The Rashomon effect is contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. The phrase derives from the film Rashomon, where the accounts of the witnesses, suspects, and victims of a rape and murder are all different.
The idea of contradicting interpretations has been around for a long time. It is studied in the context of understanding the nature of truth(s) and truth-telling in journalism. Valerie Alia has used the term "Rashomon effect" extensively since the late 1970s. She first published the term in an essay on the politics of journalism for Theaterwork Magazine in 1982. She further developed and used the term in her books, Media Ethics and Social Change, and in a chapter of Deadlines and Diversity: Journalism Ethics in a Changing World, which she authored; the book was co-edited by Valerie Alia, Brian Brennan and Barry Hoffmaster.
A useful demonstration of this principle in scientific understanding can be found in Karl G. Heider's work on ethnography. Heider used the term to refer to the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.
Plots in books, films, and other media may also be developed and described to use this as an underlying idea. It was also used in Citizen Kane.
Use in a play
- In Night of January 16th, two different interpretations of Bjorn Faulkner and his murder are presented, leaving the audience to pass a verdict in the end.
- The musical play Jersey Boys presents the story of American rock band The Four Seasons from the points of view of the original members. The contradicting stories of Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli, and Tommy DeVito create a Rashomon effect.
Use in film
|Courage Under Fire||Soldiers give conflicting testimonies over what happened to a female officer who is being considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor.|
|Andha Naal||The Tamil film was inspired by the Kurosawa film. However, in contrast to Rashomon, the film's climax provides a solution to the murder using an Indian proverb as a vital clue|
|Ghost Dog||Louie and Ghost Dog have different accounts of the circumstances of their meeting, and the book Rashomon is featured in the film.|
|The Woman in Question||Five people give different accounts of the same incidents that took place before a murder. Though a perfect Rashomon Effect is not achieved, the film tries to depict how the narration by one person can entirely window-dress facts, revealed only by another's narration.|
|Gone Girl||The film relates the different accounts of events leading up to the disappearance of a woman, one account from said woman, as per her diary, and one account from the woman's husband, as he relates it.|
|Hero||The film relates the different accounts of how the protagonist, the Nameless swordsman, killed three of the Qin emperor's assassins and is allowed to dine close to him as a reward. The story then reveals the three assassins' deaths as apparent sacrifices to let the Nameless swordsman, who is also intending to kill the emperor, to get within striking range of the emperor.|
|Hoodwinked!||The film is an animated re-telling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood story. In this story, everyone - Red Puckett, Granny Puckett, the Wolf and the Woodsman, tells the police their view of what really happened in regards to the events in question. To help this, the story opens in medias res.|
|Kathavasheshan||A Malayalam film directed by TV Chandran. The film deals with a woman trying to find out the real truth behind her fiancee's unexpected suicide.|
|Naa Ninna Bidalaare||A Kannada film directed by Vijay where the male protagonist and the spirit invading him have different accounts of past events leading to the latter's death.|
|Nootrukku Nooru||Different interpretations of what happened during and after one of the songs in the movie are given by the accuser and accused|
|One Night at McCool's||Several different accounts of the same crime by witnesses, suspects, and a police officer, each trying to put himself in a better light and placing blame on others|
|The Outrage||A 1964 remake done as a Western starring Edward G. Robinson, Paul Newman, Laurence Harvey, Claire Bloom, and William Shatner.|
|Predestination||A film by the Spierig brothers based on "—All You Zombies—" by Robert A. Heinlein, the story unfolds as a complex tale of different events and crimes perceived from different perspectives in a time traveller's life.|
|Ulidavaru Kandanthe||A Kannada film directed by Rakshit Shetty.|
|Virumaandi||The Tamil film written and directed by, and starring Kamal Haasan. The film revolves around two criminals, Virumaandi (Kamal Haasan) and Kothala Thevar (Pasupathy), being interviewed. They express how they feel about the direction their lives have taken and how they have ended up where they are. This could very well be the simplest form of the Rashomon effect.|
|Yavanika||The 1982 Malayalam mystery thriller film explores backstage drama of a traveling drama group. The plot is structured around the search for an unpopular tabla player of the troupe who suddenly disappears|
|Drishyam||The critically acclaimed Malayalam mystery thriller film explores the desperate measures that are taken by a man who tries to save his family from the dark side of the law, after they commit an unexpected crime. The film makes use of Rashomon effect heavily when the eye-witness accounts are altered by the man, without the conscious knowledge of the witnesses.|
|Talvar||The critically acclaimed film is based on the 2008 Noida double murder case, in which a teenage girl and her family servant were found murdered. The film shows two perspectives - one depicting the girl's parents as the murderers and the other depicting servant's friends as the murderers.|
Use in television
|The Affair||All episodes||The story of an adulterous affair between a married waitress and a married teacher is recalled from both perspectives.|
