Release Date: August 25, 1950
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Set in medieval Japan at the Rajōmon gate entering Kyoto, this is a thoroughly modern and groundbreaking film. It’s also one of the first Japanese movies to receive worldwide attention. Japanese critics at the time considered the film to be overly “Western” in style, but I think it’s safe to say that Rashomon was unlike any film – Western or Japanese – previously made.
A woodcutter ( Takashi Shimura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) take shelter in the ruins of the gate from a torrential downpour. I don’t now how to describe it, but they’re something fantastic about the way the rain is filmed and the atmosphere it evokes. When a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) joins them at the gate, the woodcutter and priest relate the disturbing story of a samurai (Masayuki Mori) murdered by the bandit, Tajōmaru (Toshiro Mifune), who also raped his wife (Machiko Kyō) in nearby woods.
In flashbacks, the bandit, the wife, the samurai (who’s story is told through a medium), and the woodcutter each tell the story from their own perspective. Each story also contains attempts at self-aggrandizement and outright lies. Thus the factual truth of what actually happened is impossible to determine.
A large portion of this film takes place in a forest. I’ve never been to Japan, but in pictures and films, I find that Japanese forests resemble New England forests. Hollywood films typical film in California forests which look very different from New England, so Rashomon oddly feels like “home” to me. More importantly, the forest – much like the rain at the gate – contributes to the atmosphere of the film, particularly the effect of dabbled sunlight . Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa is pretty much the innovator of pointing the camera up toward the sun in the sky through the tree branches.
This is a spectacular film and should definitely be on any film buffs list.