Rashōmon (short story)
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The story was first published in 1915 in Teikoku Bungaku. Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon (1950) takes only its name and some of the material for the frame scenes, such as the theft of a kimono and the discussion of the moral ambiguity of thieving to survive, from this story. The plot of the film is based on Akutagawa's 1922 short story "In a Grove".
The story recounts the encounter between a servant and an old woman in the dilapidated Rashōmon, the southern gate of the then-ruined city of Kyoto, where unclaimed corpses were sometimes dumped. The current name of the gate in the story, but not the plot, comes from the Noh play Rashōmon (c. 1420).
The man, a lowly servant recently fired, is contemplating whether to starve to death or to become a thief to survive in the barren times. When he goes upstairs, after noticing some firelight there, he encounters the woman, who is stealing hair from the dead bodies on the second floor. He is disgusted, and decides then that he would rather take the path of righteousness even if it meant starvation. He is furious with the woman.
But the old woman tells him that she steals hair to make wigs, so she can survive. In addition, the woman whose body she is currently robbing cheated people in her life by selling snake meat and claiming it was fish. The old woman says that this was not wrong because it allowed the woman to survive — and so in turn this entitles her to steal from the dead person, because if she doesn't, she too will starve. The man responds: "You won't blame me, then, for taking your clothes. That's what I have to do to keep from starving to death". He then brutally robs the woman of her robe and disappears into the night.
The book itself also plays a part in the 1999 movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, directed by Jim Jarmusch.
The book is the inspiration for an instrumental rock tune of the same name composed by Japanese instrumental guitarist Takeshi Terauchi & originally played by Japanese instrumental rock group Takeshi Terauchi & Blue Jeans on their 1972 album, Rashomon.
- Murray, Giles (2003). Breaking into Japanese literature. Kodansha. ISBN 4-7700-2899-7. A bilingual book with "In a Grove" and "Rashōmon"
|Japanese Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- A translation of Rashōmon into English by René Malenfant
- Rashōmon at Project Gutenberg (Japanese)
- Text of Rashōmon at Aozora Bunko (Japanese)
- MP3s of the story, read by a Japanese actress (Japanese)