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VINE VOICEon March 30, 2002
If you have never seen this film, you will come to it and find it very familiar. That's because Rashomon has become part of the world's consciousness & lexicon. It's story of an action involving several participants, each with their own differing version of the truth, has been elaborated and riffed-on by many others since it appeared on the world's stage in the 50's.

So, it is an old movie, often imitated. And yet, I found it fresh and involving and well worth a look. As Robert Altman says on the DVD extras, many of the camera techniques, particularly shooting directly at the sun and allowing lens flare, were taboo-breaking and radically new when this film appeared. Now, that is put in as a joke in Shrek.

So you come to Rashomon not to be overwhelmed with its "newness" and the refreshing change of first encountering Japanese cinema and acting styles. No, you come to Rashomon as to an old master, to appreciate its lasting impression of the universality of human foibles and passions and the illusory nature of truth.

A rape and murder have occured in a woods. We hear and see different versions of the same encounter. Who is telling the truth? Is there an absolute objective truth, or does every teller of the tale inherently only tell the truth as he sees it? And if everyone is a "liar" and there is no absolute truth, what is the point of anything?

Don't let the heavy questions mislead you. Rashomon moves quickly, fluidly and gracefully, telling its story with economy and, to me, humor. Much is made of the dark philosophy underneath the theme, but I find great sardonic humor in the film. One example, the fight between the thief & the man as related by the woodcutter:it is messy and unheroic, sweaty, breathless and awkward and the antithesis of the stylized balletic sword fights found in, even Kurosawa's, samurai movies.

In the end, as familiar and much copied as Rashomon has been, it is still like no other film. It is unique, and the result of a master filmaker's vision, unified and beautiful and unforgettable.
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Somewhat curiously, Japanese critics were not enthusiastic about RASHOMON when it was released in 1950 Japan. Today, however, RASHOMON is generally considered to be the film that introduced both master director Akira Kurosawa and Japanese cinema to the west; it is also often cited as the film that prompted The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create an award for Best Foreign Language film. It is widely regarded as a masterwork of world cinema.

Set in 12th Century Japan, the film's premise is at once both very simple and very complex. A man is found dead in a forrest, and several people are brought forward to give testimony in the matter. In some respects their accounts agree--but in numerous others, some obvious and some very subtle, their stories differ. As each character gives his or her version of events, the various differences pile higher and higher, leaving the viewer to wonder at the motivations involved.

Has each person simply interpreted the same facts in different ways? Do they deliberately lie in order to protect themselves? Are the differences in their stories deliberate or subconcious? The film offers no easy answers. Some have criticized the film for seeming to state that there is no such thing as ultimate truth, but RASHOMON is more complex than this: it is essentially a meditation on our inability, be it deliberate or unintentional, to reach more than an approximation of ultimate truth due to the very nature of humanity itself.

Much has been written about the look of the film, which is indeed memorable. Filmed by Kazuo Miyagawa, it presents the forrest as a living, breathing entity; the images are powerful, the editing remarkable. No less so are the performances, which require the various actors to shift in behavior as each person involved gives their own account of the event; this is particularly true of Toshiro Mifune, a frequent performer in Kurosawa films, and actress Machiko Kyō. But whether lead or supporting player, all performaces are equally astonishing.

The film has been extremely, extremely influential over the years, and as such it no longer has quite the same "shock of the new" that it had for audiences of the 1950s; nonetheless, this is director Kurosawa working very close to the height of his power, and while he would create other films that equalled and bested RASHOMON, it remains among his masterworks. The Criterion edition is quite fine, offering a near-pristine print with your choice of subtitles or dubbing (the former is recommended) and several memorable extras. Strongly recommended for fans of world cinema.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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on April 2, 2002
** UPDATED NOV-11-2012: ADDED REVIEW OF 2012 CRITERION BLU-RAY **

