RASHOMON (1950 Japan)

rashomon-criterion-hdrimg-v2More than a film, Rashomon is more of a meditation on the dishonest nature of man. As we listen to four different testimonies of the same heinous crime, we see that people will lie to save themselves, no matter what the circumstances.

The film begins with a priest and a wood-cutter speaking within a temple during a terrible rain. Their conversation is a mystery until another man arrives, and begins to ask questions about their subject matter. It is revealed that the men have just returned from court, where they gave their testimonies in a trial against a vicious bandit known as Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune in all of his manic, savage mastery). The bandit tells his side of the story. The woman that he most-likely raped follows with her version of the truth. Then, the story takes an odd twist toward the macabre as a medium is called in to channel the spirit of the woman’s murdered husband, who provides an all-together different story.

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Needless to say, the case is hopeless. The priest and wood-cutter find themselves drowning in their own self-pity because of the horrendous state of the world. The priest lamenting that he has lost his faith in man. The other man at the temple laughs it all off, having seen too much tragedy in his lifetime to weep over the injustice which has just taken place. The film does end on a relatively upbeat tone, however. The wood-cutter is given a chance to take control of life, a reminder that his life is his own, and that his decisions are still his own, even in the face of the insurmountable odds against anyone struggling to survive in his troubled times.

To me, the three men at the temple are the forces of good, evil, and humanity, which is trapped in the middle. The priest is a holy man seeking virtue in a time when virtue was essentially a sign of weakness. The man who approached the wood-cutter and the priest embodies the corrupted soul of man, embittered by the harsh cruelties of reality. The wood-cutter, neither virtuous nor evil, is confused, and has resigned to be neutral, no matter how much it may hurt him.

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However, out of the midst of all of this chaos, rain, murder, rape, and perjury, hope is found, and I believe that the wood-cutter takes his first step toward realizing his dream by attempting to become that which he prays for – a man of decency. This film is extraordinarily powerful. The contrast of the endless downpour at the temple and the beautiful, sun-soaked forest is magnificent, as is the cinematography on the whole. The writing and directing is wonderful, and the performances of the actors and actresses, while arguably over-the-top, are more powerful than anything else.

Toshiro Mifune’s performance was particularly striking as the remorseless bandit. Emotionally poignant performances from Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, and Takashi Shimura, among others create a stirring ensemble which Kurosawa masterfully uses to weave this ancient tale into a cinematic masterpiece that brought him international recognition. Highly recommended. One of those films that you might want to see before you die.

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