Today, I give you my review of Rashomon; a film that has one of the most influential screenplays of all time. Unsurprisingly, we have another revolutionary Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa. More research has revealed to me the reason of why Kurosawa films are so influential, the writing. Many of his films have very original stories that don’t often have conventional narratives. In Seven Samurai, it was a distinct combination of comedy, drama, love, and treachery which made the story more unique. In Rashomon, the story is told through multiple perspectives. I’d say that is a long enough intro, so let’s get down to business.
Rashomon is directed by Akira Kurosawa and written by: Ryûnosuke Akutagawa, Akira Kurosawa, and Shinobu Hashimoto. Stars-Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Masayuki Mori, and Machiko Kyô. Premise-Based on the short story, “In a Grove,” Rashomon tells the story of a crime recalled through multiple (and contradictory) testimonies from different people.
Rashomon has contributed so much to the world. Yes, not just the medium, but culture, certain beliefs, and art in general have learned something from this movie. I can’t wait to tell you about it! I’ll go over the objective perfection of Rashomon before dumping some film history on you (although, that will be much more interesting). As always, Kurosawa’s creative use of the camera (especially when it involves nature) is beautiful, Fumio Hayasaka’s (who also composed Seven Samurai) music never overpowers a scene, but compliments the film as a whole, and the actors performances were emanating with emotional energy.
Did you know that this was the film that made Toshirô Mifune a star? Or that the production company had little faith in Kurosawa and his story (kinda like Steven Spielberg with Jaws)? Or that it was this film that brought Western attention to Japanese cinema? Rashomon launched the professional career of Kurosawa, and influenced the medium with the screenplay’s point-of-view. The film opens at Rashomon (which is the ruined gate to two ancient Japanese cities) during a rainstorm. Taking shelter under it are: a confused and frightened woodcutter, a priest (who has almost lost his faith in humanity after hearing the story), and a complete (but shifty) stranger. This combination of differing characters and viewpoints reinforce the philosophy of why we shouldn’t always trust what someone tells us, even if they seem to be telling the truth. Rashomon has a bit of Kurosawa’s philosophy woven into this story.
The woodcutter explains that he was walking in a forest when he saw something horrible. Later on, he was called in to testify, as someone had been murdered in those woods. There were four other witnesses, each with a different perspective on what happened, although they all claimed to be at the scene when the murder took place. Because of this, the audience doesn’t know who to trust. The witnesses’ testimonies are shown through the use of flashbacks. Keep in mind, the woodcutter is retelling the other witnesses’ testimonies (because he was there) to the priest and the stranger. If that sentence didn’t remind you of Inception, go watch Inception, and then realize that it was Rashomon that did this type of “layering” storytelling first. It was this storytelling that would inspire: The Usual Suspects, Memento, Vertigo, and many more. None of these films ripped-off Rashomon (I know the internet loves to abuse that term), they most likely were looking back on Rashomon’s clever writing and using a trick it invented.
If you watch this movie now, and are under 25 years of age, Rashomon will most likely come across as simple, slightly clichéd, and boring. I know this because I used to have no appreciation for great cinema, or the interest to do so. But since you guys are above the societal “movies are just movies, they can’t change the world, nor are they ‘art’” belief, all I have to say is that Rashomon came out in 1950. Flashbacks in cinema were not as common (or as overused) back then; and just because a movie is in black and white doesn’t automatically make it bad or boring. Did I mention that the fight choreography and acting are very thrilling? This movie is an hour and 28 minutes long, not with one moment wasted. This complicated writing was accomplished in 32 minutes less time than the average film nowadays! What I’m saying is you should see this movie.
The more I think about it, the story reminds me of a detective case involving multiple witnesses or a Phoenix Wright videogame. What do I always say? The writing is the most important part of nearly every project, especially media. It is because of Rashomon’s unconventional storytelling that so much ground was paved for cinema. In his review of Rashomon, Roger Ebert said, “Because we see the events in flashbacks, we assume they reflect truth. But all they reflect is a point of view, sometimes lied about.” That’s what is genius about Rashomon; we never quite know who to trust or what to believe. I don’t think the power of perception has ever been better utilized in a film’s writing. When we actually discover what really happened in the forest… my gosh. The last 10 minutes of this movie are the best part of it. The ending is optimistic, philosophical, shockingly true, and emotionally powerful. I don’t want to give too much away; you just have to watch the movie. Rashomon is one of the greatest landmarks in cinema which stands the test of time, and gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A+.
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