Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Daiei Motion Picture Company
#225 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
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.
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.
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”