Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rashômon (1950)

Alright, so I've been meaning to watch more Kurosawa films since I saw Yojimbo over a year ago, but I never got around to it. Oops. Anyway, I finally saw Rashômon. Set within the framework of three men waiting out a rainstorm, the story unfolds as a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) recount for the third man the testimonies from a trial they just attended. The woodcutter had found the dead body of a stabbed samurai (Masayuki Mori), and several people are suspected of the murder. We hear the tale from the points of view of a notorious womanizing bandit, Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune), the samurai's wife (Machiko Kyô), and the samurai himself speaking through a medium. Depending who's talking, the killer is any of these three. While the priest agonizes over the deplorable acts of rape and murder that occurred, the woodcutter might know more about the mystery than he's let on.

This film has been referenced and redone so many times, I had an idea of what I was in for, but I still found myself surprised and captivated by what transpires. It's a really well-made, complex mystery and character study, beautifully filmed and passionately acted. It starts slowly and deliberately, gradually eking out the intricacies of this one isolated incident. There's a great mix of emotive drama and high-stakes violence, adding interest to the repetitive nature of the story. The cinematography heightens the intensity, with stark black and white contrasts in the forest scenes and a bright, stage-like look for the outdoor court testimonies.

The performances are really what make this a great film. Each of the main three players must transform themselves depending on the version of the story being told. Toshirô Mifune is delightfully manic as the bandit, relishing in his despicableness and badassery. I was the most impressed with Machiko Kyô as the samurai's wife. She packs incredible range and personality into one character, switching from ferocity to demureness to desperation to frenzy with conviction and energy. She's really intriguing to watch.

It's remarkable how one event can be twisted and manipulated to produce multiple narratives, woven into a repetitive but engaging structure. I really enjoyed Rashômon, and hope to have less time between this and my next Kurosawa film!



  1. Ah yes one of the quint essential Kurosawa films. I had a real hard time leaving this out of my top 100. I admired it more than I enjoyed it. Can't wait for your next Kurosawa review :D

  2. This is one of those films that's so famous and so acclaimed that it's tempting to think the experience of actually watching the film is perfunctory, and yet really it's an exciting and stunning film, above and beyond its reputation. I love the complex narrative structure, and I love the over-the-top theatricality of the acting, which gives the film this really weird stylized vibe. Great stuff.