Thursday, November 18, 2004


You get a strong feel for the imaginative intentions behind Rashômon when you read some of the online reviews. (Four to be precise.) At least two that I have come across clearly state that the movie presents the viewer with a set of different testimonies, and that in each one the witness admits to being the killer. Hey, that's not the same movie that I saw!

It's said that this was the first film to represent different subjective viewpoints with the look and feel of objective representation, thereby driving home the point that all human perspectives necessarily include all sorts of embellishments and distortions. For some this may come as disconcerting news.

Each alternative account of how a Samurai died in the forest after his wife had been raped by a bandit has been related at a trial and is then reported (mostly probably unfaithfully) by a woodcutter, who later himself reluctantly admits to having witnessed the crimes as they transpired.

"If we don't trust one another the world becomes a hell", moans the priest to the shifty-looking woodcutter. There's clearly some truth in each version Kurosawa presents us with; no doubt it was his intention from the outset to dump us into a maze that we can't escape by simply picking a winner.

The most treasurable part of this film is its highly evocative scenery. Here the backgrounds stealthily curl around and envelop the interplay of human psyches in the foreground. This was also the first Japanese film to point the camera directly at the sun, an effect used in conjunction with music to heighten the forboding demeanor of the setting.

The differing versions of how the Samurai ended up patas arriba are all being gloomily discussed at the ruined Rashômon gate of Kyoto in the midst of a torrential downpour - a scene with Shakespearean overtones - whilst the forest in which the alleged crime occurs is depicted as a locus of primeval irrationality, practically a fourth player in the key events, refashioning the dramatic triangle into a rectangle.

Tajômaru the bandit reports to the police that it was in fact an unexpected breeze that suddenly altered his state of mind unleashing carnal intentions.

The Samurai's wife, played by Machiko Kyô, is a chameleon-like being, acting out the best and worst (male) projections of womanhood. Her performance reminded me of Brigitte Helm as Maria (and the Robot)in Metropolis.

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