Plot: In ancient Japan, a woman is raped and her husband killed. The film gives us four viewpoints of the incident - one for each defendant - each revealing a little more detail. Which version, if any, is the real truth about what happened?
It's hard to tell just how striking 'Rashomon' might have seemed to those who watched it in 1950, rather than seeing it after so many subsequent movies and other works have made use of its techniques and ideas. But it's clear that it is a technical and creative success. The story itself is not particularly satisfying, which was most likely by design, and the movie is carried by its structure and by the concept of the markedly different perspectives on the same series of events. The cast also deserve their share of credit for how well it works, and the photography is excellent, as it is in almost all of Kurosawa's films.
Kurosawa's expertise makes the interwoven sequences of past and present - essentially telling two different stories - not only work flawlessly, but fit together thematically. It's even more commendable when compared to some of the subsequent films that have tried to use similar ideas, only to come off as pretentious rather than creative or innovative. Kurosawa was also working with much less in terms of possible precedents.
In one sense, the choice of specific story material could seem a little odd.
The downbeat, rather sordid scenario makes the movie somewhat less enjoyable than several of Kurosawa's other pictures (which is, admittedly, a pretty high standard), and as a result 'Rashomon' is more a film to respect and admire than one to enjoy and take pleasure from. Still, it does have significantly more substance to it than do most of the more recent pictures that have been deliberately downbeat or negative in their portrayals of humanity. Such stories are more trendy at present, and they often receive undue praise simply for so being.
At the same time, the lack of sympathetic characters and the paucity of hopeful developments bring out all the more its success in developing its ideas about narrative and about reality, ideas that are more fundamental and, in their way, perhaps at least as important as any specific story or events.
«it is about the nature of truth and reality. If that sounds a bit high-brow, don't let that worry you. One of the good things about Rashomon is that whatever questions Kurosawa wants you to ask about "truth and reality," he has the characters say out loud. So one needn't wonder what questions one should be asking. Rashomon is also about story-telling, which I discuss toward the end.»
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