Rashomon


1h 28m 1950
Rashomon

Brief Synopsis

In medieval Japan, four people offer conflicting accounts of a rape and murder.

Film Details

Also Known As
Rasho-Mon, Rashomon - Demonernas port
Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Foreign
Period
Adaptation
Release Date
1950
Production Company
Janus Films
Distribution Company
Action Gitanes; Kino International; Public Media Inc.
Location
Japan

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

A tale of rape and murder in 12th-century Kyoto.

Film Details

Also Known As
Rasho-Mon, Rashomon - Demonernas port
Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Foreign
Period
Adaptation
Release Date
1950
Production Company
Janus Films
Distribution Company
Action Gitanes; Kino International; Public Media Inc.
Location
Japan

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1950

Articles

Rashomon


When Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon unexpectedly won the top prize at the 1950 Venice Film Festival, it was a watershed moment for world cinema. This is the work that legitimized Japanese films as viable commercial entities in foreign markets, and established, once and for all, that the country's austere approach to storytelling could be understood by viewers in the West. It also, not incidentally, introduced cineastes to the collaborative team of Kurosawa and his great leading man, Toshiro Mifune.

Kurosawa's dreamy narrative is constructed in a manner that was a revelation in the 1950s. The film, which is set in 17th century Japan, opens under the decaying remains of the Rashomon Gate, where three men have gathered during a rainstorm (note that, in some shots, Kurosawa tints the rain with black ink). A woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) and a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) listen as a priest (Minoru Chiaki) describes a trial he once witnessed in which a samurai named Takehiro (Masayuki Mori) was found stabbed to death after his wife, Masako (Machiko Kyo), was raped by a lecherous bandit (Toshiro Mifune). At this point, Kurosawa shifts the focus to the trial itself. We see a series of extended flashbacks during which the wife, the thief, and, through the mouthpiece of a mysterious Medium (Fumiko Honma), the spirit of the dead samurai, recount their wildly differing versions of the crimes. Kurosawa then returns to the men under the gate for an unexpectedly hopeful denouement.

Although Kurosawa was already a seasoned filmmaker at the time of Rashomon's release, most critics consider the film to be the director's first genuine work of art. The screenplay is based on two short stories by the popular Japanese author, Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Much like the more obscure films of Ingmar Bergman, Rashomon is utterly open to personal interpretation. Kurosawa's refusal to wrap the story up in conventional terms leaves the audience in the position of having to draw their own conclusions, and, given the comments Kurosawa made about the picture over the years, it would seem that many viewers approached it from the wrong angle.

In his illuminating memoir, Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa recounts how he explained the script to several assistants who complained that they didn't understand it: "Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. The script portrays such human beings – the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel better than they really are. It even shows this sinful need for flattering falsehood going beyond the grave - even the character who dies cannot give up his lies when he speaks to the living through a medium. Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem. This film is a strange picture scroll that is unrolled and displayed by the ego."

It should be mentioned that the president of Daiei, Rashomon's production company, also felt the screenplay was "incomprehensible," and had to be convinced by Kurosawa to let him shoot it. Kurosawa ruefully noted that this same man would appear on television years later to more or less take credit for the picture, thus falling prey to the very self-delusion that the "incomprehensible" script aimed to illuminate!

As influential as its flashback structure has become, it could be argued that the most important aspect of Rashomon is that it marked one of the high points in a great creative partnership between Kurosawa and Mifune (they had already worked together four times). Kurosawa first encountered Mifune when Toho Studios, the largest film production company in Japan, was conducting a massive talent search, during which hundreds of aspiring actors auditioned before a team of judges. Kurosawa was originally going to skip the event, but showed up when an actress he knew told him of one actor who seemed especially promising. Kurosawa later wrote that he entered the audition to see "a young man reeling around the room in a violent frenzy...it was as frightening as watching a wounded beast trying to break loose. I was transfixed." When an exhausted Mifune finished his scene, he sat down and gave the judges an ominous stare. He promptly lost the competition.

Kurosawa, however, had found his muse. "I am a person rarely impressed by actors," he later said. "But in the case of Mifune I was completely overwhelmed." To better understand the relationship between Kurosawa and Mifune, American movie fans might consider the creative bond between Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. Both associations seem driven by something almost primal, a purity of emotion that often enters the darker regions of human consciousness. It's an exhilarating, sometimes uncomfortable thing to witness.

Rick Lyman summed up Mifune's enormous appeal in the actor's December 25, 1997 New York Times obituary: "His persona had deep roots in Japanese drama. It was a cinematic expression of a long-standing dramatic figure known as the tateyaku, a heroic leading man emerging from medieval samurai tales and epic military romances." However, as Lyman also points out, Mifune infused this traditional character with a decidedly modern "ironic self-knowledge and intense sexuality." He was a performer who seemed forever on the verge of exploding. Audiences couldn't get enough of it, and neither could Kurosawa.