|All in the Family||"Everybody Tells the Truth"||Archie Bunker and Mike Stivic give conflicting accounts of an incident involving a refrigerator repairman and a black apprentice repairman.|
|Alvin and the Chipmunks||"chipwrecked"||Alvin, Simon and Theodore each give similar but different accounts as to how David Seville's piano got destroyed and filled with pudding.|
|Animaniacs||"And Justice For Slappy"||Slappy is on trial for putting Walter Wolf in traction. Both Walter and Skippy tell distorted versions of what happened, before Slappy is called to the stand to tell what really happened.|
|Arrested Development||All episodes of Season 4||Each episode focuses on a different character of the main cast, revealing different perspectives about Cinco de Cuatro, The Opie Awards, and the other various events.|
|Batman: The Animated Series||"P.O.V."||A botched police operation results in the suspension of those involved: Officer Wilkes, Officer Montoya and Detective Harvey Bullock. Confronted by their superiors, each of them is forced to tell their tale of what happened that night.|
|Coupling||The overwhelming majority of episodes||This series, about the dating lives of six friends, frequently uses this plot device. Generally by dividing the two groups by gender, with much of the comedy coming from the contrast between how the two halves of a couple remember and perceive events.|
|Criminal Minds||"100"||The episode involves the different members of the BAU presenting their accounts on the events leading to the death of serial killer George Foyet.|
|CSI: Crime Scene Investigation||"Rashomama"||The episode required the CSIs, deprived of any of the usual forensic evidence, to rely on the eye witness accounts of guests at a wedding to solve the case.|
|The Dick Van Dyke Show||"The Night the Roof Fell In"||Rob and Laura each tell friends different accounts of an argument from the previous night.|
|Diff'rent Strokes||"Rashomon II"||A burglar breaks into the Drummond home, and, after he's arrested, each family member has their own version of how the burglar was subdued.|
|Drake and Josh||"Foam Finger"||Drake and Josh are in a big fight over a foam finger that they both wanted when they were both 8 years old. Drake thinks that Josh started the fight and vice versa, each of their flashbacks with different circumstances.|
|Ed, Edd n Eddy||"Once Upon an Ed"||Jonny and Plank are ready for bed, but then find out that the Eds are somehow trapped in Jonny's wall. The Eds have three different stories to tell, none of which agree.|
|ER||"Four Corners"||A day in the life of the ER is shown from the perspective of four different individuals. This episode aired Thursday, September 27, 2001 at 10:00 PM on NBC.|
|Everybody Loves Raymond||"The Can Opener"||Ray and Debra have a senseless argument over a new can opener opens other issues. Ray and Debra relate their versions. This episode aired November 3, 2003.|
|Fame||Under a theater marquee, two characters huddle to wait out a rainstorm. Only after the entire story has unfolded in flashback does the camera pan back enough to disclose that the theater marquee announces "A Kurosawa Festival".|
|Farscape||"The Ugly Truth"||After a Plokavian ship is destroyed by Talyn with Crichton, Aeryn, D'Argo, Zhaan, and Stark on board, they are put on trial by the Plokavians. During their testimony, the story of their meeting with Talyn and Crais is told from a number of perspectives.|
|The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air||"Will Goes a Courtin"||When Will defies his uncle's orders by having his friends over by the pool after he refuses to pay his rent to Philip unless Philip repairs the air conditioner in Will's guest house, Phil sues—and the two stubborn men plead their cases in court before Judge Reynolds. Uncle Phil, and Will and Carlton respectively, paint very different pictures before the judge.|
|Garfield and Friends||"Twice Told Tale"||Jon and Garfield each tell different accounts of how the house got filled with yogurt.|
|Grey's Anatomy||"I Saw What I Saw"||A patient dies because of a mistake and Chief Webber interviews Owen, Cristina, Bailey, Alex, Lexie, Jackson, Reed and April and recounts what transpired that night to determine who made the mistake.|
|Happy Days||"Fonzie Gets Shot"||Fonzie is shot on a weekend camping lodge trip with Potsie, Chachi, and Roger. At the hospital, they all offer different versions of how he was shot, each of which is changed to make the speaker look better.|
|How I Met Your Mother
||"The Ashtray"||When The Captain called Ted, he, Robin and Lily told the story of what happened the last time they met The Captain. Each story is different from the others.|
|The whole sitcom has Ted Mosby is recounting his own younger life to his children; Future Ted often narrates what he has since heard from other character's perspectives.|
|It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia||"Who Got Dee Pregnant?"||The male members of The Gang try to recall the events of a drunken Halloween party after being told that one of them is the father of Dee's unborn child.|
|The Jackson 5ive (TV series)||"Rasho-Jackson"||The Jackson brothers become alienated after an argument by their stalled car and refuse to perform with each other ever again, all becoming "The Jackson Ones." Intended to be a parody of Rashomon, each brother tells his own version of events, all the while trying to depict himself as the self-sacrificing hero who saves the day.|
|King of the Hill||"A Firefighting We Will Go"||The main characters recount the events that led to a fire station burning down while acting as volunteer firefighters. Each character's story make themselves out to be heroic while the others are bumbling.|
|Leverage||"The Rashomon Job"||Team members recount contradictory stories about a night five years earlier, when it turns out they each unwittingly tried to steal the same artifact at the same time.|
