RASHOMON [a Film Essay]

Kurosawa’s Rashomon adopts a cinematic style of revisiting the past to shed light on the present. Unlike most films we have seen in previous classes, it does not follow strictly to just one linear timeline. By revisiting the incident in the grove through Tajomaru’s, the husband’s, the wife’s and the woodcutter’s accounts, Kurosawa essentially lengthened and slowed the cinematic time for the viewers to assess the incident. Each account of the incident serves its own “selfish” “truth”. With each revelation impacting the conversation in the future, as the commoner finds the truth to be more ludicrous with each new information revealed.

screen-shot-2010-09-22-at-am-09-47-44That said, these stories were unreliable, given that they were all made known to the viewers through the retellings by the woodcutter himself. Essentially, Rashomon is built on a nesting doll-like narrative, where narratives exist in a hypodiegetic manner. At the base of the frame narrative, we hear the story based on the conversation between the woodcutter, the priest and the commoner. As we dive deeper into the narrative, it appears that we hear stories told at the courthouse by victims and suspects of the incident. As such, the narrative of the film is layered to contain multiple narratives through the act of story-telling.

Incident < Wife, Husband, Tajomaru, Woodcutter’s accounts < Woodcutter, Priest’s accounts

rashmonWith each layer of story-telling, the essence of “truth” is tainted by the storyteller’s intentions. The woodcutter’s account of the courthouse scene may be affected by his desire to hide the truth behind the missing dagger. The wife’s account of the incident may be affected by her desire to cover up her infidelity. The husband’s account may be affected by his honour and dignity. Tajomaru’s account may be affected by his intention to seem honourable even when accused of manslaughter. All these intentions of malice affects the way the viewer would deduce the mystery of the incident. Since the film seemingly ends with ambiguity, the viewer’s choice would be correct. Since there are multiple possibilities of the “truth”, Kurosawa may never had intended there to be any “Truth” in the film.

Kurosawa, may instead, have been pointing towards a more philosophical motive in the film. By looking at the four incident accounts of the film, one could also spot the usage of multiple stories to create the overall story arc; Rashomon’s overarching theme of “selfishness” and the ambiguity of truth. True to the Eisenstein’s montage technique, the film’s presentation of multiple truths through multiple story arcs creates a “third effect” when placed altogether; the film’s exploration of “Truth”. Much like the Russian filmmaker’s Battleship Potemkin, Rashomon’s breakdown into multiple stories within the same film structure mimics the former’s five-act-structure, and at the end, while these different accounts may point to a different “truth”, their conflict produces the intellectual product of the film.

Ultimately, Kurosawa’s Rashomon could be seen as a unique method of mystery investigating, and yet it could also be seen as the director’s philosophical exploration of humanity. In the end, the film’s disinterest in revealing the “truth” may have its similar affection in the film’s intentions on the viewers.


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