Criterion's 2012 Region-A Blu-ray of RASHOMON is the result of a 2008 digital restoration of the 1951 Japanese classic. The original negative of the film was destroyed in the 1970s. The next best surviving material is a 1962 35mm print, which was used for this restoration. The print was digitally scanned at 4K resolution in 2008, followed by a frame-by-frame digital cleanup. The result, as presented on the 2012 Blu-ray and its corresponding DVD, is an improvement in terms of better-looking black and white level, less flickering, a little more picture on all four sides of the screen (about 30 pixels more on the left and right sides, and less on top and bottom), and, of course, more details on the high-def picture on the Blu-ray. The cleanup of the blemishes and scratches yielded a very nice picture, but then the old 2002 Criterion DVD looks pretty clean already. One major improvement from the old DVD to the new Blu-ray/DVD is the audio. As I wrote in my original review, the 2002 DVD sounds very hissy. The 2012 Blu-ray/DVD, however, has that remedied big time. I uploaded a video clip comparison (see comment section for the link) so you may listen for yourself. The new editions have very little hiss. But the underlying audio is still showing its age. Dialogs are still not the crispest, even though a high bit-rate LPCM 1.0 is used.

The 2012 Blu-ray & DVD include all the old bonus features, and a booklet with all the essays found on the 2002 DVD. On the Blu-ray, all the video extras are presented in hi-def 1080i picture, even though the source material seems to be originally in standard-def (hence, upconversion).

Two new bonuses are on the 2012 Blu-ray/DVD. An 16-minute audio-only piece contains a 1961 interview of actor Takashi Shimura by film critic Gideon Bachamann, with Donald Richie serving as the interpreter. And an informative 68-minute featurette reunites many crew members almost 60 years after the film was made, while offering many first-hand details about the making of the film.

** REVIEW OF 2002 CRITERION DVD POSTED APR-02-2002 **

RASHOMON, Kurosawa's classic existential masterpiece, is Japan's CITIZEN KANE. It offers some rather profound insights on the human condition while also being a technical and artistic tour de force. Like KANE, RASHOMON also uses a nonlinear, fragmented narrative to show the multiplicity and unfathomability of human nature. With an engaging murder mystery as its basis, RASHOMON should please film enthusiasts and novices alike.

The restored video transfer on this Criterion DVD edition makes the film look as good as new. Blemishes that used to be on older video releases have been digitally cleaned up. Sharpness and contrast, while not spectacularly good, are excellent (to provide a point of reference, it looks much cleaner than Criterion's SEVEN SAMURAI DVD). The original Japanese mono soundtrack is rather hissy, however. A cleaner English dub track is included, but voice acting is sub-par (actually, in my opinion, terrible; in one instance, it is even out of synch with the action).

The analytical audio commentary by Donald Richie is well-rounded, covering the themes, photography, acting, editing, and music of the film. The booklet includes English tranlations of the two short stories that inspired the film, and an excerpt from Kurosawa's autobiography that pertains to RASHOMON. In a 16-minute excerpt from a Japanese documentary about the film's cinematographer, various camera techniques used in the film are revealed.

This DVD is encoded for Region 1 only. For those who keep track of things like this, Criterion has only made a handful of Region 1 DVDs, which include ARMAGEDDON, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, CHASING AMY, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, GIMME SHELTER, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, HIGH AND LOW, KWAIDAN, NOTORIOUS, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, RASHOMON, THE ROCK, SAMURAI I, II, and III, SANJURO, SEVEN SAMURAI (second printing), THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET, THE VANISHING, and YOJIMBO.
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on February 13, 2002
The first time this movie told its story, I sat there almost bored, but the second time my interest was perked, and by the fourth time, I was mesmerized. Confused? This movie has that tendency. It's basic "hook" is that 4 people tell very different versions of the same story, and each time you hear it, your faith in reality is shaken just a little bit. Even in the end, you won't know left from right, but you'll probably have a grin from ear to ear.
Rashamon is a masterpiece because of the utter ease in which all this flows. This movie often made me wonder just how on earth it was conceived and created in the first place. The audience is effortlessly introduced to the story as if it were an after-thought, just some gossip between peasants. A noble samurai and his loving wife are attacked by a ruthless bandit on the highway. The samurai is tortured and killed, and the wife raped. Or is that really what happened? The wild bandit gives a very different version of the story, and then, amazingly enough, the dead samurai speaks through a medium and tells HIS version. After all three witnesses speak, you don't know who is the villian and who is the hero.
And yet, amazingly enough, the movie digs deeper, and one of the peasants tells HIS version of the story, as he witnessed it from behind a bush. As I sat watching this final telling in utter disbelief, I suddenly thought: I have just watched the same thing 4 times in a row, and never once was bored!
Of course, Toshiro Mifune gives a typically outstanding performance, yet this film is all about Kurosawa, the master director working behind the scenes. Every shot and edit is in perfect place, nothing the director does undercuts his actors or his story. There are no harsh angles like in Kubrick, or sappy endings from Spielberg. Even the strong, general themes from directors like Ford are muted to serve the movie as a whole, complete story. And what a story it is...
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VINE VOICEon August 7, 2010
Rashomon was the first movie where Akira Kurosawa really found his filmmaking voice.

