Rashômon

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #138: Akira Kurosawa’s Rashômon.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say in crit­i­cal terms about Rashômon that hasn’t been said be­fore, and bet­ter than I could say it. So in­stead of talk­ing about it in terms of its ex­am­i­na­tion of truth, its cul­tur­al con­text, or its in­no­v­a­tive style, I’m go­ing to re­view this film in terms of what makes it en­ter­tain­ing; one of those rare for­eign films that just about every­one can en­joy. And since Japan de­cid­ed that films made be­fore 1953 should be re­leased in­to the pub­lic do­main, you can watch the en­tire thing on Google Video. I’ve linked to it be­low.

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Much ado has been made about Toshirô Mifune’s act­ing as the ban­dit Tajomaru, but all of the per­for­mances are su­perb. This time around I was struck by the qual­i­ty of Masayuki Mori’s por­tray­al of Takehiro, a char­ac­ter whose trans­for­ma­tion from sto­ry to sto­ry is even more wide-rang­ing than Mifune’s. At least Mifune did not have to play a dead man. This leads to the creepi­est part of the film. The tes­ti­mony of the late Takehiro comes through the em­ploy­ment of a lo­cal medi­um.

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Quite pos­si­bly the ugli­est wom­an ever, a se­quence fol­lows with Takehiro’s lo-fi and tor­ment­ed voice lip-synched to the medium’s trance thrash­ings. I hadn’t made con­nec­tions be­tween this and Ringu, but now that I have it seems al­most cer­tain that Ringu takes some of its cues from this scene. The film is full of sex and vi­o­lence, but it nev­er gets old since the sus­pense built by the con­flict­ing tes­ti­monies re­fresh­es the un­cer­tain­ty. The use of sus­pense is wor­thy of Hitchcock, es­pe­cial­ly in terms of de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tion, since just about every­one claims to have killed Takehiro [in­clud­ing Takehiro] in­stead of the ex­pect­ed de­nials.

Quite sim­ply, Rashômon is a good movie be­cause its foun­da­tion is good sto­ry­telling. It be­comes a great film due to its ad­di­tion­al philo­soph­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of truth, but the ex­cel­lent act­ing makes this dis­cus­sion seem nat­u­ral and the film avoids be­com­ing over­ly preachy, over­ly far­ci­cal or over­ly trag­ic and in­stead seems as nat­u­ral as a sum­mer rain­storm.

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Criterion Essay by Stephen Prince.
Kurosawa on Rashomon.
Roger Ebert re­view.
Dan Schneider Review.
• Watch the whole movie on Google Video.

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