|Directed by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Based on||"In a Grove" and "Rashōmon"|
by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
|Produced by||Minoru Jingo|
|Edited by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Music by||Fumio Hayasaka|
|Distributed by||Daiei Film|
|Box office||$143,376+ (US) |
373,592+ tickets (EU)
Rashomon (Japanese: 羅生門, Hepburn: Rashōmon) is a 1950 Jidaigeki drama film directed and written by Akira Kurosawa, working in close collaboration with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, and Takashi Shimura as various people who describe how a samurai was murdered in a forest, the plot and characters are based upon Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story "In a Grove", with the title and framing story being based on "Rashōmon", another short story by Akutagawa. Every element is largely identical, from the murdered samurai speaking through a Shinto psychic to the bandit in the forest, the monk, the assault of the wife and the dishonest retelling of the events in which everyone shows their ideal self by lying.
The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative and contradictory versions of the same incident. Rashomon was the first Japanese film to receive a significant international reception; it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, was given an Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards in 1952, and is considered one of the greatest films ever made. The Rashomon effect is named after the film.
In Heian-era Kyoto, a woodcutter and a priest, taking shelter from a downpour under the Rashōmon city gate, recount a story of a recent assault and murder. Baffled at the existence of several conflicting accounts of the same event, the woodcutter and the priest are joined by a commoner. The woodcutter claims he had found the body of a murdered samurai three days earlier, alongside the samurai's cap, his wife's hat, cut rope, and an amulet. The priest claims he had seen the samurai travel with his wife on the day of the murder. Both had testified in court, where a witness presented a captured bandit named Tajōmaru.
Tajōmaru testifies that he had followed the couple after spotting them traveling in the woods. He claims to have tricked the samurai to step off the mountain trail with him to look at a cache of ancient swords he had discovered. He then subdued the samurai and attempted to rape his wife, who initially tries to defend herself with a dagger. Tajōmaru seduces her. Afterwards, the wife, ashamed of the dishonor of having been with two men, asks Tajōmaru to duel her husband so she may go with the man who wins. Tajōmaru agrees; the duel is fierce, and Tajōmaru claims to have killed the samurai only to find the wife had fled. At the end of his testimony, Tajōmaru states he had forgotten of the wife's dagger, lamenting its loss. The priest notes that men lie even to themselves because they are weak.
The wife's testimony is different; she claimed that Tajōmaru did assault her but afterwards left immediately. She freed her husband from his bonds, but he stared at her with contempt and loathing. Distressed by his disdain, the wife fainted with the dagger in her hands. She awoke to find her husband dead, having committed suicide with the dagger. In shock, she wandered through the forest until she came upon a pond. She attempted to drown herself, but failed. The commoner notes that women use their tears to hide lies, and end up fooling themselves.
The samurai's testimony is heard through a medium. He claimed that after the assault, Tajōmaru asked the wife to marry him. To the samurai's shame, she accepts, asking Tajōmaru to kill the samurai first. This disgusted Tajōmaru, who then gave the samurai the choice to let her go or have her killed. Through the medium, the samurai expresses approval for this gesture. The wife then broke free and fled, and Tajōmaru unsuccessfully gave chase. After being set free by an apologetic Tajōmaru, the samurai states he committed suicide with his wife's dagger. Later, he felt someone remove the dagger from his chest, but could not tell who.
The woodcutter fiercely proclaims that all three stories are falsehoods and admits that he saw the samurai killed by a sword instead of a dagger. The commoner pressures the woodcutter to admit that he actually had witnessed the events while declining to testify. According to the woodcutter, Tajōmaru begged the wife to marry him. She instead freed her husband, expecting him to kill Tajōmaru. The samurai refused to fight, explaining that he would not risk his life for a ruined woman. Tajōmaru rescinded his promise to marry the wife; the wife rebukes them both for failing to keep their promises. The two men unwillingly enter into a feeble duel that results in Tajōmaru's victory. The woodcutter ends his account by stating that the wife fled afterwards, and that Tajōmaru stole the samurai's sword and limped away.
The woodcutter, the priest, and the commoner are interrupted by the sound of a crying baby. They find a child abandoned in a basket along with a kimono and an amulet; the commoner steals the items, for which he is rebuked by the woodcutter. The commoner overpowers the woodcutter in a scuffle and deduces that the woodcutter refused to testify because he had stolen the wife's dagger. He leaves, claiming that all men and women are motivated only by self-interest.