|Magnum, P.I.||"I Witness"||During a robbery at the King Kamehameha Club, the three main supporting characters of the series (Higgins, Rick, and T.C.) are victimized and relate widely varying, self-serving statements to investigator Tanaka.|
|Mama's Family||"Rashomama"||Eunice, Ellen, and Naomi tell overly exaggerated versions of how Mama got hit in the head with the pot while making gooseberry jam.|
|Maude||"The Case of the Broken Punch Bowl"||Maude's priceless crystal punch bowl is shattered at a party given by the Harmons, at which Carol and Mrs. Naugatuck were both present - but separating the truth from Arthur's, Vivian's, and Mrs. Naugatuck's perception of the truth proves a challenge.|
|NewsRadio||"Catherine Moves On"||Catherine announces she is leaving WNYX. The rest of the staff offer Mr. James their versions of how Catherine quit and why, colored by their own perceptions.|
|The Norman Conquests||(series of three plays)||In the three plays which make up The Norman Conquests, the interactions between three couples at a weekend retreat are each seen from different location within a house and garden. Each individual play shows the action in one setting, and provides only a partial picture of the events of the weekend. It is only when the action in all three plays is compared that the details of what actually happened during the weekend become apparent.|
|One Night||(Whole Series)||A four-part British drama that tells and retells the events of a single day in London through the accounts of four different characters.|
|Perfect Strangers||"Eyewitless Report"||On a company trip to the Big Piney National Forest, Larry, Balki, and Sam Gorpley all offer different accounts of an encounter with an escaped killer.|
|The Powerpuff Girls||"The Bare Facts"||After Mojo Jojo kidnaps and blindfolds him, the Mayor has to rely on the Girls' very different individual accounts of the crime to figure out exactly what happened.|
|Power Rangers S.P.D.||"Perspective"||With S.P.D.'s surveillance system down, an account of their latest altercation is needed and each Ranger tells a highly self-aggrandizing version of what happened. Fortunately, the surveillance system comes back on-line to show what really transpired. Not only do they see what the actual events were but how the fight truly ended, which all of them changed.|
|Rugrats||"The Trial"||After someone mysteriously smashes Tommy’s favorite lamp, he demands to know who is responsible. All of the kids tell similar, yet different, stories of what happened.|
|The Simpsons||"Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo"||Marge: C'mon, Homer, Japan will be fun. You liked "Rashomon." Homer: That's not how I remember it.|
|Skunk Fu!||"The Art of Storytelling"||Skunk, Rabbit and Fox have different stories about how Panda got abducted by Babboon.|
|Small Wonder||"The Rip-Off"||A burglar is repelled and Jamie, Harriet, Brandon tell different stories, each claiming to be the hero. Vicki can't talk, but recorded a video of the whole event.|
|South Park||"Fishsticks"||Eric Cartman distorts his recollection of the past to think that he had a part in creating the "fishsticks" joke.|
|SpongeBob SquarePants||"Friend or Foe"||Mr. Krabs says that he was friends with Plankton and tells the story of their friendship, which is not entirely true. Plankton then tells his side of the story, which is false as well. The formula is seen and revealed in this episode when Karen gives the real story, saying that Plankton accidentally knocked several jars into their burger recipe, and that is the Krabby Patty formula.|
|Star Trek: The Next Generation||"A Matter of Perspective"||A character is accused of murdering a scientist because of an alleged interest in the scientist's wife. Several similar but contradictory scenarios based on the testimony of the people involved are played out on the holodeck.|
|Supernatural||"Tall Tales"||Dean and Sam investigate the apparent suicide of an adulterous professor on a university campus. The local urban legend that seems most likely the culprit turns out to be a bust. Unable to make headway, Sam and Dean call Bobby, who comes to the town to help them out. Bobby listens to Dean and Sam's contradictory stories about the case.|
|The X-Files||"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"||Mulder and Scully investigate a reported alien abduction in which each witness provides a different version of the story. While they investigate, a thriller novelist, Jose Chung, seeks information for a book he is writing on the incident.|
|"Bad Blood"||Mulder and Scully report on their most recent case to their superior, with each agent's account of what happened tainted by each's own bias, in the perception of the paranormal, of the secondary characters involved, and of each other.|
|House||"Nobody's Fault"||After Chase is stabbed by a patient, House, Foreman, Adams, Park and Taub must give statements to an investigator.|
- Alia, Valerie (2004). Media Ethics and Social Change. Edinburgh; New York: Edinburgh University Press; Routledge US. p. 229. ISBN 9780415971997.
- Alia, Valerie (1996). Deadlines and Diversity. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: Fernwood. p. 264. ISBN 9781895686548.
- Karl G. Heider (March 1988). "The Rashomon Effect: When Ethnographers Disagree". American Anthropologist 90 (1): 73–81. doi:10.1525/aa.1988.90.1.02a00050. http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/gleazer/291B/Heider-Rashomon.pdf
- Davenport, Christian (2010). "Rashomon effect, observation, and data generation". Media Bias, Perspective, and State Repression. Cambridge University Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780521759700.
- Gleiberman, Owen (July 26, 1996). "Courage Under Fire". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
- Denby, David (July 22, 1996). "Life During Wartime". New York Magazine: 50. Retrieved August 18, 2015.