Unrated, 1 hr. 23 min. Directed By: Akira Kurosawa. Release Date: Dec 26, 1951. DVD Release Date: Mar 26, 2002.
I didn’t know anything about Rashomon when I put it in my DVD player. Well, I didn’t know anything that I didn’t pick up from that Bare Naked Ladies song that was played WAY too much in the 90s. I didn’t expect anything like this: a story rich in its own telling, in part because they took a single event, the sexual assault of a woman and the murder of her husband, and tell the tale from multiple perspectives. It’s a technique I’ve enjoyed in other movies, television shows, and even the occasional novel for years.
I liked this even better because in the end, even with a hidden witness’ perspective, I’m still not entirely sure who to believe. If I disbelieve the husband, I’m doing so only because I didn’t like the way he reacted to what happened to his wife. The bandit was clearly batshit crazy, and while it made sense that he would describe himself as a seducer and liberator of a woman who was tired of her husband, only his story suggests that the rape wasn’t that. The wife’s story didn’t play well for me, and for lots of reasons, although I think her tale actually felt the most real. Some of what she said could just be what a person who had just gone through such an ordeal might feel like; how they might react. The only thing that keeps me from believing the eyewitness is that the sword choreography was terrible. For an infamous, murderous bandit and a Samurai to not actually cross swords once seems… impossible. Or maybe it’s a lack of understanding on how the Japanese perfected their swordplay. I also struggle to understand how the wife would treat this as a set up and then get all bent of out shape by what she sees. In the end, who knows, although I’m thinking the use of light and shadow is probably the best clue. I noticed that when characters were behaving shamefully, that the amount of light falling directly on them was diminished in some way, either from the dappling interference of trees, or a trellis or some other architectural feature.
I found this to be odd when viewed from a cultural perspective. For a people who are nearly obsessed with personal honor, there seemed to be little in evidence anywhere. Rape and murder, a man who blames his wife for being assaulted and does nothing to avenge or comfort her, a woman plotting the death of at least one of the men who knew what had happened, or someone who saw a terrible crime hiding his knowledge in order to lessen his involvement. It makes me wonder what the people of Japan thought of this when it was released.
The movie is fascinating from many perspectives, and enjoyable, although I realize that it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, if for no other reason than the subtitles and the cultural barriers to understanding what we’re being faced with. I’d say this is worth seeing once, especially if you’re looking for something a little different.