Meanwhile, the priest has been attempting to soothe the baby. The woodcutter attempts to take the child after the commoner's departure; the priest, having lost his faith in humanity after the trial and the exchange under Rashōmon gate, strongly recoils. The woodcutter explains that he intends to raise the child. Having seen the woodcutter's true and well-meaning intentions, the priest expresses a hope to continue to trust others. As the woodcutter prepares to leave, the rain stops and the clouds part, revealing the sun.
- Takashi Shimura as Kikori, The Woodcutter
- Minoru Chiaki as Tabi Hōshi, The Priest
- Kichijiro Ueda as The Commoner
- Toshiro Mifune as Tajōmaru, The Bandit
- Machiko Kyō as The Wife
- Masayuki Mori as The Samurai
- Noriko Honma as Miko, The Medium
- Daisuke Katō as Houben, The Policeman
Kurosawa felt that sound cinema multiplies the complexity of a film:
Cinematic sound is never merely accompaniment, never merely what the sound machine caught while you took the scene. Real sound does not merely add to the images, it multiplies it.
Regarding Rashomon, Kurosawa said,
I like silent pictures and I always have... I wanted to restore some of this beauty. I thought of it, I remember in this way: one of the techniques of modern art is simplification, and that I must therefore simplify this film."
Accordingly, there are only three settings in the film: Rashōmon gate, the woods, and the courtyard. The gate and the courtyard are very simply constructed and the woodland is real. This is partly due to the low budget that Kurosawa gained from Daiei.
When Kurosawa shot Rashomon, the actors and the staff lived together, a system Kurosawa found beneficial. He recalls,
We were a very small group and it was as though I was directing Rashomon every minute of the day and night. At times like this, you can talk everything over and get very close indeed.
The cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa, contributed numerous ideas, technical skill, and expertise in support for what would be an experimental and influential approach to cinematography. For example, in one sequence, there is a series of single close-ups of the bandit, then the wife, and then the husband, which then repeats to emphasize the triangular relationship between them.
The use of contrasting shots is another example of the film techniques used in Rashomon. According to Donald Richie, the length of time of the shots of the wife and of the bandit are the same when the bandit is acting barbarically and the wife is hysterically crazy.
Rashomon had camera shots that were directly into the sun. Kurosawa wanted to use natural light, but it was too weak; they solved the problem by using a mirror to reflect the natural light. The result makes the strong sunlight look as though it has traveled through the branches, hitting the actors. The rain in the scenes at the gate had to be tinted with black ink because camera lenses could not capture the water pumped through the hoses.
Robert Altman compliments Kurosawa's use of "dappled" light throughout the film, which gives the characters and settings further ambiguity. In his essay "Rashomon", Tadao Sato suggests that the film (unusually) uses sunlight to symbolize evil and sin in the film, arguing that the wife gives in to the bandit's desires when she sees the sun. However, Professor Keiko I. McDonald opposes Sato's idea in her essay "The Dialectic of Light and Darkness in Kurosawa's Rashomon." McDonald says the film conventionally uses light to symbolize "good" or "reason" and darkness to symbolize "bad" or "impulse". She interprets the scene mentioned by Sato differently, pointing out that the wife gives herself to the bandit when the sun slowly fades out. McDonald also reveals that Kurosawa was waiting for a big cloud to appear over Rashomon gate to shoot the final scene in which the woodcutter takes the abandoned baby home; Kurosawa wanted to show that there might be another dark rain any time soon, even though the sky is clear at this moment. Unfortunately, the final scene appears optimistic because it was too sunny and clear to produce the effects of an overcast sky.
Stanley Kauffmann writes in The Impact of Rashomon that Kurosawa often shot a scene with several cameras at the same time, so that he could "cut the film freely and splice together the pieces which have caught the action forcefully as if flying from one piece to another." Despite this, he also used short shots edited together that trick the audience into seeing one shot; Donald Richie says in his essay that "there are 407 separate shots in the body of the film ... This is more than twice the number in the usual film, and yet these shots never call attention to themselves."
Due to setbacks and some lost audio, the crew took the urgent step of bringing Mifune back to the studio after filming to record another line. Recording engineer Iwao Ōtani added it to the film along with the music, using a different microphone.
Allegorical and symbolic content
The film depicts the rape of a woman and the murder of her samurai husband through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses, including the bandit-rapist, the wife, the dead man (speaking through a medium), and lastly the woodcutter, the one witness who seems the most objective and least biased. The stories are mutually contradictory and even the final version may be seen as motivated by factors of ego and saving face. The actors kept approaching Kurosawa wanting to know the truth, and he claimed the point of the film was to be an exploration of multiple realities rather than an exposition of a particular truth. Later film and television use of the "Rashomon effect" focuses on revealing "the truth" in a now conventional technique that presents the final version of a story as the truth, an approach that only matches Kurosawa's film on the surface.
