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Director: Akira Kurosawa Daiei Production, 1950 88 minutes From the Ryunosuke Akutagawa short stories In a Grove and Rashomon Grand Prix Venice Film Festival Academy Award for Best Foreign Film Performers: Tajomaru, the bandit (Toshiro Mifune) Takehiro, the samurai (Masayuki Mori) Masago, the wife (Machiko Kyo) Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) Priest (Minoru Chiaki) Commoner (Kichijiro Ueda)
The story opens at Rashomon Gate where a woodcutter, a priest, and a commoner are seeking shelter from a heavy rain. They are discussing recent events a bandit has assaulted a samurai s wife and the samurai has been killed. As the film progresses, these events are repeatedly described from the different perspectives of participants in the events. The actual events are never shown, only recounted by others. The woodcutter begins. Initially he says that he happened upon body of the samurai. Later in the film, he will confess to having seen the entire thing. While seemingly an impartial witness, his testimony will be called into question. Both the priest and the woodcutter were present in the prison courtyard where testimony was presented. They recount the testimony given there to the commoner. The first testimony is that of the police officer that arrested the bandit. He recounts how the bandit was captured after being thrown from the samurai s horse. The bandit denies being thrown from the horse, and makes a full confession to show he is truthful. In his account, he meets the samurai and his wife on the road. He lures the samurai into the woods with a story of a treasure, overpowers the samurai, and ties him up. The bandit returns to the wife and leads her into the woods to where the husband is tied. Although she initially resists the bandit, he has his way with her as her husband watches. Afterwards, when the bandit starts to leave, she begs the bandit to deal with her husband. Either the bandit or the samurai must die so she won t be shamed before both. He frees the husband, fights, and eventually kills the samurai. The wife, meanwhile, has run off. The bandit takes the samurai s horse, bow, arrows, and sword but leaves behind the wife s dagger. Forgetting the dagger is his biggest regret. Next, the wife testifies. Her testimony describes the events after the assault. The bandit has abandoned her. She describes her husband as being cold and indifferent toward her. After untying her husband, she begs that he kill her. She faints and when she recovers, her husband is dead. Presumably, she has killed him with her dagger. She attempts, unsuccessfully, to drown herself. The dead samurai, through a medium, tells his version of the events from the darkness of the grave. After the assault, the bandit tries to console the wife begging her to come
he confronts the woodcutter. The bandit. asked the samurai if the wife should be put to death. After the assault. One more won t make a noticeable difference. Having heard four versions of the events. the bandit manages to kill the samurai. She runs off. After a while. At the end of his story. Nonetheless. The bandit was not thrown from the samurai s horse. she will go with the winner. The three characters subsequently discussing the events provide three differing perspectives. Tempted. His version of the events follows. the bandit attempts to comfort the wife. she tells the bandit that he must first kill her husband. the rain comes to an end. Tempted. priest. The woodcutter admits to having seen more that he had previously admitted. Remarkably. The commoner discovers a baby abandoned at Rashomon Gate. the bandit frees the husband. He quickly claims the baby s blankets. the commoner. the woodcutter. Each tells a tale that reflects their individual view of honor. Often it is unclear who the narrator is. outraged. The priest s faith in mankind is restored by this act of kindness. the basic structure of the film is integral to the story. Each of the four versions of the story is told to best reflect on the teller. he even speaks highly of the fight the samurai puts up before being killed. In Harakiri. has confessed to lying so all his testimony is suspect. We are supplied additional information in the second telling that provides a different point of view. When challenged by the woodcutter. Her husband initially refused to fight and the bandit loses interest as well. She frees her husband saying that he and the bandit should fight for her. He wants her to come with him. The wife goads the two men into fighting. she says she can t decide. The woodcutter departs with the child explaining that he has six of his own. We see a similar pattern in the stories of the wife and the samurai. While unusual. Critique The overarching theme for this film is the relationship between perception and truth. Yet despite his Joe Sloan Page 2 1/2/2006 . The commoner is an irredeemable cynic making statements like Men are men . After an inept fight. the only witness. there appears to be a consistent story if only we have all the information. and woodcutter argue about what the events mean and who to believe. He was feeling ill and was laying down to rest. The commoner then departs into the rain with the blankets. the stories are inconsistent. He then continues with a full confession just to show he isn t hiding anything. and the husband kills himself with the wife s dagger. Unlike Harakiri. we have three different people admitting responsibility for the death of the samurai. in Rashomon. he defends his actions and asks about the dagger that was never recovered and departs. that s why they lie and I don t mind a lie.with him and become his wife. He clearly believes the woodcutter had said nothing of it so he could keep it for himself. the two versions of the story are consistent. After all the stories are related to the commoner. Moreover. We are given multiple contradictory accounts. if it is interesting .
The wife says she begged to be killed and even tried to kill herself. Third Edition. even to themselves. As we discover. VHS. Perfs. The woodcutter is the most enigmatic of the three and the one that seems to struggle the most with the events. After the bandits story. and Yoshio Inaba. After the wife s story. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. the woodcutter has played a role in these events and is attempting to understand not just the actions of the bandit. 1996. While the commoner s response ranges from amusement to indifference. it is something of a stretch to call this a samurai film. References Harakiri. The final words in the film are the priest remark. Rashomon Gate is deluged with rain. 2005. his taking the child can be seen as an act of contrition. 1962. Richie. he appears to understand the events more completely than the others and his off-handed cynical remarks provide a telling explanation of events. the priest is profoundly affected by events. When discussing the wife s version of events. Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves. he finds strength in her story. Akira Ishihama. Tatsuya Nakadai. rather he took his own life. imperfectly. while set in feudal Japan. The samurai claims he was not defeated. Berkeley. With rather transparent symbolism. Dir. he says of women They even fool themselves . and while the characters include a samurai. these ideals are defining how each individual wants to be seen. Joe Sloan Page 3 1/2/2006 . Nonetheless. many of the samurai ideals. Stone Bridge Press. the adoption of the child. Yet with the ending.totally bleak outlook. The University of California Press. Kurosawa seems to have felt compelled to give an upbeat ending to an otherwise bleak view of humanity. Galloway. Shochihu Company. Donald. From this perspective. I think I ll be able to keep my faith in men . Patrick. when the rain ends humanity is redeemed through the action of the woodcutter. The priest chooses to focus on the good he can find in people. Perhaps it is even a crisis of faith for the priest that is only restored by the woodcutter s final action. Shima Iwashita. the characters do reflect. and the samurai s wife. we are shown where such cynicism leads the casual theft of blankets from an abandoned infant. One last comment. but his own motivations and the morality of his own actions. he remarks They can t tell the truth. Masaki Kobayashi. the samurai. Berkeley. Clearly. Throughout the film.