Rather incredibly, Rashomon was never a hit with Japanese audiences. Even Japanese critics disliked it. Many of them stated that Kurosawa took far too many liberties with his source material. But Kurosawa himself believed that his countrymen mistrusted a Japanese film that was a hit with Western audiences, that it was somehow less than pure if it could be enjoyed by another culture. They would have to get over that, though. Kurosawa would go on to create some of the most heartfelt, widely-heralded films of the 20th century, including Ikiru (1952), The Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985). But Rashomon was an especially brilliant opening salvo.

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Producer: Minoru Jingo
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto (based on two stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa)
Cinematography: Kazuo Miyagawa
Art Direction: So Matsuyama
Music: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune (Tajomaru), Masayuki Mori (Takehiro), Machiko Kyo (Masako), Takashi Shimura (Woodcutter), Minoru Chiaki (Priest), Kichijiro Ueda (Commoner), Daisuke Kato (Police Agent), Fumiko Honma (Medium).
BW-87m.

by Paul Tatara

Rashomon

Rashomon

When Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon unexpectedly won the top prize at the 1950 Venice Film Festival, it was a watershed moment for world cinema. This is the work that legitimized Japanese films as viable commercial entities in foreign markets, and established, once and for all, that the country's austere approach to storytelling could be understood by viewers in the West. It also, not incidentally, introduced cineastes to the collaborative team of Kurosawa and his great leading man, Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa's dreamy narrative is constructed in a manner that was a revelation in the 1950s. The film, which is set in 17th century Japan, opens under the decaying remains of the Rashomon Gate, where three men have gathered during a rainstorm (note that, in some shots, Kurosawa tints the rain with black ink). A woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) and a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) listen as a priest (Minoru Chiaki) describes a trial he once witnessed in which a samurai named Takehiro (Masayuki Mori) was found stabbed to death after his wife, Masako (Machiko Kyo), was raped by a lecherous bandit (Toshiro Mifune). At this point, Kurosawa shifts the focus to the trial itself. We see a series of extended flashbacks during which the wife, the thief, and, through the mouthpiece of a mysterious Medium (Fumiko Honma), the spirit of the dead samurai, recount their wildly differing versions of the crimes. Kurosawa then returns to the men under the gate for an unexpectedly hopeful denouement. Although Kurosawa was already a seasoned filmmaker at the time of Rashomon's release, most critics consider the film to be the director's first genuine work of art. The screenplay is based on two short stories by the popular Japanese author, Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Much like the more obscure films of Ingmar Bergman, Rashomon is utterly open to personal interpretation. Kurosawa's refusal to wrap the story up in conventional terms leaves the audience in the position of having to draw their own conclusions, and, given the comments Kurosawa made about the picture over the years, it would seem that many viewers approached it from the wrong angle. In his illuminating memoir, Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa recounts how he explained the script to several assistants who complained that they didn't understand it: "Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. The script portrays such human beings – the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel better than they really are. It even shows this sinful need for flattering falsehood going beyond the grave - even the character who dies cannot give up his lies when he speaks to the living through a medium. Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem. This film is a strange picture scroll that is unrolled and displayed by the ego." It should be mentioned that the president of Daiei, Rashomon's production company, also felt the screenplay was "incomprehensible," and had to be convinced by Kurosawa to let him shoot it. Kurosawa ruefully noted that this same man would appear on television years later to more or less take credit for the picture, thus falling prey to the very self-delusion that the "incomprehensible" script aimed to illuminate! As influential as its flashback structure has become, it could be argued that the most important aspect of Rashomon is that it marked one of the high points in a great creative partnership between Kurosawa and Mifune (they had already worked together four times). Kurosawa first encountered Mifune when Toho Studios, the largest film production company in Japan, was conducting a massive talent search, during which hundreds of aspiring actors auditioned before a team of judges. Kurosawa was originally going to skip the event, but showed up when an actress he knew told him of one actor who seemed especially promising. Kurosawa later wrote that he entered the audition to see "a young man reeling around the room in a violent frenzy...it was as frightening as watching a wounded beast trying to break loose. I was transfixed." When an exhausted Mifune finished his scene, he sat down and gave the judges an ominous stare. He promptly lost the competition. Kurosawa, however, had found his muse. "I am a person rarely impressed by actors," he later said. "But in the case of Mifune I was completely overwhelmed." To better understand the relationship between Kurosawa and Mifune, American movie fans might consider the creative bond between Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. Both associations seem driven by something almost primal, a purity of emotion that often enters the darker regions of human consciousness. It's an exhilarating, sometimes uncomfortable thing to witness. Rick Lyman summed up Mifune's enormous appeal in the actor's December 25, 1997 New York Times obituary: "His persona had deep roots in Japanese drama. It was a cinematic expression of a long-standing dramatic figure known as the tateyaku, a heroic leading man emerging from medieval samurai tales and epic military romances." However, as Lyman also points out, Mifune infused this traditional character with a decidedly modern "ironic self-knowledge and intense sexuality." He was a performer who seemed forever on the verge of exploding. Audiences couldn't get enough of it, and neither could Kurosawa. Rather incredibly, Rashomon was never a hit with Japanese audiences. Even Japanese critics disliked it. Many of them stated that Kurosawa took far too many liberties with his source material. But Kurosawa himself believed that his countrymen mistrusted a Japanese film that was a hit with Western audiences, that it was somehow less than pure if it could be enjoyed by another culture. They would have to get over that, though. Kurosawa would go on to create some of the most heartfelt, widely-heralded films of the 20th century, including Ikiru (1952), The Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985). But Rashomon was an especially brilliant opening salvo. Director: Akira Kurosawa Producer: Minoru Jingo Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto (based on two stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa) Cinematography: Kazuo Miyagawa Art Direction: So Matsuyama Music: Fumio Hayasaka Cast: Toshiro Mifune (Tajomaru), Masayuki Mori (Takehiro), Machiko Kyo (Masako), Takashi Shimura (Woodcutter), Minoru Chiaki (Priest), Kichijiro Ueda (Commoner), Daisuke Kato (Police Agent), Fumiko Honma (Medium). BW-87m. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

