A 1950 film by Akira Kurosawa starring Toshiro Mifune. One of Kurosawa's many movies set in feudal Japan, Rashomon tells the story of a murder from four different perspectives, and examines human nature through the differences in each witness's story. The movie is such a classic exploration of this concept of varying point-of-view, that the term "Rashomon" now refers the use of this device in any movie.

As always, there is a Simpsons reference for all occasions:

MARGE: Come on, Homer, Japan will be fun. You liked Rashomon.
HOMER: That's not how I remember it!

The recent American films Courage Under Fire and Rules of Engagement borrow from the themes of Rashomon.

Not all movies which tell stories from multiple points of view are truly following the Rashomon style. Go and Pulp Fiction are commonly cited examples of the style, but differ from Rashomon on several points. Where Rashomon deals with the same story being told by different people, each telling it differently, or emphasizing different facts, Go and PF are largely telling different stories of the characters, but all of whose stories cross paths at one time or another. Rashomon has only two settings, and the rape/muder of the story involves all the storytellers. Go and Pulp Fiction both have many different people doing many different things, with only passing interaction between many of the characters. None of the characters in these two films contradict the others. Rashomon focuses on the contradictions inherent in human perception.

To my mind, this is an important distinction.

Perhaps following up on the success of remaking The Seven Samurai as a western, the film was remade as a western called The Outrage by Martin Ritt in 1964. Although Toshiro Mifune's role was played by the similarly formidible Paul Newman it is not the excellent remake that The Magnificent Seven was. This is all the more suprising when you think that the film also featured a stellar performance by the king of smooth delivery himself, William Shatner.

facts regarding 'The Outrage' checked on IMDB at http://us.imdb.com/Title?0058437

This is one of a series of notes for A Chronological Biography of Akira Kurosawa.

This film was was based on stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who had committed suicide in the 1920s.

The setting is eighth century Japan. Caught in a storm, a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) tells his companions a story which begins with his discovery of a corpse. Accused of murdering the man Takehiro (Masayuki Mori) and raping his wife Masago (Machiko Kyo), the bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune) states that the incident was a fair fight. Masago asserts that she was raped and the she killed her husband when he disowned her. Through a medium, the husband claims to have committed suicide in response to the dishonour. The woodcutter wows that Takehiro had been forced to fight and that Tajomaru acted in self-defence. However even his objective testimony may not be reliable.

Title: Rashomon
Original Title in Japanese: Rashomon
Running Time: 87 min
Year: 1950
Company: Daiei
Writer(s): Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto
Director of Photography: Kazuo Miyagawa
Production Designer: Takashi Matsuyama
Music: Fumio Hayakawa
Assistant Director(s): Yasuhi Kato, Mitsuo Wakasugi, Tokuzo Tanaka

Cast: Toshiro Mifune (Tajomaru), Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Yoshijiro Ueda, Fumiko Honma, Taisuke Kato

At least four recent films play off this narrative concept.

A great deal of Pulp Fiction dances in and out of three different stories while giving you different versions of the same period of time.

In The Usual Suspects the story starts near the end, goes to the beginning and then gives you the end after the end. You are also shown the story through the eyes of a least two different characters, so that borrows from Rashomon as well.

Although I have not seen it, several people have let me know that Magnolia has a similar concept-telling/showing a single story through the eyes of different characters. (thanks panamaus et. al).

The best and hippest version of Rashomon is Go!, a hyperkinetic party/road trip movie that is set against a Rashomon template. Each of the three stories is carried through from beginning to "end" from the point of view of three different characters. No one version is the "right one." Although the characters interact to some degree, each story is seperate and distinct.

My advice : rent Go!, then try and find Rashomon on tape.

The actual story, Rashomon (the story of the murder from different perspectives is titled In A Grove), is about a famous gate into Kyoto which, as the city fell into despair (the story attributes this to a series of "calamities"), the gate became a place infamous as a hideout for thieves and other criminals as well as a place to dispose of unwanted bodies.

