Rashomon Analysis Essay
Essay on Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa
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"Rashomon" by Akira Kurosawa numerous characters display dissimilar testimony about a particular event and they all claim to have the story straight. To begin, a wood cutter who remains nameless is in the forest when he comes across a lady's hat, a gentlemen's hat, a piece of rope, an amulet case with red lining and finally a dead body in the thicket. Upon seeing all this he runs immediately to the police to report what he has found. The police do some investigating and find the man who they believed was to blame for the murder, lying on the beach next to a stolen white hoarse. The police bring him in to be question to find that he is the great bandit Tajomaru and that he was not thrown from his stolen hoarse as they had thought…show more content…
When she awoke she found the dagger in his chest and assumed that she had killed him in a fit of rage. Upon realizing this she left the body, which was in a cleared area, and ran to drown herself in a nearby pond but failed. She claimed that she was just a helpless woman, what else could she possibly do Then the woodcutter comes forward and admits that he has seen the whole incident from only a short distance away. He says that Takchiro calls his wife a whore and will not fight for her but Musago says that she will belong to the winner so Tajomaru and Takchiro fight even though they both know they are bad fighters and do not want to. In fact Takchiro is only fighting to defend his life. As the story goes on the bandit wins and kills Takchiro in the thicket. The woman then runs off and Tajomaru never caches her.
This was all the sworn testimony from the four eyewitnesses to the atrocious event, but which one is right? I believe that none of the characters have an accurate description of what happened because they have forgotten important details or they are making themselves look more honorable. I will make an effort to re-write the story the way I think it happened, and then explain why each interrogatory lied. Tajomaru was in the forest resting when he sites a beautiful girl and her husband that pass by on an elegant hoarse. He thinks that he must have a taste of the girl so he will trick her husband and tie him up.
Endless discussion has occurred in academic circles about the psychological ‘Rashomon’ Effect’ stemming from the film Rashomon. In the film, we are given four different accounts of the same scenario, a robbery and rape. Rashomon is a psychological experiment about cinematic representations and it becomes a meta-cinematic commentary that references its own position as a film, in which the audience members will all come to their individual conclusions and nobody will be wrong, similar to the way the characters in the film all tell the same story differently, but none of them are necessarily lying (Martinez 28). The unreliable narrator motif is taken here to heights it had previously not reached. As Roger Ebert said in his retrospective review of the film, it was the “first use of flashbacks that disagreed about the action they were flashing back to.” It’s as if director Akira Kurosawa is telling the audience that life, like the movies, is completely subjective and any representation should be taken with a grain of salt. Through the films form, Kurosawa tacitly condones rape culture, critiques the American Occupation of Japan in the aftermath of World War II, and bends the classical narrative structure to tell a timeless story that has become one of the most influential films of all time.
Deeply entrenched in human culture across the globe is a highly misogynistic, patriarchal society in which women are often regarded as second class citizens. Set in 11th Century Japan, and released in 1950, it’s remarkable how little progress there really has been in the past sixty years. The values espoused in the narrative of Rashomon are more likely to be derived of the time of the shooting, rather than the historical period the film is set in, but either way the problems faced by the wife in Rashomon are still relevant today. The events put in motion in the woods are driven by the animalistic sexuality of the bandit who also serves as a metaphor for the American Occupation after the Second World War; I’ll get to that later. He exhibits such a lack of control over his own actions; the wind blowing the veil off the face of the wife sparks an uncontrollable lust which he blames for his actions. His animalistic instincts also come through in the editing of his narration. The bandits recounting of the events features the shortest shot lengths (Redfern 27). The veil here serves the same purpose as skimpy clothing in modern society where rape victims are time and again blamed for “inviting the rape” with their choice of dress, thus creating a culture where women are forced to internalize their own oppression (Armstrong 108).