Visually, Rashomon is stunning. The techniques used by Kurosawa were years ahead of their time. The outdoor filming, especially in the forest, gives the film an authenticity that you just can't get on a soundstage.

As far as the story goes, there is enough ambiguity to keep people discussing this movie for decades. Is it about lying? Distorted memories? People lying to themselves? Selfishness? Or is it about all of the above?

Kurosawa's story of a murder told from four different points of view that come across with distinctly different details is captivating. In the end we still aren't 100% sure exactly what happened, although we have a fairly good idea. Toshiro Mifune is, as he often is, over the top as the bandit. But being Toshiro Mifune over the top works extremely well. It comes across as genuine, and not just hammy acting. Mifune would take this performance and refine it further in Seven Samurai just four years later.

As for the Essential Art House DVD, it is the Criterion version without the extras. The picture quality is quite good, as the contrast is just about perfect, and the picture has a sharpness and clarity that is very pleasing. The sound doesn't fare quite so well, as there is a lot of hiss and crackling to be heard, but not so much as to be a deal breaker. The voices come through clearly, as does the rain and other forest sounds.

Why buy this version? Price. It is roughly half the cost of the fully loaded Criterion release, so that makes it a lot easier to make the purchase. Yes, the extras on the full Criterion version are quite good, but if you're on the fence about buying the movie this would be the one to get (especially if price is a major consideration).
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on June 16, 2006
Rashomon still contains hope that humankind on planet Earth may be a sort of "WORK-IN-PROGRESS".

FIRST OFF - This is the film where numerous perspectives/viewpoints of the same event illustrate rather persuasively how [literally] there are often two or more sides to most stories. The central event in this story has been the basis of many similar themes since. The Roshomon knock-off that is the most fun to watch and most illuminating to me is probably an episode of "All IN THE FAMILY" titled, "EVERYBODY TELLS THE TRUTH". Of course, Archie Bunker does not deal in subtlety, so it is an interesting and comical take on the Roshomon theme.

Another similar treatment, but this time a drama, is on the big screen and features Paul Newman, "The Outrage", from 1964, with William Shatner, Lawrence Harvey and Claire Bloom as co-stars. This film is hard to find, but well worth the effort.

RAMBLING ON ABOUT "RASHOMON":

This film is NOT an easy thing to watch. In English it is somewhat less effective and in Japanese one must contend with the subtitles. Still, I suggest the Japanese with subtitles. Be aware, however, that this is a highly visual film so avoid getting bogged down in the subtitles. More than any other film I have seen, "Rashomon" shows rather than tells, so be prepared to pay very close attention to seemingly small details. Like Kubrick, everything you see and the way you see it has been reduced or altered to be just what is needed for the story. In essence, this is a rather stark though epic production and it may take a few viewings to truly appreciate "Rashomon's" true splendor and significance. It is a short movie that I wished was longer though I was quite satisfied with the ending.

WHAT THIS FILM IS ABOUT: [Without giving away the plot of course.]

HOPE! Through the re-enactment of some perceptional permutations and nuances of a tragic event we are almost left with the conclusion that human beings are fatally-flawed, evil, weak beings fueled by lust and driven with selfish motives and little else.

