Monday, December 7, 2009

Rashomon ( 1950 ) : in the glade


A woman is raped in a wood  by a bandit as her samurai husband, tied to a tree, looks on.  His dead body is subsequently found and in turn the bandit, the woman, a priest and the murdered samurai ( summoned from the grave through a medium) give conflicting testimonies to the court. A woodcutter who discovered the body, adds up yet another version of the story.

Who killed the man and who is telling the truth is irrelevant. This is a dark and bizarre tale about human nature in the raw . The glade, far from judgemental eyes, is a fitting locale. Passion, fear and the ever-nearness of death contribute to the elevated dramatic pitch.

The film, consisting of fragments pasted together in a non-linear way,  yet has a seamless unity: it has energy, swiftness, and life. Perhaps it's about the good and evil and selfishness of us human beings specially when nobody is watching. Whether in medieval Japan, the period in which the film is set, or now, people are one thing that do not seem to have changed particularly. Come to think of it, this is not too far from the fare of daily news, or from the way people behave in a war. Or the stuff of movies, whether from Mumbai or Hollywood. This is a film made in 1950 and the unflattering view of human nature which the film projects must have sprung from deep within the film-maker in the wake of the war. Perhaps the glade where the sordid events occur is a metaphor of our own mind and soul. In any case, it is too powerful and authentic a creation to be an arbitrary fable--like any true artistic creation, it holds a mirror to ourselves.

Rashomon is the name of a dilapidated gate outside the ancient city of Kyoto. The woodcutter, priest and a commoner get together here and talk about the court proceedings relating to the samurai's murder. The torrential downpour which opens the film is a kind of screen behind which unfolds the tale of treachery and shame. It is a passionate piece of cinematography, as is the woodcutter racing through the revolving woods (read camera) , with the vertical sun casting patterns of light and shade through the thin foliage. And then the spell is broken as he discovers the dead body.

Acting performances of extraordinary power ( specially the female lead ), a camera which combines poetry with electrifying drama, make it one of those films that stay with you for keeps.
Roger Ebert's Great Movies Essay
Criterion Collection Essays


Ronak M Soni said...

I saw this movie just Saturday...
On the criterion disk. Co-incidences abound, eh?

I don't think the view is as unflattering as it first seems. There's that baby which can only be described as a deus ex machina; the guy who steals the dagger decides to adopt it, because of his guilt.
Actually, I'm not completely sure he took the dagger, because it is there in his story (the woman cuts the husbands bonds with it), even though he doesn't deny the commoner's accusation.

S M Rana said...

Yes, coincidences do abound!

That baby at the end does seem to be a redemptive glimmer, but the vision is essentially dark, twisted and torn with pain. I didn't particularly try to figure out who actually did the killing, or what actually might have occured ( dagger etc.)...did you?

Ronak M Soni said...

I didn't. All I tried to see was how the differences were beneficial to the narrator. And I could.

plum said...

my friend always tells me there are three sides to every story: his side, her side, and the truth. but the truth i think is what we see. so maybe theyre all the truth?

Don't Be a Plum

S M Rana said...

@ Plum

It happened in the movie, it happened in someone's head, or it's the way somebody wishes it had rather happened--each way it happened, hence true!

Literary Dreamer said...

Just saw this movie in a new 35 mm print (one of the things I love about Seattle--really great movie theaters here, plus the SIFF), which shows off, to even greater effect than a TV screen can, Kurosawa's masterly use of the camera (and music) to create tension. Plus, he frames his shots so well! Not Kurosawa's best film, but one of his most interesting, and still a great, great film.

S M Rana said...


Please accept this dart of envy for having enjoyed this macabre and dark b/w beauty in full proportion!