SteelCity99 - wrote on 04/28/18
To talk about influential, landmark and legendary filmmaking may include those masterworks that had an extraordinary visual grandiosity and a groundbreaking narrative structure. Names like Sergei M. Eisenstein, Jean Renoir and Orson Welles will be mentioned, and their effects on the subsequent decades of moviemaking will be emphasized. Strictly speaking, Rashômon is not an entirely original film. It heavily relies on the unconventional chronological mixture that Orson Wells first employed in Citizen Kane (1941). Despite this inevitable fact, it is one of the most astonishing cinematic samples of the Eastern culture, and easily one of the best films ever committed to celluloid. What Akira Kurosawa managed to do with such a ludicrously low budget and few technical experience is a viscerally philosophical and thought-provoking study of the human nature and the relativity of a personal perception, with an undeniable visual beauty. Shattering the moral values of a decadent society and representing the very foundations of the perversity of mankind, Rashômon is one of the most audacious masterpieces ever made by human hands.
The premise of the film is very simple. It is set in 12th Century Japan and opens with a woodcutter telling a shocking story to a priest and a commoner. He narrates the events of a heinous crime committed by a notorious criminal named Tajômaru who is accused of the apparent murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife. Wanting to reach a solid conclusion, a policeman hears four extraordinarily differing accounts of the story of the four main characters: the bandit, the murdered samurai (through a medium), the samurai's wife and the nameless woodcutter. The film won an Honorary Award at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, being considered as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1951. The next year, it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, losing it against Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). However, director Akira Kurosawa won the Italian Film Critics Award and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival of 1951.
Rashômon basically established the exact same point that Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966) did: it all depends on the perspective. We are introduced with a heavy rainstorm while a priest and a commoner are being told the version of the woodcutter. In case this wasn't enough, his story is also composed by flashbacks. On one side, we have a nameless character relying on his memory. If we add to these elements the subjectivity of the mind and the intrinsic cruelty of the human being, it is left clear that the mere purpose of this astonishing masterpiece is not to try to decipher the truth through the conglomeration of clues scattered throughout. If the viewer considers it as a modestly ambitious essay on the human condition, a condition that determines his intentions through an unstoppable chain of events, then the film acquires a much more massive does of moralistic power.
Akira Kurosawa has not the specific intention of glorifying the human race in Rashômon. Moreover, the depiction of the evilness has two primary sources. The most explicit and graphic one can be seen in the factual event that a crime has been committed. Regardless of the fact that Tajômaru killed a samurai, the wife of the victim is testifying against him. A mystical and somewhat supernatural approach is added through the intervention of a medium that, supposedly, is speaking the words of the dead husband. Is she a charlatan or is she telling the truth? What really matters behind any case of this nature is what can be found behind the curtains; nonetheless, not everybody is allowed to come up to the stage. This is the shocking truth that enables us to discover the second primary source: the intentions that motivate the characters to intentionally tergiversate their respective retellings. The most natural assumption can be summed in the question: Are they modifying certain aspects of what really happened in order to cover up other degrading, mischievous and even illicit acts they could have performed? The search for the truth is vanished and we are presented with deep philosophical overtones and a discreet, pessimistic view towards bad-intentioned people, a brilliant element that is poetically enhanced with the priest's final loss of hope in humanity.
Despite few minuscule and justifiable technical flaws, Kurosawa managed to create a visually beautiful film, raising the expectations of an audience that was entering to a brand-new, promising decade. The cinematography plays a very introspective role, yet it manages to be breathtaking. A skilled editing starts to be appreciated throughout, a means that would reflect the bases for Kurosawa's action-oriented filmmaking when resorting to much more massive budgets. The brilliant structure of the screenplay allows both the pace and the relatively short running time to gain much more filmic quality and utterly significant substance, playing with an unconventional, non-chronological structure and directly referencing the futility of lies. With a breathtaking cast, a struggle for justice is made through the wonderful performances by the greatly talented Toshirô Mifune as the criminal, the gorgeous female artist Machiko Kyô as the wife Masako Kanazawa and the compassionate Japanese actor Takashi Shimura as the mysterious and doubtful woodcutter. A reflexive spectacle for the soul is guaranteed.
Rashômon is the most subjective and analytical Japanese masterpiece of a seemingly unobtainable honesty. It draws between the realm of the unknown and the imagined, and between the irrejectable acceptance of the utility of a sincere truth. The camera transforms us into the policeman, the archetypical figure of societal justice, and we become the relevantly supporting character that witnesses several spoken lies without the ability of foretelling which are truthful and which are not. All of this, of course, reaches an unforgettable climax of immense power through a remarkable and symbolic ending, an ending that stands for a necessary spiritual redemption of an attitude modification. Leading us to a state of strong and cathartic questionings, Akira Kurosawa's absolutely challenging masterpiece is here to stay among those that cause a total earthquake in the non-geographical area of justice corruptibility, the impossible compliance with an equity balance and, above all, emotional rebirth.