Due to its emphasis on the subjectivity of truth and the uncertainty of factual accuracy, Rashomon has been read by some as an allegory of the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II. James F. Davidson's article, "Memory of Defeat in Japan: A Reappraisal of Rashomon" in the December 1954 issue of the Antioch Review, is an early analysis of the World War II defeat elements. Another allegorical interpretation of the film is mentioned briefly in a 1995 article, "Japan: An Ambivalent Nation, an Ambivalent Cinema" by David M. Desser. Here, the film is seen as an allegory of the atomic bomb and Japanese defeat. It also briefly mentions James Goodwin's view on the influence of post-war events on the film. However, "In a Grove" (the short story by Akutagawa that the film is based on) was published already in 1922, so any postwar allegory would have been the result of Kurosawa's editing rather than the story about the conflicting accounts. Historian and critic David Conrad has noted that the use of rape as a plot point came at a time when American occupation authorities had recently stopped censoring Japanese media and belated accounts of rapes by occupation troops began to appear in Japanese newspapers. Moreover, Kurosawa and other filmmakers had not been allowed to make jidaigeki during the early part of the occupation, so setting a film in the distant past was a way to reassert domestic control over cinema.
Rashomon has been released multiple times on DVD. The Criterion Collection issued a Blu-ray and DVD edition of the film based on the 2008 restoration, accompanied by a number of additional features.
Reception and legacy
The film performed well at the domestic Japanese box office, where it was one of the top ten highest-earning films of the year. It also performed well overseas, becoming Kurosawa's first major international hit.
In Europe, the film sold 365,300 tickets in France and Spain, and 8,292 tickets in other European countries between 1996 and 2020, for a combined total of at least 373,592 tickets sold in Europe.
Japanese critical responses
Although it won two Japanese awards, most Japanese critics did not like the film. When it received positive responses in the West, Japanese critics were baffled: some decided that it was only admired there because it was "exotic"; others thought that it succeeded because it was more "Western" than most Japanese films.
In a collection of interpretations of Rashomon, Donald Richie writes that "the confines of 'Japanese' thought could not contain the director, who thereby joined the world at large". He also quotes Kurosawa criticizing the way the "Japanese think too little of our own [Japanese] things".
The film appeared at the 1951 Venice Film Festival at the behest of an Italian language teacher, Giuliana Stramigioli, who had recommended it to Italian film promotion agency Unitalia Film seeking a Japanese film to screen at the festival. However, Daiei Motion Picture Company (a producer of popular features at the time) and the Japanese government had disagreed with the choice of Kurosawa's work on the grounds that it was "not [representative enough] of the Japanese movie industry" and felt that a work of Yasujirō Ozu would have been more illustrative of excellence in Japanese cinema. Despite these reservations, the film was screened at the festival.
Before it was screened at the Venice festival, the film initially drew little attention and had low expectations at the festival, as Japanese cinema was not yet taken seriously in the West at the time. But once it had been screened, Rashomon drew an overwhelmingly positive response from festival audiences, praising the originality of the film and its techniques while making many question the nature of truth. The film won both the Italian Critics Award and the Golden Lion award—introducing Western audiences, including Western directors, more noticeably to both Kurosawa's films and techniques, such as shooting directly into the sun and using mirrors to reflect sunlight onto the actor's faces.
The film was released in the United States on December 26, 1951, by RKO Radio Pictures in both subtitled and dubbed versions, and it won an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 for being "the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1951" (the current Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film wasn't introduced until 1956). The following year, when it was eligible for consideration in other Academy Award categories, it was nominated for Best Art Direction for a Black-and-White Film.
Upon release in North America, Ed Sullivan gave the film a positive review in Hollywood Citizen-News, calling it "an exciting evening, because the direction, the photography and the performances will jar open your eyes." He praised Akutagawa's original plot, Kurosawa's impactful direction and screenplay, Mifune's "magnificent" villainous performance, and Miyagawa's "spellbinding" cinematography that achieves "visual dimensions that I've never seen in Hollywood photography" such as being "shot through a relentless rainstorm that heightens the mood of the somber drama." In the early 1960s, film historians credited Rashomon as the start of the international New Wave cinema movement, which gained popularity during the late 1950s to early 1960s.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 98% of 52 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; with an average rating of 9.3/10. The site's consensus reads: "One of legendary director Akira Kurosawa's most acclaimed films, Rashomon features an innovative narrative structure, brilliant acting, and a thoughtful exploration of reality versus perception." In a 1998 issue of Time Out New York, Andrew Johnston wrote:
Rashomon is probably familiar even to those who haven't seen it, since in movie jargon, the film's title has become synonymous with its chief narrative conceit: a story told multiple times from various points of view. There's much more than that to the film, of course. For example, the way Kurosawa uses his camera...takes this fascinating meditation on human nature closer to the style of silent film than almost anything made after the introduction of sound.
