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.