Rashomon (1950) Analysis – Truth in Life is Important. But Does it Really Exist ?


Rashomon (1950) is undoubtedly the best film of Akira Kurosawa (sorry not to hurt any sentiments of seven samurai), but Rashomon is closest to what a perfect film could be. Before diving deep into the analysis, let’s explore what Rashomon is about.

The Premise

Rashomon revolves around a heinous crime and its aftermath which is recalled from four different perspectives. The film begins with three men, the priest, the woodcutter, and the commoner, at the Rashomon gate discussing a murder which happened recently. The woodcutter exclaims that he found the body of a dead samurai three days ago in the forest while on the hunt for wood.

The Samurai or the noble man’s wife accuses the bandit, played by Toshiro Mifune, of raping her and killing her husband, while the bandit and the noble man’s account of the same story differs. Yes, the nobleman comes back from the dead to narrate his story, and thus we come across a very famous line, Dead men tell no lies, but do they? Well, there is no way to really reconcile as there is no ending to the story, which is kind of disturbing, psychologically.

Akira Kurosawa leaves no hints to really trace the authenticity of the four different narratives. The Bandit is put to trial and as per his Genius Camera set-up – the accused and the witnesses talk to the camera, rather than a character or a judge in the film. Thus, Kurosawa leaves on us to decide who is telling the truth or maybe all of them are lying. Again, there is no way to really know ‘what is the actual true story.

“Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.” – Akira Kurosawa

What Makes Rashomon an Important Film?

Rashomon explores the idea that no single individual’s version of ‘what happened’ can be trusted, and hints that ‘truth’ may ultimately be unknowable. Then, is History fiction or factual data? We can’t really know the truth whether a particular event really happened in history or it is just a fable we keep telling from generation to generation.

The same is the case with the state of news and trend of Fake News around us, which has a lot of Rashomon effect to it, than actual authenticity. We as humans, tell facts as stories, rather than narrating the facts itself, can’t blame, it is in our virtue to tell lies or a distorted version of the truth.

As Kurosawa quotes,

“This script (Rashomon) portrays such human beings — the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people 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.”

Artists have applied the “Rashomon Impact” to law, philosophy, psychology, and most important films. Television series like – The Affair, True Detective, American Crime, Big Little Lies, The Sinner – that involve a similar Rashomon effect – the blend Kurosawa used in his film. Akira Kurosawa made such a great impact on storytelling through a singular film that the word Rashomon gained a place in the dictionary itself.

Rashomon is an Epitome of Purely Independent Cinema

Rashomon only involves three different set-ups where the story usually happens. The forest – the crime scene, The Rashomon gate – where the crime is discussed and an Open Courtroom – where the accused and witnesses narrate their story to the camera. Rashomon is an epitome of Purely Independent Cinema, where Akira Kurosawa only through the use of Three different locations and Six different Characters creates a masterpiece, which is the potential of a well-written drama.

Film-making is not Objective, but Perspective.

A variety of perspectives help us to realize that there is no objective truth in filmmaking, even in documentaries. Storytelling is a complex process where we narrate stories as per our own human experience. As Andrei Tarkovsky said, A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books, similarly, the same story told by a thousand different people is a thousand different stories, and that is what our pick of Kurosawa’s best film Rashomon is about, a question of “What’s actually true when four different narrations of the same story produce a different perspective every time.

Rashomon is an aid to Filmmakers around the world, as it makes us believe in the fact that a similar story (which has already been filmed) can be narrated again, as it would involve their own personal perspective and experiences. Each filmmaker is free to tell their own version of the truth because, in actual, Truth is all about perspective.

Rashomon is streaming on Netflix.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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