THE MESSAGE OF HOPE:

But then there is a ray of hope in the form of a helpless abandoned infant and what follows. What we see is intrinsically-flawed humans that through self-awareness may seek to improve their character. If this is true, maybe then through self-awareness, human flaws may be intrinsic but solvable over time making us flawed but NOT FATALLY FLAWED! Sentience may over time be our deliverance in the form of character and integrity. If this is true, then humans are not naturally depraved and everything may not be preordained. Perhaps we are a kind of "work-in-progress". What a nice thought, though Kurosawa gives it to us rather like castor oil.

ABOUT THE DVD:

This is a Criterion Collection DVD and that speaks for itself. Here, however, the best special feature is the rather large booklet that is included with the DVD. The transfer is excellent for a 55-year-old black and white film and it is in Full Screen Format.

LAST THOUGHTS: A FILM THAT MAY NEED TO BE SEE MORE THAN ONCE TO FULLY APPRECIATE

ALSO RECOMMENDED TO VIEW:

--* "EVERYBODY TELLS THE TRUTH", ALL IN THE FAMILY - episode 58, 1973

--* "THE OUTRAGE", Martin Ritt, 1964
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A man is dead, a woman was raped, and that's all that can be definitely said. Somebody has committed murder, but nobody knows whodunnit.

And that's the basic plot of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon," a hauntingly pessimistic look at how the "truth" can be warped and changed by different people's perspectives. It's a magnificently eerie piece of work, filled with suspense and some really astounding acting -- particularly from Toshiro Mifune as a laughing bandit.

At the Rashomon Gate in eleventh-century Japan, a man (Kichijiro Ueda) takes shelter with a priest (Minoru Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) during a rainstorm.

The woodcutter is depressed and the priest is horrified, over a recent crime: the vicious bandit Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune) was arrested for murdering a man named Takehiro (Masayuki Mori) and raping his wife Masako (Machiko Kyô). But when taken before the police, Tajômaru claims that he had his fun with the woman and killed her husband honorably in a fight.

But Masako begs to differ; she claims to be the victim first of the sadistic bandit, then of her cold-hearted husband, whom she says she stabbed. And when a medium calls up the spirit of Takehiro, he claims that Masako was unfaithful, asking the bandit to murder him, then spurned by Tajômaru. Her actions drove Takehiro to suicide. But the woodcutter himself claims to have seen the altercation -- and his version is wildly different from them all.

During the filming of "Rashomon," director Akira Kurosawa stated that the film is a reflection of life, which doesn't always have clear meanings. The same could be said of truth. Questions are raised by the events of "Rashomon," but given no easy answers -- sometimes no answers at all (my biggest question was how Masako's gown stays so white if she's always weeping on the ground).

Are Kurosawa's insights dark and depressing? In a fascinating, hypnotic way... yes. But while calmly pointing out the ability of human beings to lie even to themselves, he acknowledges that there's good in there too. The illusions and innocence of the young priest are stripped away, yet the knowledge of how despicable people can be is tempered with the knowledge that "real" truth isn't necessary to have goodness.

And Kurosawa's directorial skill is no less striking -- light and shadow whirl and dance in a frankly beautiful woodland setting, serving as a pretty backdrop for some very ugly acts. Kurosawa was even brave enough to touch on the unique idea of having the deceased testify. The spinechilling seance scene, starring a downright spooky, stark-faced Fumiko Honma, is a haunting classic scene.

And the masterful fight scenes deserve an extra shout-out -- they reflect the person telling the story. Tajomaru's are more stylized and choreographed, while the woodcutter just sees two freaked-out guys rolling and staggering with swords.

Toshirô Mifune chews the scenery with gusto as the barbarian bandit, especially with that crazy hyena laugh. Machiko Kyô initially seems to be overacting, until you see how unhinged her character has become, and Masayuki Mori does a pretty solid job for a guy tied to a tree. Minoru Chiaki and Takashi Shimura add an extra dimension as the innocent young priest and the tormented woodcutter.

