[From December Issue 2012]
Rashomon (Directed by KUROSAWA Akira)
In 1950 “Yabu no Naka,” a novella by AKUTAGAWA Ryunosuke, was adapted into a black and white film. The film was directed by KUROSAWA Akira and starred MIFUNE Toshiro. In 1951 the following year it won the Golden Lion Prize at the Venice International Film Festival and went on to win an Honorary Academy Award in 1952, garnering international recognition for Kurosawa and Japanese cinema in general.
The story is set in the Heian era (8~12th century). A woodcutter and a traveling priest take shelter from the rain under the dilapidated Rashomon Gate. A low-ranking man also taking shelter from the rain joins them and they tell him about a murder case they were involved in as witnesses.
The woodcutter says he discovered the corpse of a samurai while plowing his way through undergrowth in the mountains to gather firewood and reported it to the local authorities. The priest in turn recounts how he saw the samurai and his wife just before the murder. The two men then start to relate the deliberations that took place between the authorities at the court.
First of all, Tajomaru, a thief who had been arrested as the killer, confessed that he had approached the couple with the intention of raping the wife. He tied the samurai to a tree and though he didn’t intend to, ended up killing the samurai because the wife had said she would stay with the last man left alive. He recalled that she then disappeared, however, without his realizing it.
Meanwhile the samurai’s wife was found and her account differed to Tajomaru’s. She said he raped her, but fled without killing her husband. She had asked her husband to kill her because she had been raped by a stranger before his eyes, but she then fainted and claimed that she found her husband dead when she came to.
Finally, the spirit of the samurai “testifies” by possessing the body of a shrine maiden, who acts as a medium. According to the samurai, his wife changed her mind after the rape and asked Tajomaru to kill him. Tajomaru was enraged by this request and the wife ran away, stunned. Eventually Tajomaru left the samurai, and the latter killed himself with a dagger.
After hearing the differing testimonies from numerous points of view, the low-ranking man comes to the conclusion that it’s impossible to have confidence in anybody’s testimony. While the priest maintains human beings are all fundamentally good, the low-ranking man insists that they’ll do evil things in order to survive. Then the woodcutter, who discovered the body, reluctantly admits that he actually witnessed the whole thing.
The storytelling technique employed in this film, in which the same event is seen from the point of view of several different characters, leaving the audience in a state of confusion as to what really occurred, later influenced American films. A remake starring Paul NEWMAN titled “The Outrage,” was set in Mexico in 1964.