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Rashomon (1950)



Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home - this gate had to be built as broken, otherwise the set would have caved under the full roof's weight.

Genre: Period Samurai Crime Drama Mystery Thriller (Japan)

Starring: Toshiro Mifune (The Hidden Fortress • Seven Samurai), Machiko Kyo (Street Of Shame Ugetsu)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (Yojimbo Ran)

Overview: The events of a rape and murder are told from the perspectives of four people, each version different than the last.

Divider Swords

Until Rashômon, Akira Kurosawa had only directed one period piece based on a Noh / Kabuki play, The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail,  and two period Judo films - Judo Saga and its sequel. By 1950, most of Kurosawa's experience was in films set in contemporary post-war Japan, and usually had touches of anti-American / anti-occupationist commentary.  Still, for as ancient as the setting may be, Rashômon doesn't stray far from Kurosawa's sentiments of 1950 Japan through symbols, as it is often considered an allegory for Japan's defeat against the Allies in WWII.

The Emperor had the aid of cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, most famous for his work in Rashômon but who also worked in Japanese film classics Ugetsu and Tokyo Olympiad. The visual spectacle is incredible, more so when one learns of the strict budgetary constraints the crew was given. We open with a large war-torn, half-destroyed gate, the forgotten sign 'Rashômon' hanging cracked and askew as a deluge of rain pours down. Four soaked men ponder recent events, discussing a woman's rape and the murder of her husband. The story is simple and timeless, told poetically and rife with wisdom on the human condition. Everyone's side is heard, from the woodcutter to the bandit to the raped woman and even her dead husband, who speaks in a haunting scene through a medium.

"It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves."

 At first glance, one might think the acting to be over-zealous, especially Toshiro Mifune, as a literal wild man of the forest, though not surprising a protrayal given his motivation was "act like a lion". Somehow this role in Rashômon, the pure archetype of rage, is one that we often associate with Mifune.

Hello? Sweetness? Darling? What, one little rape gonna ruin your day?
"Hello? Sweetness? Darling? What, one little rape gonna ruin your day?"

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 9 Plot: 7 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 80% (A Shô To Remember)

Well, for those of you following along, you probably don't need me telling you that this is a staple of classic film directed by The Emperor. Add to this the weight of the awards it received, most notably the 1951 Venice Film Festival's highest honour, the Golden Lion as well as receiving an honorary Academy Award for being 'the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1951'.

It seems this award prompted a new category at the next academy awards: 'Best Foreign Film'. Interesting legacy.

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I was a bit bewildered by Rashomon upon first attempted viewing - but once I figured out the underlying purpose of the multiple lines of storytelling, I was enthralled by the subtlety of the different performances.

While it might be easy to think that Toshiro Mifune's zealous performance might be a bit over the top - i regard it as how it was remembered from the perspective of the story tellers - and that what actually happened is of little consequence. 

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