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Last night I sat round and watched Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa's ninety fifty film based off the short story, 'In a Bamboo Grove' by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and staring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, both of who would star in a number of Kurosawa's films throughout the years.

The film concerns itself with the murder of a husband (Masayuki Mori) and the stories that are told, in court by the bandit (Mifune), the wife (Machiko Kyo), and the husband's spirit through a medium (a very creepy Fumiko Honma). Narrated from each point of view, the film unfolds in misdirects and misinformation, leaving you to pick your way through to the truth, where, at the end, the woodsman, Shimura, reveals that he saw the entire incident upon the road.

The film suffers from being a touch heavy handed, in that it wants, through the woodsman and priest, to make a statement about the quality of human beings, and its final scenes don't ring true with what the rest of the film has laid out: why would such a poor man, who is reduced to stealing a pearl inlaid dagger after witnessing the murder, suddenly take the child into his care? Perhaps it's selfless, perhaps it shows how affected he has been after witnessing the mismatched stories, but the final steps of the film, where Kurosawa wants to make a happy statement about the quality of human beings, simply doesn't ring true in my admittedly cynical opinion. Outside that moment, however, the rest of it is done well, and the film unfolds nicely, giving enough screen time to the bandit, wife, and dead husband to create the mystery and sustain it for each part to provide a surprising twist or addition, without relying on shock or stupidity.

The true attraction of watching Rashomon is the joy in how this is done. Truthfully, I probably I enjoy other Kurosawa films more: Seven Samurai is one of my favourite epics, and Yojimbo, and even it's sequel, Sanjuro, show a more amusing, charismatic Mifune. But none of them have the layering technique that Rashomon does. It's an interesting trick to watch--one that I can watch over and over again, in fact--to see a narrative laid out in false moves, but to yet keep the viewer there, and to create, through the characters, a sense of expectation that when the final story is revealed, it will resonate the strongest out of the three while still providing an element of surprise and satisfaction. There a films in which the technique doesn't work. Take the Usual Suspects, for example. The end of that film is telegraphed very early on--so early, in fact, that you'd have to be both blind and deaf not to figure out that disabled Kevin Spacey was in fact the great crime lord in disguise. The mistake in the narrative is by making Spacey's character important to the criminals at the centre of it. Since, given the characters limitations, and the very unnecessary way he contributes to the crime that unfolds, he can only occupy a twist space: an empty narrative space that the audience will, if given the time, question the importance of right until the final reveal is given, and that space is shown to occupy the villain or hero. Kurosawa's film, in comparison, neatly avoids this by giving each character an important space to occupy within the narrative from the beginning, which allows for the characters and the story to evolve out of their roles, rather than to have the role dropped onto them at the end.

Anyhow, enough of that. It's a cool film, and if you've never seen it, do yourself a favour and find it. Here's the original trailer, courtesy of youtube:


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Jul. 16th, 2008 12:16 pm (UTC)
I've only seen it once but I loved it... particularly the final version of the events... the contrast in the way it was presented...

Jul. 16th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
yeah, it works very nicely, i find.
Jul. 16th, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen Rashomon, but now I'll try to track it down.

On The Usual Suspects though (you knew this was coming from someone, didn't you?), isn't it really a double twist? You figure out that Spacey is probably an unreliable narrator, sure, but then there's that scene where the cop confronts Spacey with all of the evidence that Gabriel Byrne was Keyzer Soze. I was totally suckered by that -- "Holy shit, I'm an idiot, of course it isn't the cripple! It's the other guy you'd least expect!" Then, when the real twist comes, you're back to not expecting it again. At least, I was.
Jul. 16th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
that first twist can't have left much of an impression on me, given i can only vaguely remember it. heh. i dunno, to me it was just so obvious it was spacey. he should've worn a t-shirt that said, 'hi, i'm keyzer soze.'
Jul. 16th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
Can you believe I still haven't seen Rashomon? Thanks for the reminder, it's on my list now!
Jul. 16th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
you heathen!

(and you worked at a video store, too)
Jul. 16th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
Pfffft, I managed a video store, and one known for its excellent foreign films selection too!
Jul. 16th, 2008 03:07 pm (UTC)
oh. well. why didn't you say ;P
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