Rashomon

Film Criticism, Movies

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is another film on the BFI’s 50 Greatest Films of All Time list that I had seen before. After watching it a second time, I find it hard to believe that I had come away unimpressed the first time. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that that viewing was before Criterion released its stellar version. I was probably watching some washed out and murky VHS copy that detracted from any true appreciation of what is undeniably one of the true greats.

Set in the 12th Century, Rashomon tells the story of the rape of a woman and the murder of her husband. What the film is justifiably famous for is that the story is told from four different perspectives, each varying significantly from the others. Again, watching these films in order of their release lends greater appreciation. With the exception of Citizen Kane, all of the films on the list so far have progressed in fairly strict chronological fashion. Kane and Rashomon are told mainly through flashbacks and construct stories from varying perspectives undermining any sense of narrative certainty. Rashomon is more daring in that it presents multiple versions of the same incident whereas Kane cobbles together a longer story and the narratives don’t directly interfere with one another.

The film opens as three men gather under the ruins of the Rashomon Gate to escape a sudden downpour. One of the men (Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura) tantalizingly repeats “I just don’t understand” in response to having recently witnessed the trial of the bandit (another Kurosawa regular Toshirô Mifune) accused of the rape and murder. The interplay among the three men as they talk of the contradictory versions of the story and attempt to unravel what happened is as fascinating as the tale itself.

Rashomon is the darkest film on the list so far and also the most ambiguous. It is equally thought provoking and disturbing. The viewer is challenged by the lack of any definitive answers and an odd, unanticipated event at the end only raises more questions. I anticipate this film remaining high on my list.

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Citizen Kane (1941)
  3. Rashomon (1950)
  4. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  6. City Lights (1931)
  7. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  8. Late Spring (1949)
  9. The General (1926)
  10. The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
  11. L’Atalante (1934)
  12. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  13. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Next Up: Singin’ in the Rain


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