The film that made director
Kurosawa famous worldwide is an experimental
tale that looks at the same event - the man's body found in the woods -
from four different perspectives, including that of the dead man
himself. The film's title has even entered our language as a
clinical term: "The Rashomon Effect" refers to the tendency of people
to have subjective, mutually exclusive memories of the same event.
. The murder scenario is simple: a bandit spies a man and his young bride in the woods, ties up the man up and rapes the wife. At the end of the scenario, the man is stabbed in the chest, but by whom? The testimony of the bandit and wife differ greatly, and the murdered man himself, summoned through a medium, tells yet a third version. After the story is rehashed one more time, there is no resolution, no sudden revelation - the truth, whatever it is, remains elusive and flexible. What must have initially seemed like a "whodunit?" to audiences in the end was a "who knows?", and is all the better of a film because of it. It was this open-ended, philosophical approach to the story, along with Kurosawa's distinctly original talents as a director, that made RASHOMON the first Japanese movie to really capture the entire world's attention. That it came from a land that was recently defeated in the war made the artistry of RASHOMON even more stunning.
Because of the worldwide success of RASHOMON, Toshiro Mifune became the most famous Japanese actor on earth overnight. He manages to give four separate performances in the film as each telling of the rape tale casts his character in a different light, and his wild, chaotic energy must have shocked, confused and delighted audiences all over the planet. As I say in my review of SEVEN SAMURAI, there is little else like it in film history.
Also impressive is the ethereal Machiko Kyo, who effortlessly changes from demure wife to femme fatale throughout the four tales. Despite her beauty, obvious talent and splendid turns in two of the most admired Japanese films of the fifties (this film and Kenji Mizoguchi's UGETSU), Kyo would never make another film with Kurosawa either, strong female characters rarely being a large part of the man's grand cinematic vision.
At a time when Kurosawa himself was doubting his own success as a director, RASHOMON won top prize at the Venice Film Festival and was hailed by American critics as a masterpiece. That it was and still is. Although the premise of fractured storylines and the same events seen from different perspectives have now become somewhat commonplace, RASHOMON still holds up as a visual feast fort the eyes and a fascinating, thoughtful movie that questions the concept of absolute truth. Not bad for a film that clocks in at less than an hour and a half. ½ - JB
THE RASHOMON EFFECT
MARGE: You liked Rashomon!
HOMER: That's not the way I remember it!
--- The Simpsons, "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo"
THE OUTRAGE (1964 - a Western, with Paul Newman in the Mifune role)