Gloomy, thought-provoking and ultimately quite freaky, "Rashomon" still defies conventional filmmaking, brilliantly crafted and exceptionally directed. And that's the truth.
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VINE VOICEon April 18, 2002
With great action and memorable characters, Akira Kurosawa's "RASHOMON" is perhaps the first and probably the best film ever to investigate the philosophy of truth and justice and the inherent conflict with our fallibly subjective attempts to be objective. Is this the first film to fully embrace relativism?

Certainly somewhat existential and post modern in its central conceit, this exceptionally absorbing drama still resonates with a timely and provocative tale of the illusive nature of so-called Truth.

Through an ingenious use of camera and flashbacks, Kurosawa reveals the seemingly paradoxical complexities of human nature as four people -- all witnesses to one degree or another -- recount different versions of the story of a man's murder and the rape of his wife. Toshiro Mifune gives another commanding performance in this eloquent masterwork that secured his international stardom.

With a restored image and sound, this classic revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema to a global audience. Loaded with extras, including a video introduction by Robert Altman and a brilliant commentary by Japanese film historian Donald Richie. Excerpts are also included from "The World of Kazuo Miyagawa," a documentary about Rashomon's incredible cinematographer.

Even in the pantheon of our greatest filmmakers, Kurosawa stands apart as an intellectual and an artist. His best films have a shimmering beauty and a visceral impact while also engaging the mind. A rare feat. This 1950 masterpiece is an essential element of any serious digital library.
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on July 21, 2006
Rashomon was a film I seriously never heard about until I took a film class at my College a few years back. Boy was I surprised how well this popular movie was shot, the camera trickery through the woods is spectacular, I love how the sun blazes and blinds the camera in certain shots. There are five different points of view throughtout the film and I think the last take on what really happened to the young married couple is the probably the truth and the best story of Rashomon. Of course this film is foreign so don't forget to set the subtitles on your DVD player. A fabulous and etertaining DVD, don't skip this one. Enjoy!
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on June 3, 2002
Kurosawa meets World; World loves Kurosawa. *Rashomon*, the director's first major picture to find wide release, is typically brilliant and innovative. If its central conceit -- 4 different perspectives on 1 incident -- doesn't seem all that new, well, it WAS new in 1950. People were blown away by this, having never seen anything like it before (the movie won all sorts of prizes and Oscars). This grim parable is set in 11th century feudal Japan, involving the rape of a woman and the murder of her husband in an empty grove in a forest. The rape and murder is told and re-told, with wildly varying details, by the principals -- the Bandit, the Woman, and her dead Husband's Spirit -- as well as by an ancillary witness, The Woodcutter, who stumbles upon the scene after the fact. As the commentator on this Criterion edition says, all the stories are true and none of them are true. The theme of the movie is the relativism of memory, incident, and experience. (Alain Resnais must have been heavily influenced by this particular film.) As justly famous as *Rashomon* is, I still feel that it's not quite a masterpiece, and certainly not up to Kurosawa's later standards: first of all, he has the actors, especially the Bandit and the Woman overact terribly . . . but in extenuation of the performances, it must be said that this style of acting was apparently a tradition in Japanese cinema. Mifune as the Bandit suffers the most -- Kurosawa has the poor guy behave like a rabid gibbon. (One half-expects him to climb a tree.) Secondly, the torrential downpour during the "framing" segments wherein the secondary characters are telling the story of the murder and rape is way over-the-top. It looks like the spray of several giant firehoses pointed skyward off-camera -- which is exactly what it is. Finally, there are too many pauses in the film, too much stretching-out time between action, which might make some viewers itchy from boredom. (Not much excuse for this, considering the tightness of the story's ingenious construction.) Well, obviously I'm picking nits. Though I feel *Rashomon* doesn't quite equal the director's later masterpieces (*Ikiru*, *Seven Samurai*, *The Hidden Fortress*, etc. etc. etc. for the next couple decades), this is still a massively influential movie -- a GREAT movie, an absolute necessity for Kurosawa devotees. By the way, it was re-made in America several years later: called *The Outrage*, it featured Paul Newman, absurdly made-up as a Mexican, in the Bandit role. [The best features on Criterion's DVD are the booklets inside: the complete short stories on which Kurosawa based his film. Outstanding.]
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