Rashomon : Kurosawa's Masterpiece On Truth And Its Many Faces

By Murtaza Ali Khan. Posted on September 28, 2015

Rashomon (1950), a Japanese film directed by master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, introduced the Japanese cinema to the whole world. In the movie Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa highlighted, for the first time in cinema, that discrepancies can exist among the different versions of the same event (as narrated from the perspective of different parties).These discrepancies testify the subjective nature of truth. Rashomon's extraordinarily unique concept and Kurosawa's brilliant treatment of the subject matter make it an undisputed masterpiece. Rashomon - the 1950 Akira Kurosawa Japanese movie which propounded the Rashomon Effect - vividly limns the artistry of contrivance innate in the human psyche owing to the unending desire of humans to placate their insatiable egos.

This manipulation of facts has no limits and entirely depends upon the skill of imaginative improvisation of the individual along with his level of comfort at trickery. The ability to misinterpret comes naturally to the humans as an obvious tool to counter the adversities of life, and perhaps that's what makes it indispensable. As a direct consequence of contrivance, the concept of truth no longer remains universal but becomes rather subjective and a matter of individualistic perception. Whether by design or inadvertence, this subjectivity of perception with respect to veracity must not be overlooked under any circumstance so as to surmise the most befitting conclusion.

Rashomon_4                                                                                A Still From Rashomon

Rashomon pioneered Akira Kurosawa's dream tryst with perpetual brilliance and undoubtedly played a pivotal part in making his name a mark of excellence in the world of cinema. The film is based on two stories, written by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa: Rashomon and In A Grove. The all-famous Rashomon story revolves around a supercilious samurai, his whimsical wife and a barbaric bandit (brilliantly portrayed by Toshiro Mifune). The bandit inveigles the samurai into imprisonment and has his way with samurai's wife. The dead body of the samurai is later discovered under mysterious circumstances by a woodcutter. The bandit is captured and arraigned along with the deranged widow of the samurai.

Subsequently, the bandit and the widow testify in the court. Their narrated versions seem so contrasting that a psychic is called upon to conjure up the dead samurai's spirit to record his testimony in order to corroborate the facts that seem to be excessively manipulated. The samurai's version yet again differs considerably from the testimonies of the other two.

What makes this bizarre scenario even more convoluted is that each version, while completely different from the other, seems to appease the very ego of testifier in contention. The woodcutter, who seemed disinclined to get involved personally, later makes a confession to a local priest that he's actually been a witness to the incident, and comes up with a version of his own which falsifies the other three.

Rashomon_3                                                                     Toshiro Mifune  in Rashomon

Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is ingenious as its actual motive has nothing to do with the revelation of truth for verity is merely a matter of perception. On the contrary, Rashomon propounds to highlight the discrepancies among the different versions as a medium to depict the irrational complexities associated with the human psyche.

Vintage Rashomon, such effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection in the modern day parlance is more commonly known as the Rashomon Effect. The concept, as propagated by the Rashomon story described above, though well ahead of its time, sowed the seeds for creative innovation in the world of cinema and has served as the undisputed benchmark of innovative excellence for well over five decades.

PS. Rashomon (1950) is a quintessential Akira Kurosawa classic and is strongly recommended to the masses for its sheer brilliance and enigmatic charm.

Murtaza Ali Khan is an independent film critic based out of New Delhi, India. The post first appeared on his movie blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges". Cinema is not only his passion but also his greatest obsession. His all-time favorite filmmakers are Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Luis Bunuel, Andrei Tarkovsky, Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray, Fritz Lang, Jean-Pierre Melville, Sergio Leone, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Lars von Trier.


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