No one tells a lie after he's said he's going to tell one.
- Commoner
But is there anyone who's really good? Maybe goodness is just make-believe.
- Commoner
What a frightening...
- Priest
Man just wants to forget the bad stuff, and believe in the made-up good stuff. It's easier that way.
- Commoner
If men don't trust each other, this earth might as well be hell.
- Priest
Right. The world's a kind of hell.
- Commoner
No! I don't want to believe that!
- Priest
No one will hear you, no matter how loud you shout. Just think. Which one of these stories do you believe?
- Commoner
None makes any sense.
- Woodcutter
Don't worry about it. It isn't as if men were reasonable.
- Commoner
It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves.
- Commoner
I don't want to hear it. No more horror stories.
- Priest
They are common stories these days. I even heard that the demon living here in Rashomon fled in fear of the ferocity of man.
- Commoner

Trivia

Even during high noon the parts of the forest that the crew needed to shoot in were still too dark. Rather than use a regular foil reflector, which did not bounce enough light, Kurosawa and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa opted to use a full-length mirror "borrowed" from Daiei's costume department. The crew bounced light from the mirror through leaves and trees to soften it and make it look more like natural sunlight. Miyagawa later called it the most successful lighting effect he had ever done.

In the downpour scenes showing the Rashomon Gate, Kurosawa found that the rain in the background simply wouldn't show up against the light gray backdrop. To solve this problem, the crew ended up tinting the rain by pouring black in into the tank of the rain machine.

This film is often given credit for the first time a camera was pointed directly at the sun. In Kurosawa's biography, he gives credit to his cinematographer for "inventing" it and himself for using it, but years later, during commentary that preceded the TV showing of the film, the head of the studio claimed credit, which Kurosawa bitterly denies.

The husband and wife in the film are referred to as "foreigners." The clothes they are wearing are a mix of Japanese traditional kimonos and Korean traditional clothes, also known as "hamboks", thus hinting that they come from Korea. However, the sword that the husband carries is not the type of Korean sword used in that time period, and Koreans did not follow the Japanese tradition of carrying two swords.

During shooting, the cast approached Kurosawa en masse with the script and asked him, "What does it mean?" The answer Kurosawa gave at that time and also in his biography is that "Rashomon" is a reflection of life, and life does not always have clear meanings.

Miscellaneous Notes

Restoration of Rashomon by The Academy Film Archive, The National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and Kadokawa Pictures, Inc. with funding provided by Kadokawa Culture Promotion Foundation and The Film Foundation.

Winner of the Golden Lion Award at the 1951 Venice Film Festival.

Limited re-release in United States February 27, 1998

Released in United States 1951

Released in United States January 2000

Released in United States on Video January 1986

Re-released in United States on Video May 25, 1994

Shown in New York City (Cinema Village as part of Janus Films 40th Anniversary Film Festival December 13, 1996 - January 2, 1997.

Formerly distributed by Nelson Entertainment and Orion Home Video.

Later titles produced by Masaichi Nagata.

Re-released in Paris May 16, 1990.

Released in United States 1951

Released in United States on Video January 1986

Released in United States January 2000 (Shown in New York City (Anthology Film Archives) as part of program "Kino International Retrospective" January 6-27, 2000.)

Limited re-release in United States February 27, 1998 (Film Forum; New York City)

Re-released in United States on Video May 25, 1994