Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo in Rashomon (1950).

After watching Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), and being somewhat underwhelmed by it, I decided to read some reviews of the film. There seems to be a few different opinions about what the film is really about. Is it concerned only with the Japanese or can the characters' actions be applied to people from anywhere in the world and does the film care about what really happened, the real truth, or does it only care about the way people will change the truth to make themself seem better? I think it falls somewhere in between these different views.

The story is about a rape and murder that takes place out in the woods. It involves a bandit, Tajomaru, and a samurai and his wife. There is also a woodcutter who finds the corpse. They all get to tell their story about what happened after Tajomaru is caught and brought to trial.

The thing that, to me, sticks out the most as exlusively Japanese is that all the characters except the woodcutter, in their version of the what happened, claim to be the killer. If they had been western characters they probably would have claimed their innocence instead. Still, no matter if it is to make their actions seem more honorable, or if it is to make it seem like they had no part in it, both Japanese and western characters would be lying to avoid judgment. No matter the differences of what it means to take responsibility and saving face between the cultures, what it results in is the same for all humans. So, at the same time as it is very Japanese, it is also universal.

Also, as the woodcutters story is the one that seems to be the most truthful, him being the closest thing to an objective observer, even though it is compromised by him having stolen a dagger that may or may not have been the murder weapon. The film does present the viewer with one version that is portrayed as being more accurate than the others, while it also shows that even good men, like the woodcutter, are susceptible to corruption. Basically, it is a film about human nature.

Just as with my take on Kurosawa's Stray Dog (1949), I feel that Rashomon is more about human nature than it is a commentary on a specific society, and that Kurosawa was an emotional filmmaker more than a political one. I think this is also the reason why I was underwhelmed by the film. It didn't bring any new feelings to me, the way it was shot and edited wasn't as spectacular as in the few other films I have seen of his, and its comments on human behaviour didn't feel very original. That is not Rashomon's fault though, it has just been covered a lot since 1950, and it is easy to see how it came to be considered a masterpiece when it was released.