Remakes and adaptations
- Rashomon as a play, various versions of which have been performed since the 1950s, including on Broadway in 1959 as written by Michael and Fay Kanin.
- Andha Naal, a 1954 Tamil film was inspired by Rashomon.
- Valerie, a 1957 American western Inspired by Kurosawa's film.
- On The Dick Van Dyke Show, in 1962, season 2, episode 9, "The Night the Roof Fell In". Rob and Laura's perspectives of their day is countered by a goldfish.
- The Outrage, a 1964 American western directed by Martin Ritt. Screenplay adapted by Michael Kanin from the 1959 Broadway version he co-wrote with his wife, Fay Kanin (above).
- On The Odd Couple, in 1972, season 2, episode 21, "A Night To Dismember". Oscar, Blanche and Felix all remember the New Year's Eve when the Madisons split up differently.
- Yavanika, a 1982 Indian Malayalam-language film loosely based on the film. The film stars Bharat Gopy and Mammootty.
- "Rashomama", a 1983 episode of Mama's Family
- Star Trek: The Next Generation, where a 1990 episode called "A Matter of Perspective" was produced and aired with a similar plot line to Rashomon, this time told from the view of Commander Riker, the assistant of a murdered respected scientist, and the scientist's widow.
- Courage Under Fire, a 1996 war film, in which events surrounding the rescue of a downed Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter in the First Gulf War are recounted in flashbacks by three different crew members.
- On Frasier, in 1997, season 5, episode 9, "Perspectives on Christmas". The family each recall their day from different perspectives.
- On King of the Hill, in 1999, season 3, episode 10, "A Fire Fighting We Will Go". The gang each recalls the burning down of a firehouse from their perspective, each portraying themselves as the hero.
- Farscape's second season's 17th episode, "The Ugly Truth", which aired in 2000, follows this format, challenging the crew of Moya as liars, as the interrogators are a species with eidetic memory who can't comprehend subjective viewpoints.
- "Suspect", episode 13 of season 2 of Smallville from 2003, depicts the mystery of who attempted the murder of Lionel Luthor with contradictory flashbacks from multiple perspectives.
- Virumaandi, a 2004 Tamil film written, directed and produced by Kamal Haasan,depicts an incident in view of two prisoners, Virumaandi thevar and Kothala thevar.
- On CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in the 2006, Season 6, Episode 21 "Rashomama". Nick's car containing all the evidence for a murder is stolen and the team attempts to continue the investigation based on their conflicting memories of the crime scene.
- Vantage Point, a 2008 film with multiple viewpoints focusing on an assassination attempt on the President of the United States
- The Rashomon Job, an episode of the series Leverage (2008–2012) telling the story of a heist from five points of view (S03E11)
- At the Gate of the Ghost, a 2011 Thai film by M.L. Pundhevanop Devakula, adapting Kurosawa's screenplay to ancient Ayutthaya.
- Police Story 2013, a 2013 film partially inspired by some plot elements
- The Affair, a 2014 series portraying an extramarital relationship where the leads recount different versions of their liaison.
- Ulidavaru Kandanthe, a 2014 Kannada film directed Rakshit Shetty, where a journalist narrates the story of a murder in 7 different viewpoints by giving special reference to local Tulu people and their culture.
- Talvar, a 2015 Hindi film narrates the story of a double murder through multiple contradictory viewpoints.
- The Bottomless Bag, a 2017 Russian film by Rustam Khamdamov, also based on Akutagawa's In a Grove.
- Tombstone Rashomon, a 2017 film that tells the story of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in the style of Rashomon.
- The Last Duel, Ridley Scott's 2021 epic historical drama of a rape and duel told through multiple points of view.
In 2008, the film was restored by the Academy Film Archive, the National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and Kadokawa Pictures, Inc., with funding provided by the Kadokawa Culture Promotion Foundation and The Film Foundation.