The story concerns itself with a man who has lost his job and, penniless, homeless and hungry, takes shelter under the gate and finds a woman doing some disrespectful things to some of these bodies (get yer minds out of the gutter, it takes place in Ancient Japan. Necrophilia may have existed (if it exists at all), but it wasn't exactly a topic to be discussed in that setting, even when Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote the story in the early 20th century).

The rest I leave up to you going and finding a copy of it somewhere and reading it (it's a short story (all 6 stories bundled in the version I've got come to about 100 pages) and I sure do hope I didn't say too much). All the stories in the collection are quite good and thought provoking.

Extracting Truth From Pure Fiction

NYHW Topic: Analyze the conception of truth within the movie Rashomon.

What elements make for a truly great murder mystery? By today’s standards you might say that the story must have a character who is seeking to find the truth, another who’s trying to mask it, and exciting events that lead to a conclusion that ties it all together. Director Akira Kurosawa’s film, Rashomon, lacks the first element entirely, yet has numerous characters with reason to embellish and hide the truth. In such a way Kurosawa embodies the psychological dilemma that we all inevitable must face when dealing with multiple witnesses. Through a slew of articulated stories being drawn into one, Rashomon transcends mere storytelling and instead leaves the viewer with a choice as to what they deem to be truth. In such a way the film does not necessarily explain “truth” as much as it simply explores its ambiguity. If we attempt to discern the most objective pieces from each character’s tale we can formulate speculations at best, yet are inevitably left with only questionable accounts and little concrete proof.

As the woodcutter sets the stage, we are told of the supposed murder in the backwoods of a Samurai, Kanazawa-no-Takehiro.

The bandit, Tajōmaru, then presents his side. Within it he admits to tying up the Samurai and planning to rape his wife. Yet when he arrives he finds her willing to partake only to then beg for the two men to fight to the death. He abides and frees the samurai in order that they can indulge in an honorable duel in which he himself is victorious. This story is quite obviously embellished however, and is further compromised by the fact that the man is a thief and not to be trusted.

Next to forge a defense is Masago, the wife of Tajōmaru. Her dramatized claim is that, following the rape, she begged her husband to kill her. Instead he looks at her coldly, and she becomes so upset that she passes out, possibly plunging her dagger into her husband on accident. She too seems to present an irrational account, too consumed with grief to be a reliable source.

Surprisingly, our third suspect is also the victim, the samurai Kanazawa-no-Takehiro. While it seems that the casualty of the crime would be most likely to give the facts, his account comes across as the most crazed because the woman priestess whom he is represented through is raging mad. Even if we examine the content rather than the medium we see that he is overtly angry with his wife, and claims to have killed himself out of shame when she chose to run away with the bandit. His account also comes into question when he claims that the bandit turned against Masago upon hearing that she wanted him to kill her husband. The segment begs the question, why would the bandit believe rape to be justifiable, yet not murder? Also, the whereabouts of the dagger becomes a key element to justifying the story, he says it was stolen from his corpse, but does not reveal who exactly did it. Presumably the thief would be the prime suspect, yet he’d already claimed to have wanted the dagger, yet had not actually stolen it. At this point the woodcutter becomes a fourth suspect as he appears nervous at the mention of the missing dagger.

We then see the woodcutter once more, who presents us with yet another story in which he’s actually witnessed the escapade, which further hurts his integrity. He claims that the wife actually freed her husband and would marry whoever won the duel. The samurai tells her that he is ashamed and starts to walk away, and is only enticed into fighting after being called a coward. The woodcutter claims that the fight ensues in a style quite opposite from that which the bandit claimed happened, yet it is questionable that someone as skilled as a samurai would do so.

In the investigation of such a story, there really needs to be at least some conclusive evidence found at the scene of the crime that would convict the culprit. Within Roshomon we don’t know who ended up with the dagger, and even whether it was the actual murder weapon. Hence the truth behind the samurai’s death is completely subjective and entirely unknown.

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