Kurosawa is also unwilling to show the violence associated with the rape, and in turn invites criticism upon the wife. Kurosawa himself has stated the film was about a rape but what are actually portrayed on screen are three men talking about a rape (Martinez 34). It is inherently biased as only one woman appears in the film and she is portrayed as wildly emotional, at times sobbing uncontrollably. Her emotional state is also present in the framing of the shots during her narration (Redfern 32). Her story utilizes many more close-ups and has an overall heightened emotional weight to the scene. The impact of the rape and the resulting physical, psychological, and emotional consequences is not something concerns himself with in Rashomon (Leung 2). Instead, the rape is seen as a dishonor to the husband and she is even blamed in the husband’s account of abandoning him and defiling herself. Once she has been raped by the bandit, she is no longer desirable in his eyes; she is the constant focus of male judgment and exists in the film to satisfy the demands of the existing paradigm in sexual relations, where male pleasure is the focus of intercourse and doubt, shame, and even blame are cast toward the victim by society, namely through the media where even politicians in America have supported rape culture and the shifting of the burden of guilt from the perpetrator to the victim.
Another problematic issue in Rashomon is the fact that the wife is the only woman in the film. She becomes a representative of an entire sex, whereas the men are able to be seen as individuals that make their own choices. The rape is also able to be seen as an acceptable topic of conversation for three men waiting out the rain; female sexuality is seen through a male perspective. Kurosawa deliberately chooses not to show the violence of the rape on screen. It is only implied, but even the implied violence is thrown into question by the male accounts of the events. The gaze of the camera is politely averted away from the violence and instead uses metaphors to convey meaning, through a phallic dagger and the sun that washes over the wife. The rape brings shame upon her and is a “crime against the husband’s honor” that makes him hate her, while the rape is somehow an expression of the bandit’s love for her. The rape is also seen as a catalyst for the man’s death and brings out the “liar and inner whore” in the woman (Martinez 34).
It’s in this instance where Kurosawa failed to make a hard-hitting political statement in his film that is admittedly about a rape, but the way he shoots it lends itself to interpretation and has caused many to question whether she was raped at all (Martinez 34). She is also blamed by the bandit for the killing of the husband. The bandit says he had no intention of killing him, but had to for her. If she had never crossed his path, he argues, none of the crimes would have been committed. This moment continues and almost justifies the victim blaming that happens in human society. The woodcutter also blames the woman for the events in his account, saying that if she wouldn’t have spoken, the two men wouldn’t have fought. The question of who is telling the truth about the rape is rarely tackled in analyses of Rashomon. The bandit claims that instincts took over, and he would have done anything to have her once he saw what was beneath the veil, shifting the focus to the woman. The husband sees the rape as the wife betraying him and their marriage, leading him to kill himself. The wife sees herself as twice violate; first by the bandit’s rape, and later by her husband for his anger at the events, leading her to stab him. The woodcutter, a supposedly neutral party, sees the act as a cowardly swordfight “egged on by the vindictive woman” (Martinez 34).
The only certainty in the film is that each of the characters act in their own best interest, and this is reflected in their account of the events.
The woodcutter, who seems initially to be the most reliable witness in the story because he only stumbled upon this mess, is thrown into question when we learn he may have lied about his knowledge of the events and he probably stole the dagger from the corpse of the dead husband. This knowledge throws the interpretation of the entire film into limbo because none of the accounts can be trusted to be objective. While the main narrative is the same throughout, the details and motivations differ in each account and it “becomes apparent that in this final version the use of film stlye in the narration of events serves a different function than in the rest of the other three versions” (Redfern 33).
Kurosawa has been accepted globally since the release of Rashomon as one of the most “Western” Japanese filmmakers (Hutchinson 173). Ironically, the film that brought about his worldwide acclaim, including in America, can be read as a critique of the American Occupation in Japan. The figure of the bandit serves as a representation of the American military, which essentially had free reign and were accused of many crimes against Japanese citizens. The rain may also serve as a distinct metaphor for the occupation. First, it is a useful device to set apart “the present from the past” (Ebert). Before the Americans arrived, Japan was a world power in both economic and militaristic terms. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are represented by this rain. The bandit in the film roams with relative immunity and ravages innocent people roaming through the countryside. The bombs functioned in a similar manner, literally ravaging entire cities and killing thousands of innocent people. Kurosawa also seems to attack the samurai ethic of “truth, courage, and steadfastness” in the film (Hutchinson 176).
