Rashomon (1950)

3.5 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056193/

15     88 min                          –  Crime  | Drama                 –              25 August 1950(Japan)

Director

Akira Kurosawa

Writer

Akira Kurosawa; Shinobu Hashimoto; Ryûnosuke Akutagawa

Stars

Toshirô MifuneMachiko KyôMasayuki Mori

Plot:

Following the murder of a man, multiple people retell their version of the events.

Review:

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

It’s interesting how some films are so concerned with their narratives, that in a sense, they’re almost about the notion of a narrative itself. Such is the case with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon: an interesting film, which is also visually gorgeous as well. The film retells the same timeframe but from multiple perspectives.

The film is interesting at first, because its ideas are very much enhanced by its style. The style is strange – you could go as far as to say: ‘quirky’ – maybe even – ‘eccentric’. The music is at once light, and then occasionally over-dramatic (the almost apocalyptic thudding of drums), the dialogue – at times – feels forced and stilted, and then there’s the acting style, which reminds me of silent-film acting, due to its eccentricities and exaggeration.

Exaggerated acting style of Rashomon

Exaggerated acting style of Rashomon

All of these aspects made me rather warm to the film, but not to its characters. I think this is the point. The style engaged me with the narrative events, but rejected me from forming an intimate bond with the people involved in the events – I think this is Akira Kurosawa’s way of making us become detectives. By pulling us in yet distancing us from any bias towards the characters, we’re made to contemplate what the real truth actually is: do any of the retellings match up? Or is this impossible because they’re all lying? Are they even lying? Or are there some sections which involve lie and then involve truth? What is truth? Can it even be measured? Or is it all so abstract, that it is ultimately, meaningless?

At once we have a rather intriguing critique of truth and perception, and how humans can ultimately never be trusted due to their bias towards the subjective as opposed to the objective.

Yet, in my own personal opinion – the effect of this film wore off at the end of the second third of the film. As the film progresses, I became quickly used to its methods and ideas: the notion of retelling a story, and jumping back between the character’s telling their version of events, into their subconscious minds (the filmed events designed by Akira Kurosawa to show their subjective perspectives of the events in an ironically, objective way: by using wide-shots quite frequently as opposed to Point of View Shots). Once I got ‘used’ to the film, the thought-provoking aspects dimmed away, and I began to contemplate how ludicrous it all was.

Now, I agree with the notion that different people have different perceptions of events, but Rashomon takes this notion to the extreme. For example: two of the characters in each story engage in sexual activities – in one story, they make love, in the other, it is rape – bearing in mind: same characters, same timeframe. This is – in my mind – one of the least  ludicrous differences between the stories.

Making love or rape?

Making love or rape?

Then we come to the dialogue. At first, it’s rather charming and amusing. But, at points it does feel like Akira Kurosawa is forcing the themes of perception, truth, reality, memory and the human condition into our eye-sockets. Take for example, when we cut back to the sequence when we have a ‘Commoner’, a ‘Priest’ and a ‘Woodcutter’ – again – retelling and discussing the retellings of the characters involved in the main event. (The fact that it’s a retelling of a retelling surely emphasises the accentuation of the themes by Kurosawa). Here is some of their dialogue:

Priest: If men don’t trust each other, this earth might as well be hell.
Commoner: Right. The world’s a kind of hell.
Priest: No! I don’t want to believe that!
Commoner: No one will hear you, no matter how loud you shout. Just think. Which one of these stories do you believe?
Woodcutter: None makes any sense.
Commoner: Don’t worry about it. It isn’t as if men were reasonable.

Writers often ensure that their characters discuss themes of humanity by saying “men” or “mankind”, in an attempt to emphasise a philosophical point. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But more to the point – the worst part is when the Commoner says: “Which one of these stories do you believe?”, it’s as if Kurosawa himself has leaped out of the screen, pointed to all of us, and then rubbed his beard in such a manner as if to say: what do YOU think?

Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. But then again, isn’t all criticism about perception?

Verdict:

Some interesting ideas to start off with – but plays off of them repeatedly, so that I ultimately felt like the element of surprise in the movie diminished. A great shame.

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