In Rashomon, after the murder of a traveling samurai and the rape of his female companion, multiple versions of the story are told to find the truth.
A woodcutter and a priest are sitting under the gate at Rashomon during a storm and after are joined by a commoner, they tell him of the story of a murdered samurai and rape of his wife the woodcutter found three days prior. The story is told through flashbacks as testimonies in court from the point of view of the confessed murderer and rapist bandit, Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune), the wife, the murdered samurai through a spirit medium, and the woodcutter. Each version of the story has slightly differing details offering insight to what really happened to the samurai and his wife.
Rashomon is the film that introduced the west to the great Akira Kurosawa and Japanese filmmaking in general. The style of storytelling used in Rashomon has been emulated many times since its release in 1950 but the original still has not been diminished with age. Though the multiple sides of the same story are a bit confusing since you are never quite sure what is really happening, the mystery of the actual events keep you guessing and involved in the film until the very end.
While the woodcutter seemingly has the least reason to alter the truth about the events, it’s still debatable if his retelling of the story is the “right” one. There’s a saying that I feel is used a lot in cop dramas (or maybe just on the TV show “Cops”) that there’s always three sides to every story; the victim’s, the accuser’s, and the truth. In Rashomon, we get extra sets of eyes and still are never sure if we are seeing the truth but the truth may not be what we are really seeking to find out, either.
The Criterion Collection recently released a new version of Rashomon aside from the amazingly beautiful new cover art (pictured), the set has some great special features included. Aside from the spectacular picture and soundtrack, my favorite feature is the included interview with famed director Robert Altman about the film.
It could be easily argued that Rashomon is Kurosawa’s masterpiece, but with a catalog as wide and diverse as his, choosing just one film is daunting. Rashomon is certainly one of Kurosawa’s finest films, though, and is still riveting today.
I give it 5 bandit testimonies out of 5.