD. But then you end up going a lot longer before you actually get to see them. In fact, I am going to queue The Seven Samurai right when I finish this.
Rashômon is most famous for its approach to narrative and understanding of reality. It is the story of a rape and a murder from four (though often cited as 3) different impressions, none of which can be taken as the whole of truth, especially as some conflict with one another more than others. With a visual style, grounded in a location-shot forest, utilizing the ever-changing light of of the sun through the trees and leaves and the constant blurring of the rain, the film’s visual style is cohesive with its narrative questions, how impossible it is to know “truth”. Poetic and thought-provoking.
Ironically, I watch all these forensic science shows and crime investigation programs, which utilize science to completely disagree with such a philosophy. Of course, Rashômon would be a wholly different thing if scrutinized by Forensic Files or Cold Case Files, since according to modern criminal investigation, eye witness reporting is considered moderately weak. They would be able to validate the wound on the man, whether it was made with the sword or the jewel-encrusted knife. Who knows what other “truths” they could prove out.
Perhaps that is a further point of query. What is truth, what is reality, in light of modern science? Is there a tangible and only truth? Does that somehow make Rashômon somewhat of an outdated question?
Okay, it does and it doesn’t. It’s a brilliant film, one that must be considered as well in the time of its making, the role that it has played in both Japanese and World Cinema, one of the major foreign films imported by the Janus Film Company. The film has many other resonances, that of a recently Post-War Japan, a mixture of humanism and lost souls in a world of chaos, evil, and the unknowable. Quite remarkable. Truly.