Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950, Japan)

  It’s hard to overstate the influence of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. The film has entered the cultural lexicon to such a degree that its title now refers to a phenomenon – the “rashomon effect.” Certainly the film is the earliest example of a story showing the same past events all relayed from a different perspective. This has become a trope over time, but upon Rashomon’s release in 1950, it was wildly unusual. There was even concern among the producers of the film that the audience would not understand what was going on in the film. Rashomon also served as a launching pad for Kurosawa’s career, announcing him as a formidable talent on the world cinema stage.

Released only five years after Japan’s defeat in World War II, Rashomon naturally lends itself to an interpretation in the context of this war. The modernism which was coming to the fore at the time was one in which the very nature of reality was being questioned. If hundreds of thousands of people could be obliterated almost instantaneously in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what could be viewed as true anymore? The atmospheric sets of Rashomon reflect this post-war experience, giving the feeling of a world in ruins.

Kurosawa was a master at creating tension with minimal sets, and Rashomon is evidence of that. Kazuo Miyagawa’s cinematography does wonders with light and shadows, often embedding narrative tension through the placement of characters within the frame. Rashomon also introduced the world to Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa’s leading man who would go on to appear in a number of his classic films including Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Mifune brings a truly manic intensity to the role of Tajomaru, the bandit. Even playing this despicable character, Mifune exudes a charisma that launched him as a towering figure on the international cinema stage for the next decades. 



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