The fight sceens between the samurai husband and the bandit are shown in two distinct ways. The first, when the husband is narrating, is a noble depiction of a well-choreographed, courageous battle. The second depiction shatters any illusions of grandeur gleaned from the first. It is almost slapstick in nature and a scrappier, cowardly fight. Neither the bandit nor the samurai seem to know what they’re doing, as if they’re being forced by the woman to complete this dance where the victor will “win” the rights to be with her.
The bandit character becomes a “sort of incarnation of the oni, or ogre, of Japanese folklore” which is often read as a depiction of a foreigner, in this case the United States military industrial complex (Hutchinson 179). Through this lens, the woman stands in for the conquest of Japan and by extension highlights the failure of traditional samurai values to save the nation from an outside occupying force. This reading of the film was likely to only be understood by Japanese audiences at the time of the film’s release, as they were his intended audience – he could have had no idea that it would be such a success internationally. This idea is supported by the acknowledgement from Kurosawa in his autobiography that he felt “guilty for keeping his head down during the war and not protesting” (Martinez 28). Everyone in the film confesses to the crime of murder, marking this interpretation as “a very dark joke indeed about the human propensity to lie.” This self-deception is something he argues is deeply a part of the human condition as he is quoted as saying “human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing” (Ebert).
Though Kurosawa subverts the expectations of the audience with the unreliable flashback sequences, he still relies on the classical three act structure. The number three is present elsewhere in the structural framework of the film, establishing a “formal unity and coherence to the film” (Redfern 24). There are three main location, three principal characters at each location, three days between the trial and the gate scene, and three characters in the gate’s sign. In the woods, where the original action takes place, the film form for each character establishes their own place within the narrative.
The woodcutter’s narrative makes the most use of conventionally neutral shots as he doesn’t have as much of an emotional connection to the events that take place in the woods (Redfern 31). The husband, especially when he is powerless in the scene, is shown with fewer point of view shots while axial shots occur more often, creating a distance from the audience. The wife, on the other hand, is shown the most in close-up as her testimony is the most emotionally distressing. The bandit’s narrative sequence was cut together the fastest, driving home the point about his animal sexuality and the relentless nature of the United States military. The bandit and the wife’s recounting make the most use of point-of-view shots which establish them as active narrators who not only tell their story but through the films form align “the viewer physically and psychologically with their perspective.” (Redfern 32) The husband on the other hand, is a passive narrator who has little control over the situation. He is forced to watch the events but unable to affect them. This is represented by using axial cuts in place of POV and RA shots” allowing Kurosawa to show the audience “events happening before the husband and then his response to them without admitting the viewer direct access to his perspective.” (Redfern 32)
Though there are flaws in the representations of women in Rashomon¸ the film has been able to stand the test of time and be regarded as a classic because of the innovative techniques employed by Kurosawa that raise questions about objective truth in the human experience. The underlying message to be learned is that we cannot trust humans, or even the camera to reflect the truth.
Armstrong, Elizabeth A. "'Good girls': gender, social class, and slut discourse on campus." Social Psychology Quarterly: n. pag. Print.
Ebert, Roger. "Great Movie: Rashomon." RogerEbert.com. N.p., 26 May 2002. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. .
Hutchinson, Rachel. "Orientalism or occidentalism? dynamics of appropriation in Akira Kurosawa." Remapping World Cinema: 173-87. Print.
Leung, William. "Misogyny as radical commentary — Rashomon retold in Takashi Miike’s Masters of Horror: Imprint." Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 51 (2009): 1-2. Print.
Martinez, Dolores. "Where the human heart goes astray: Rashomon, Boomtown and subjective experience." Film Studies 11 (2007): 27-35. Print.
Redfern, Nick. "Film style and narration in Rashomon." Journal of Japanese & Korean Cinema 5: 21-36. Print.