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5.0 out of 5 stars What happened -- and what didn't, June 21, 2008
This review is from: Rashomon (DVD)
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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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 19, 2008 7:17:23 PM PDT
Damon Enola says:
Why should someone get this DVD and not the Criterion DVD released years ago?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 24, 2008 12:27:34 PM PDT
That's a very good question. I've always appreciated Criterion's standard of excellence but there have been a few films that did not get the treatment they deserved. I don't own either of versions of this film on DVD but I love the movie.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 28, 2010 6:50:26 PM PDT
There's some confusion here. Essential Art House dvd's are in fact Criterion Collection dvd's. A selection of film classics has been provided at a bargain cost and in somewhat simpler packaging. The quality is the same.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2010 7:02:21 AM PDT
Erik Rupp says:
This DVD is usually less than half the cost of the Criterion version.

As much as I love Kurosawa and enjoy the extras Criterion puts on their DVD's it does get pretty expensive to buy all of his movies from the Criterion Collection. I bought this version because I no longer wanted to wait to see it. The transfer is the same as the regular Criterion version.
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