A Paradoxical Story
Rashomon, directed by Akira Kurosawa, is a Japanese film from the 1950s. In the article published “ El Cultural” Miguel Marias explains this movie is entirely different from what people used to see in the period drama genre, which mostly revolved around samurai. Therefore, Kurosawa makes a radical change in his usual approach to filmmaking. Also, he uses a considerable amount of special effects to make the film more dramatic. For example, the torrential rains transmit sadness. The music contributes to the dramatic intensity of the scenes. The director utilizes symbolism throughout the film. For instance, the child symbolizes innocence and faith in humanity. The clearing of the rain symbolizes the mystery that has been resolved. The movie starts with three characters seeking cover from the heavy rain in an abandoned temple. The three initiate a discussion about an incident that has happened in the forest in which a man was murdered, and a woman was raped. The narrative structure of the film is based on a series of flashbacks, each a different version of the same story as told from the perspective of each character. This narrative structure not only facilitates the audience’s understanding of the theme of the stories, but is instrumental to Kurosawa’s criticism of the human condition throughout the film.
The narrative forms reflect the theme where a large amount of flashbacks referred either to true and false facts. Visually, the flashback are “true” in the sense that they are the subjective experiences of each witness. Notwithstanding, the narrative accompanying the flashback are false because each character has a reason to lie about their experience. Therefore, while multiple characters have witnessed the same events, each tells a different story about what they witnessed. Such as, Tajomaru is the bandit in the film, and he explains to the court that he only wanted the samurai’s wife, although he never intended to kill him. Also, he denied having raped the samurai’s wife, claiming that their liaison was consensual. On the other hand, the woodcutter, the samurai’s wife, and the dead samurai each tell a different version of the incident. While different viewing angles and contexts could account for these differences, Kurosawa’s point is that the individuals who comprise society are obsessed with protecting their welfare and have little regard for that of their neighbors.
By the on-screen narrative, Kurosawa is criticizing humanity, suggesting that humanity is selfish, jealous, deceitful, and manipulative. In order the director to convey this criticism effectively through the film, it was important to emphasize the characters’ feelings. For instance, Tajomaro is shown to be a dark and ruthless character who is prepared to deceive everyone to satisfy his ambitions. The samurai’s wife is depicted in such a way as to make her the embodiment of innocence. The samurai husband is spiteful and cowardly. The woodcutter, conversely, is the most reserved of the quartet. Kurosawa exposes the human condition and some of the ugly realities of how people react to similar situations when one is on trial. Rashomon is a reflection on life through the portrait of emotions. Each character attempts to manipulate the narrative for their benefit and protect their welfare. However, in doing so these characters inadvertently reveal insights into their own that personal and collective hells, worlds filled with selfishness, manipulation, lying, and lustful irrationality.
Kurosawa posits that we are an unreasonable species, that our apparent civility is but a thin disguise for the selfish underbelly of human nature that is just brimming under the surface. Consequently, he portrays society as closed minded, especially in regard to the disparity between the genders, with men behaving cruelly toward women. In order to convince the audience of this, the director a ensures that a female character appears in each scene throughout Rashomon. For instance, in the story of the Tajomaru, the samurai’s wife is described as unhappy women, dissatisfied with her marriage. In the narrative of the dead samurai, the female character is portrayed as sexually promiscuous, as having slept with two men. Throughout story, this theme of men devaluing women is repeated time and time again. Accordingly, women do not enjoy the same rights as men. Were a women have an affair with another man, society would judge the woman as being promiscuous but think little of the man involved. Conversely, if a man were to have an affair with another woman, he would most likely be congratulated, or his standing within society would improve for the transgression. Sadly, these same prejudices are all too real in today’s society.
In conclusion, although the narration of Rashomon is mysterious, this only serves to make things more interesting. Overall, it is a difficult film to fully understand. The story is certainly a unique criticism of humanity, showing that the company is self-centered, manipulative, and misleading. In addition, the film portrays a cruel society that devalues and dehumanizes women. Therefore, Kurosawa’s loss of faith in humanity is clear: he believes that mankind is capable of extreme depravity. Watching Rashomon led me to the sad conclusion that this film was a case of life imitating art, and that humans do in fact seek their welfare above that of others.