Movie review: Rashomon (1950)

This black and white classic is the product of a collaboration between two Japanese greats in the film world: director Akira Kurosawa and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa.

Rashomon explores what is meant by truth. The film consists of a rape and murder told through the eyes of several different people during interrogations or at a chance encounter in a crumbling building during a downpour. None of the stories are the same but differ in key points, suggesting that there is no truth and that eyewitness accounts vary based on the eye witnessing the event. “Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves,” purports the outsider hearing the tale recounted from different viewpoints.

Rashomon is a classic not only for its subject matter and narrative structure, but also for the cinematography. A good portion of the story is shot in a woods. The dappled light and shadow of leaves had to be accentuated to have any sort of effect, done so with the use of mirrors and branches brought close to the actors rather than high overhead. Miyagawa is perhaps the first to use camera angles and shots looking directly into the sun.

In addition to truth, the baseness of human decency is questioned. Is man good or basically selfish, looking out for his own interests? That question weaves itself through the story to the very end when the storm breaks and the three strangers leave to go their separate ways.

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