Rashomon (1950)

RashomonRashomon dvd
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Daiei Motion Picture Company

#225 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Several viewings



Commoner: In the end you cannot understand the things men do.

A priest, a woodcutter, and a commoner take shelter from a downpour under the Roshomon gate.  The priest and woodcutter are stunned by the horrible stories they have heard about a murder of a samurai and rape of his wife in the forest.  The woodcutter first tells about his discovery of the body and then proceeds to relate the accounts of the events given by the bandit, the woman, and the samurai (through a medium).  He follows with another eye-witness account.  The stories do not coincide and indeed there is conflicting evidence as to whether there was a murder at all.

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The commoner and the woodcutter

I love Kurosawa’s dazzling meditation on the nature of reality. The people are not so much lying as telling the story from their perspective and in a way that puts each in the best possible light. I think it is interesting that each of the principals claims responsibility for the death, as if what is most important is that s/he be seen as in control of the situation.  Sometimes Toshiro Mifune seems to be overacting as the bandit but when we compare his performances in each version of the story we can see subtle changes.  I love the vast differences between the classic sword fight as described by the bandit and the same sword fight reported by the woodcutter, when we see the two men struggling on the ground and gasping for breath.

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The cinematography is fantastic. The Criterion DVD includes excerpts from The World of Kazuo Miyagawa, a documentary on Rashomon’s cinematographer.  It was fascinating to learn how he achieved the long tracking shot of the woodsman entering the forest and the light and shadows on the characters faces.  Kurosawa truly captured a sun-dappled forest to perfection. Needless to say, each shot is exquisitely composed.

Clip – “A Ghastly Discovery”

Japanese Trailer

7 thoughts on “Rashomon (1950)

  1. Nice write-up. This is a special film, indeed.

    I obviously don’t know your TV habits, but the show “Leverage” did an episode called “The Rashomon Job.” I didn’t know the title of the episode when I first watched it, but when the event in question repeated with alterations as a different character told the same story, I realized the homage to Kurosawa. Although definitely played for laughs, it just goes to show how thoroughly entertaining and profound an idea “Rashomon” represents.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I haven’t seen that TV episode but it sounds interesting. I’ve been trying to think whether there are other movies with the same premise. I still haven’t come up with any.

  2. Another one of my great crushes, Toshiro Mifune. What a wonderful actor,
    Didn’t you read the dual biography about him and Kurosawa which weighed about 65 pounds and was thousands of pages long? I really want to read it but don’t know if I can lift it!!! Is it worth the effort because it is one of the longest bios I have ever seen.

    • I just now watched/listened to Seven Samurai with the commentary. How great is Mifune in that one? I’m still working on The Emperor and the Wolf. I’m enjoying it. It does go into a lot of detail about each of the films. I think it would depend how down in the weeds you would like to go. The writing is good and it pulls you along.

  3. Just having a peek at your old reviews for 1950.
    I imagine Tarantino has seen a lot of Kurosawa. At least he has used this idea of alternate viewpoint a number of times. Which reminds me that I simply cannot wait to revisit the Seven Samurai.

    • I am having so much fun working my way through the earlier Kurosawa films. Still, if I was forced to pick my favorite it would be Seven Samurai.

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