David Mamet wrote a play awhile ago called “Oleanna.” When people went to see the play, there were two pamphlets being handed out. Both were different in design but they shared one quote: “No matter whose side you take, you’re wrong.” The same thing can be applied to Akira Kurosawa’s masterful Rashômon (based on stores written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa) where three people have bared witness to, or took part in, a heinous act ending in the death of a samurai. The problem residing throughout is that the stories are only similar on a general line, and the only question that remains constant is, “Which one is the truth?”
Right from the beginning I could feel that something was up with Rashômon. The ambiance that surrounded the beginning shots gave me the feeling that everything had already fallen apart, but how? Kurosawa wastes no time in stating that something horrible has happened and that little sense has been made of it. From here on in, the mood doesn’t change but only gets more mysterious, and the story’s confusion pours in like the rain in the beginning shots.
Storytelling doesn’t get any better than this. Kurosawa’s Rashômon is a master in making the viewer question the truth. The entire film is told through character recaps, starting with the over-zealous thief Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune) moving to the touchy wife Masako Kanazawa (played by Machiko Kyô) and finally ending with the deceased honorable samurai Takehiro Kanazawa (played by Masayuki Mori), whose ghost speaks through a medium (Fumiko Honma) at the court. The characters are so broadly fleshed, it’s ridiculous. I felt more like I was at a real hearing rather than just watching a work of fiction. Precision is key here, and Kurosawa just hits the nail on the head and drives it all in with one simple swing. The great thing one has to admire about all this is that the stories don’t vary greatly but rather vary in minor details. Ideas and events are so carefully altered that the movie makes it the questioning of each character and events only that much more difficult. I found myself confused the entire time trying to make sense of the alterations.
This is truly the work of a master. Rashômon suffers from only a few minor flaws that are easily dismissible. If you haven’t seen it before and really want something that’s going to pull you in and really make you think and question, then you won’t find a better film than this. Riddled with symbolism and surprises Rashômon is one of those rare gems that film only sees once in a blue moon.