2012年1月19日木曜日

Movie Review: Rashomon

The following article was written as an assignment for the Introduction to Film and Video Analysis class.


A classic film still gives the audience today the strong senses of originality and sharpness it has even if it is black-and-white and was made a few decades ago. Rashomon (1950) directed by Akira Kurosama is one of them that had a huge impact on the audience and filmmakers all around the world after it received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 and the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 1952. Today the film is considered as a classic not only by its content, but also by its composition of the story line (The story is based on the two short stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, but it is changed a little). Avove all, the film always makes the viewer to think what a story line is every time one watches it.

At the beginning of the film, a woodcutter and a priest started to tell a mysterious story that they heard at the courthouse to a vulgar man who happened to drop by at the gate of an abandoned temple called Rashomon with them under heavy rain. According to the woodcutter and priest, there was a murder in a forest three days ago. A samurai was killed and the suspect was arrested. After that, the woodcutter, the priest, the suspect, the samurai's wife, and even the dead samurai testified (through the medium) at the courthouse. However, their stories are conflicted each other. The woodcutter also gives his "true story" to the other members at the temple which he had not told at the court, but it also conflicted to the others. They get so confused that they cannot trust what people say any more. At the end of the film, they find a baby abandoned behind them. The vulgar man robs the clothes of the baby, whereas the woodcutter, who also allegedly stole a dagger from the dead body, decides to take the baby and bring it up as his own children. The priest finds humanity in his decision and tells him that he can keep his faith in human beings.

The most unique point of this film is its composition of narrative and point of view. The same incident is viewed and told differently by different people who were at the scene at least four times. All the characters have their own motivations to make up their own story. The narrative of each character is often inserted from the beginning of his or her story through the end so that it looks more favorable to the character. As a result, the audience cannot tell exactly which the real truth is. In other words, the audience would face the situation that what they watch might not be what actually happened in the real world in the movie. What they can believe is only the scenes at the temple and that of the courthouse. Some of the audience may notice that there is another character in the courthouse, an unseen investigator. It is hard to characterize him since he is out of the camera frame and does not say a word even though the other characters seem to have conversation with him. The audience knows he is there at the scene only because all the characters testify to him looking toward the direction of the audience (which is toward the camera). It makes the audience feel as they were the investigator or judge. His figure is unseen and his voice unheard in order to have this setting effect. This means that the fairness and objectivity of an investigator and judge is deliberately excluded from the film although the role itself is played in there. The judgment or sentencing of the trial is not referred either from any of the characters. Instead, the audience is the one who has to play that role. They have to judge by themselves whether each person's story is true or not. Toward the end of the story, not only do all the characters get confused but also does the audience.

Now what the audience can believe in the movie is only in the scene at the temple. Here the abandoned baby plays an important role. Throughout the movie, the priest keeps saying that he might lose his faith in men, but at the end when he knows that the woodcutter offers to become a foster father of the baby, he can finally believe human beings again. At the same time, the audience may receive another message from the movie that this humanistic happy-ending is reliable because it is not some one's story or point of view but a God's point of view. This viewpoint in the ending part is well-contrasted with the narratives and viewpoints of human beings in the earlier parts, which makes the last message clearer and stronger.

There are many weak points in this movie. For example, the characters explain the movie's motif too much by their own words. They also overact without adopting the actual ways of talking at the time in Edo period. Moreover, the treatment and motive of the female character does not seem socially acceptable or understandable for many viewers today. Even so, the film still gives the audience a fresh impression every time they watch it.

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