Saturday, 1 February 2014

Rashomon (1950)

The Unusual Suspects

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon has been heralded as the first universal piece of Japanese cinema, the one which wowed and enticed Western audiences and inaugurated a general interest in films from the Far East.

Set in Rashomon, a small deserted temple, three men discuss the plenitude of contradictory testimonies that accompany the death of one man. The three comprise of a woeful and stunned woodcutter, a devout and god-serving priest, and an erratic and antipathetic lone wanderer interested in the bemoaning whimpers from the two witnesses.

As the farmer begins to divulge the secrets of his earlier ordeal, we soon find that his is but one of five differing cases that were heard in relation to the murder. The priest himself soon offers his perspective on the matter at hand meanwhile the impetuous comments of the intrusive stranger provoke and question each member, in turn forcing them to submit to his impatient demands and in doing so expose an extra piece of the puzzle.

Along with the woodcutter and the priest are the testimonies of an animalistic and boisterous captive, the deceased’s weeping and solemn widow and the bizarre inclusion of the dead man’s voice himself, told through the frenetic spectacle of a medium.

With each new character comes a completely different interpretation, further convoluting the narrative and as such complicating our understanding of the events. The constant relay to former events further develops an over-arching cynicism as we begin to question both the motives and the plausibility of each character. As we become induced in the spectacle the concept of truth soon dissipates and we are left like the antipathetic wanderer, shamelessly clueless but enticed.

Perhaps the only disappointment of the film lies in the subsequent recycled nature of its ingenious structure. The chances are you would have seen many, many films that begin with a similar premise and unravel in an identical way, the best examples being Christopher Nolan’s Memento and Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. Though it seems almost insolent to criticise a film for being so influential such is the case with Rashomon.

However, if you permit yourself to invest in the story, there is still much to enjoy. For a start the three main characters create an interesting display of alternating dynamics. Although the roamer seems ill-mannered, he provides witty and worldly insights not only into the existence within a society but on profound matters of truth and reality, subject matters that could easily become drummed down and superficial but appear genuine and appropriate. Similarly, the Priest’s diminishing optimism procures an odd mix of tragedy and human pathos that gives the film that little bit extra.

The constant harking back to re-lived events questions the reliability of memory and looks ultimately at how certain dramatic events affect our perception. Each motive is coupled with a convincing performance on behalf of the witness; though the prevailing tragedy of the murdered man sits at the forefront of their stories and this piece as a whole, it is the individual exoneration that each character pleads for that leaves you feeling somewhat dismayed.

Death occurs in many forms but the nature of this one is un-paralleled, this luring opening statement drives our intrigue as you begin to question how exactly this incident is different, it’s an open-ended question that reverberates throughout the film and lingers long after its conclusion.   

Josh Pomorski  


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