Awards and honors
- Blue Ribbon Awards (1951) – Best Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto
- Mainichi Film Concours (1951) – Best Actress: Machiko Kyō
- Venice Film Festival (1951) – Golden Lion: Akira Kurosawa
- National Board of Review USA (1951) – Best Director: Akira Kurosawa and Best Foreign Film: Japan
- 24th Academy Awards, USA (1952) – Honorary Award for "most outstanding foreign language film"
The film appeared on many critics' top lists of the best films.
- 5th – Top ten list in 1950, Kinema Junpo
- 10th – Directors' Top Ten Poll in 1992, Sight & Sound
- 10th - 100 Greatest Films list in 2000 The Village Voice
- 76th - "Top 100 Essential Films of All Time" by the National Society of Film Critics in 2002.
- 9th – Directors' Top Ten Poll in 2002, Sight & Sound
- 13th - Critics' poll in 2002, Sight & Sound
- 290th – The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time in 2008, Empire
- 50 Klassiker, Film by Nicolaus Schröder in 2002
- 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die by Steven Jay Schneider in 2003
- 7th – Kinema Junpo's The Greatest Japanese Films of All Time in 2009.
- 22nd – Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
- 26th - Critics top ten poll, 100 Greatest Films of All Time, Sight & Sound magazine (2012)
- 18th - Director's top ten poll, 100 Greatest Films of All Time, Sight & Sound magazine (2012)
- Woody Allen included it among his top ten films.
- 4th - BBC's list of "100 greatest foreign language films" in 2018.
- List of films considered the best
- Nonlinear narrative
- Unreliable narrator
- "The Moonlit Road", a short story that may have served as an influence on Rashomon[a]
- Galbraith IV, Stuart (2002). The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Faber and Faber, Inc. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-571-19982-2.
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- Catherine Russell: Classical Japanese Cinema Revisited. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011, ISBN 9781441107770, chapter 4 The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa
- Richie, Rashomon, p 113.
- Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa.
- Qtd. in Richie, Films.
- The World of Kazuo Miyagawa (original title: The Camera Also Acts: Movie Cameraman Miyagawa Kazuo) director unknown. NHK, year unknown. Television/Criterion blu-ray
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when the camera was aimed upward at the cloudy sky over the gate, the sprinkle of the rain couldn't be seen against it, so we made rainfall with black ink in it.
- Altman, Robert. One typical example from the movie which shows the ambiguity of the characters is when the bandit and the wife talk to each other in the woods, the light falls on the person who is not talking and shows the amused expressions, this represents the ambiguity present. "Altman Introduction to Rashomon," Criterion Collection DVD, Rashomon.
- "Hayasaka, Fumio – Dictionary definition of Hayasaka, Fumio | Encyclopedia.com: FREE online dictionary". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved October 21, 2011.
- Teruyo Nogami, Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies with Akira Kurosawa, Stone Bridge Press, Inc., 1 September 2006, p. 90, ISBN 1933330090.
- The article has since appeared in some subsequent Rashomon anthologies, including Focus on Rashomon  Archived November 1, 2022, at the Wayback Machine in 1972 and Rashomon (Rutgers Film in Print)  Archived November 1, 2022, at the Wayback Machine in 1987. Davidson's article is referred to in other sources, in support of various ideas. These sources include: The Fifty-Year War: Rashomon, After Life, and Japanese Film Narratives of Remembering a 2003 article by Mike Sugimoto in Japan Studies Review Volume 7  Archived November 28, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Japanese Cinema: Kurosawa's Ronin by G. Sham "Kurosawa?s Ronin". Archived from the original on January 15, 2006. Retrieved November 16, 2005., Critical Reception of Rashomon in the West by Greg M. Smith, Asian Cinema 13.2 (Fall/Winter 2002) 115-28  Archived March 17, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Rashomon vs. Optimistic Rationalism Concerning the Existence of "True Facts" [permanent dead link], Persistent Ambiguity and Moral Responsibility in Rashomon by Robert van Es  and Judgment by Film: Socio-Legal Functions of Rashomon by Orit Kamir  Archived 2015-09-15 at the Wayback Machine.
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- Galbraith IV 1994, p. 309.
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- (Richie, 80)
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The historians of the new cinema, searching out its origins, go back to another festival, the one at Venice in 1951. That year the least promising item on the cinemenu was a Japanese picture called Rashomon. Japanese pictures, as all film experts knew, were just a bunch of chrysanthemums. So the judges sat down yawning. They got up dazed. Rashomon was a cinematic thunderbolt that violently ripped open the dark heart of man to prove that the truth was not in it. In technique the picture was traumatically original; in spirit it was big, strong, male. It was obviously the work of a genius, and that genius was Akira Kurosawa, the easliest herald of the new era in cinema.
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