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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Rashomon (1950)

Updated: Oct 12, 2022


What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: What is truth, and are men capable of telling the truth.


Plot Summary: A woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) are sitting beneath the Rashomon city gate to stay dry in a downpour when a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) joins them, and they begin recounting the testimony of a bandit (Toshiro Mifune), a Samurai (Mayayuki Mori), and his wife (Machiko Kyo). Each testifies about a rape and murder with each of the three telling their own version of the story with the teller admitting to being the murder. The three conflicting and disturbing stories contradict each other to the bafflement of the woodcutter and priest. Can these stories be reconciled, and can it be determined what really happened?


Cast:

  • Akira Kurosawa, Director/Writer

  • Shinobu Hashimoto, Co-Writer

  • Takashi Shimura as Kikori, the woodcutter

  • Minoru Chiaki as Tabi Hōshi, the priest

  • Kichijiro Ueda as the listener, a common person

  • Toshiro Mifune as Tajōmaru, the bandit

  • Machiko Kyō as the Samurai's wife

  • Masayuki Mori as the Samurai, the husband

  • Noriko Honma as Miko, the medium

  • Daisuke Katō as Houben, the policeman

*Recognition:

  • The film was originally released in Japan on August 25, 1950.

  • The film performed well at the domestic Japanese box office, where it was one of the top ten highest-earning films of the year. It also performed well overseas, becoming Kurosawa's first major international hit.

  • Rashomon famously appeared at the 1951 Venice Film Festival despite backlash from Japanese critics and the government on the grounds that it was "not [representative enough] of the Japanese movie industry". Despite this, Rashomon won both the Italian Critics Award and the Golden Lion award given to the most outstanding film at the festival.

  • Rashomon was then subsequently released theatrically in the United States by RKO Radio Pictures with English subtitles on December 26, 1951.

  • The film won an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 for being "the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1951" (the current Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film wasn't introduced until 1956). The following year, when it was eligible for consideration in other Academy Award categories, it was nominated for Best Art Direction for a Black-and-White Film.

  • Rashomon currently holds a 98% on RT, a 98 score on Metacritic, and a 4.2 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

  • Rashomon has gone on to have a sterling legacy among critics appearing on all of the following greatest movie lists:

    • 5th – Top ten list in 1950, Kinema Junpo

    • 10th – Directors' Top Ten Poll in 1992, Sight & Sound

    • 10th - 100 Greatest Films list in 2000 The Village Voice

    • 76th - "Top 100 Essential Films of All Time" by the National Society of Film Critics in 2002.

    • 9th – Directors' Top Ten Poll in 2002, Sight & Sound

    • 13th - Critics' poll in 2002, Sight & Sound

    • 290th – Empire's The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time in 2008, Empire

    • Included - 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die by Steven Jay Schneider in 2003.

    • 7th – Kinema Junpo's The Greatest Japanese Films of All Time in 2009.

    • 22nd – Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.

    • 26th - Critics' poll, 100 Greatest Films of All Time, Sight & Sound magazine (2012)

    • 18th - Directors' poll, 100 Greatest Films of All Time, Sight & Sound magazine (2012)

    • 4th - BBC's list of "100 greatest foreign language films" in 2018.

    • Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four and included it in his Great Movies list.

  • Finally, the Rashomon Effect, used to describe the phenomenon of the unreliability of eyewitnesses and is the situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved, and is a storytelling and writing method in cinema meant to provide different perspectives and points of view of the same incident, derives its name from the film.

Did You Know:

  • Rashomon is often credited as the reason the Academy created the "Best Foreign Film" category.

  • This film is often given credit for the first time a camera was pointed directly at the sun. In Akira Kurosawa's biography, he gives credit to his cinematographer for "inventing" it and himself for using it, but years later, during commentary that preceded the TV showing of the film, the head of the studio claimed credit. Kurosawa bitterly denied this claim.

  • During shooting, the cast approached Kurosawa en masse with the script and asked him, "What does it mean?" The answer Akira Kurosawa gave at that time and also in his biography is that Rashomon is a reflection of life, and life does not always have clear meanings.

  • Rashomon is a very early use of the "hand-held" camera technique. This is seen when the camera follows the characters closely through the woods.

  • In the downpour scenes showing the Rashomon Gate, Akira Kurosawa found that the rain in the background simply wouldn't show up against the light gray backdrop. To solve this problem, the crew ended up tinting the rain by pouring black ink into the tank of the rain machine. The ink is clearly visible on the Woodcutter's face just before the rain stops.

  • Machiko Kyô, who plays the wife character in the movie, was the last surviving member of the cast before dying in 2019 at the age of 95.

  • The film consists of 407 separate shots - more than twice the usual number for a film of this length at the time.

Best Performance: Toshiro Mifune (Tajomaru)/Takashi Shimura (the woodcutter)

Best Secondary Performance: Machiko Kyō (Wife)/Akira Kurosawa (Director/Writer)

Most Charismatic Award: Minoru Chiaki (Priest)/Toshiro Mifune (Tajomaru)

Best Scene:

  • Finding the Body

  • The Bandit's Story

  • The Wife's Story

  • The Samurai's Story

  • The Woodcutter's Story

  • Who took the dagger?

Favorite Scene: The Woodcutter's Story

Most Indelible Moment: The Samurai's Story


In Memorium:

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Commoner: We all want to forget something, so we tell stories. It's easier that way.


Commoner : Well, men are only men. That's why they lie. They can't tell the truth, even to themselves. Priest : That may be true. Because men are weak, they lie to deceive themselves. Commoner : Not another sermon! I don't mind a lie if it's interesting.


Commoner: It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves.


Commoner: Women use their tears to fool everyone. They even fool themselves.


Commoner: But is there anyone who's really good? Maybe goodness is just make-believe.

Priest: What a frightening...

Commoner: Man just wants to forget the bad stuff, and believe in the made-up good stuff. It's easier that way.


Commoner : It sounded interesting, at least while I kept out of the rain. But if it's a sermon, I'd sooner listen to the rain.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6.75

Impact/Significance: 8.25

Novelty: 10

Classic-ness: 6.5

Rewatchability: 6.75

Audience Score: 9 (87% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 47.25


Remaining Questions:

  • Which story, if any, do you think is true?

  • Is this a nihilistic film, a pragmatic film, or a hopeful film?

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