Rashomon (1950)

by The Movie Diorama

Rashomon beguiles through the torrential downpour of fabrication. “It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves”. Honesty. Deceit. Contradiction. A crucial part of human preservation is the requirement to lie. Intentional or accidental, it’s within our ancestral blood. The unprejudiced can succumb to the immoral values of deceit, either through meticulous storytelling or scattershot deception. Even the truth can be distorted by one’s self-absorbed ego. The mutually contradictory stories of a bandit, Samurai and his wife, during a police questioning of an ambush, rape and murder, provides Kurosawa with the leverage to thematically explore the depths of human duplicity. A narrative conveyed through the perspective of four individuals, each telling a variation of the same event and asserting it as the truth. Yet who is moral? Who is verifiable?

The answer lies within the embellishments of mankind. The egotistical residue enveloping the desires for personal gain. The bandit, openly admitting to the events in question, proud of his barbaric conquest. The wife, subjecting herself to sorrow and helplessness, innocently scarred from the visceral crime. The Samurai, communicating through a spiritual medium, self-gratifying his noble demise. And the distant woodcutter, examining the various preceding stories, acting as the fragile bystander solidifying his story as the whole truth. But when characters reside in a downbeat world where “you just can’t live unless you’re what you call selfish”, is anyone’s depiction correct? Is lying for personal gain and visibly stealing an abandoned baby’s clothing the same selfish endeavour? Variational stories so similar yet so different in tone. It all comes down to the genius that is Kurosawa.

Depicting egoism through embellishment, not just through the verbal tales of the living, but also beyond the grave. Signifying the requirement for flattering falsehood, even when life has been fully exerted. It is the impossibility of human nature that provokes us into fabricating the most obvious details. Never has such an influential film, shrouded in its own classicism, infiltrated my soul through its thematic examination of human psychology as much as this did. Every word. Every detail. Every deadpan look into the camera. Every tracking shot that showcases the glistening sun of truth through the obscurities of darkened natural foliage. It’s perfect.

The imperfect gender politics of feudal Japan (“women are naturally weak”) delicately inverted to portray the weakness of humanity, regardless of gender. Utilising the subjectivity of the woodcutter’s perspective, and regarding it as the most truthful conclusive narrative, mankind is objectively weak. And it’s only through our own digressions that we manufacture the strength of the soul. Kurosawa’s symbolic attentiveness never deviated from this examination. His rampart artistry poetically manifesting the beauty of mystery. Invoking the investigative mind of human psychology. And once that overcast storm dissipates, revealing the warm beating rays of honesty, the overwhelming sensation of enlightenment will seep through.

A synergistic vitality equalling that of Mifune’s energetic quadruple performance. Each tale altering the personality of his bandit blood. Hysterically laughing at the face of adversity, to unbearably breathing from profuse fear and sin. The nuances are not exhumed just from the enigmatic cast. Kurosawa himself orchestrated a tantalising, influential and innovative mystery that combats the perception of regressive culture. It’s never retrograde nor unprogressive. It is however, and I can utter this with adorned confidence, perfect.

Short, sharp and sensational. Relatable on a thematic and personal level that transcends the discourse of time. Apt now as it was back then, only proving that humanity is cemented in deceit and acts of selfishness. As with any Kurosawa feature, the mind must be prepared for allegorical beauty. Rashomon is no different. Rashomon is painted with silky smooth brushes, illustrating an unconventional technique of storytelling through visceral imagery. Rashomon quite simply acquires the perfect rating. An undisputed classic that justifiably conceived, what is now commonly known as, “The Rashomon Effect”.