Rashomon review

Rashomon review by Liam Jennings

Before the Throne of Blood, Hidden fortress, Yojimbo & Seven Samurai
hit our shores, there was a film that opened up western eyes to the
incredible complexities of Japanese cinema.
Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and an honorary
Academy award that caused the Academy to create the best foreign film
category. This film was Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Rashomon.

Based on the short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Rashomon tells the
complex tale of the rape of a young woman and the brutal murder of her
husband whilst travelling alone in the forrest.
Rashomon is translated to “In the woods” which tells you everything
about this film. Something happened in the woods, a very nasty thing,
but what exactly happened and who’s to blame? This is a question that
two men ask a priest who was present at the trail. The priest then
introduces you to the main suspects through his recollection of the
events that followed: the bandit Tajōmaru played by Toshiro Mifune,
the samurai's wife played by Machiko Kyo,the deceased Samurai and
finally the nameless woodcutter played by Takashi Shimura who would
later pop up in countless Kurosawa productions. The suspects are held
by Jury and asked to tell their side of the twisted story.

The interesting part of this film is that it gives off an ‘in cold
blood ‘ narrative, something that had been played with by the Noir
films in the west, but there was nothing that really devised a
screenplay around unreliable narrators. You never know who is telling
the truth, even when the most absurd things happen for example: a
Spirit medium conjuring up the ghost of the dead samurai to tell his
side of the story. You start to question the dead, and there lies the
most intriguing part of the film, the motives of the individual are
skewed & the age old saying “Dead men tell no tales” is thrown on its
This film is about pride and how you can literally deny things to the
grave so savour your public image.Even after the films climax you
think about the characters, about their pride, how they would rather
stain the reputation of another and hold their own head high than do
what’s right. This Includes the victim of this crime herself. Shimura
has a line in the film where he says “This time I may finally lose my
faith in the human soul” And just right he is.

The lighting in this film is a marvel in its self, being deep in a
Forrest, Kurosawa famously hung mirrors throughout the trees, these
would catch the light and send obscure patches of glimmering light
through the scenes. I feel that this distinction between light and
darkness is an allegory for the good and bad in the world, how even
the deepest parts of the woods bare many evils and you never know when
you are going to step into a patch of darkness. The acting is again
something special, with another jaw dropping performance by Toshiro
Mifune and everyone involved. Previously Kurosawa had worked with
Toshiro on The Drunken Angel, Quiet Duel & Stray Dog, but this film
put Mifune in a place where he shines brightest, the Edo Samurai

I recently read a passage by Kurosawa in his Autobiography “Mifune had
a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film
world. It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself
that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet
of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. The
speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what
took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth
everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the
keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his
quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities.”
Kurosawa has the ability to get the most from his actors but what he
achieved with Mifune is outstanding and is an utterly mesmerising to

If you wanted to get your hands on this film I would highly recommend
the Criterion edition from the states with the new high-definition
transfer, with restored image and sound. Time was not good on the
original print and all editions I have found locally look like they
were ripped from a VHS.

I read a quote by Mifune in regards to his work with Kurosawa long ago
where he said "I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him"
And the work between the two is nothing short of breathtaking. Mifune
and Kurosawa fit like a glove and this film is a perfect stepping
stone into the work of two of the greatest characters in cinema.
I adored this film, it was well paced, the picture was beautiful and
the eloquence of the actors was amazing. For a film to be sixty years
old and to still make an impact to its audience today is something of
a marvel in itself. If you haven’t seen Rashomon, grab a glass of wine
this winter, warm up the lounge room, turn off the lights and enjoy.

5/5 - Liam
5/5 - Luke