"Well, men are only men. That's why they lie. They can't tell the truth, even to themselves."
Rashomon was the first film from critically acclaimed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, that I got to see. I was expecting some great things from this film considering it ranks among the best films in history. The black and white cinematography was breathtaking and there were some great long shots, but the story fell flat and the performances here were a bit theatrical for my taste. The film is only 85 minutes long, but it seemed to drag forever. The film was made in 1950 so I can imagine there were several inventive elements incorporated here, but they really don't stand out today because we've seen those tricks so many times now. For example, it is claimed that this was the first time that a camera was pointed directly at the sun, but of course that doesn't have an effect on the viewer today. However, I've seen many other classic films which I thought still managed to seduce me and have timed really well, but it wasn't the case with Rashomon. The film focuses on different realities and perceptions about humanity, but in doing so it really never manages to find a deep meaning. It focuses on the lies we tell, our selfish desires, and our pursuit or need to believe in the goodness of humanity (reflected through the Priest in this film), but ultimately it plays down to discovering that sometimes reality is just a matter of perception and differing point of views. "Rashomon is a reflection of life, and life does not always have clear meaning," is what Kurosawa would say about this film when approached about its meaning. What I can say about Rashomon is that the cinematography is great and the lighting effects were also astonishing for its time.
The film takes place during a heavy rain storm (classic trade mark from Kurosawa) as a preist (Minoru Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) are taking refuge from the rain and talking about a terrible crime that has been committed. A peasant (Kichijiro Ueda) who is unfamiliar with what they are talking about joins the conversation and the two men recount the events of what they consider the most horrific crime they have experienced. The woodcutter happened to discover the body of a samurai three days ago as he walked across the woods and was summoned to testify at a trial for the samurai's murder. The priest also has to testify since he had run into the samurai (Machiko Kyo) and his wife (Masayuki Mori) as they were passing through the town before the murder took place. The woodcutter and the priest then recount what they heard from the three direct witnesses of the murder: the suspected bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune) who apparently raped the wife and killed the samurai, the wife, and the samurai himself who testifies through a medium. They all give different accounts of what took place, and each account is as unreasonable as the next. The story is told in the form of flashbacks through the perception of each witness.
The main issue I had with the film is that the horrendous crime never felt like it was that terrible or memorable to begin with. It was just a common crime, a terrible one, but nothing to have an existential or philosophical debate about. Besides the main concern they had wasn't because a murder was committed but rather that everyone seemed to be lying about what happened. They couldn't find a reasonable explanation for an unreasonable act. The flashbacks were sort of interesting despite me not liking the performances, and I really liked the fighting choreography staged near the end between the bandit and the samurai. It was nothing you would expect from a japanese samurai film. That was probably my favorite scene in this film and it had some funny moments as well. I can see the influence the director has had in modern films like Vantage Point or The Usual Suspects, but despite that I had a difficult time carrying about this movie. Well I guess I'm on the minority here, but Kurosawa would have to accept my opinion and the perception I had of this film because that is what this film is really about: differing perceptions of what we believe to be real.