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