POV: Movie Review

by tybmmjourno

When I joined Bachelors in Mass Media, in our second year, Understanding Cinema as a subject was something I had never heard about. We learned a lot in the subject as we watched various movies and understood the art behind them. One of my favorites was Kurosawa’s Rashomon. The plain reason behind this was the theme of the movie, it questioned the subjectivity of truth and how we as different individuals see it. What I liked more about the movie was that it criticized the human nature because we pick and choose the part of an event to suit our personality, being judgmental about the rest.


Kurosawa’s Rashomon

The movie when described in a nut shell is about human nature and the subjectivity of human nature towards truth. It is based during the time when Japan was in a administrative crisis and there was hardly any policing. There was plague, bandits, floods crop failure all during the same time. The movie opens at the ruins of Rashomon, a ruined infrastructure. It is raining heavily and a man (commoner) runs towards the building to take shelter and there he meets these two men. The story is between three men, a priest, woodcutter and a commoner. The priest and the woodcutter have witnessed a common incident and share the incident with the commoner to get think that they both could be missing out on something that the commoner would be able to point out, different perspective into the entire event. The commoner is very keen in knowing about the incident. The woodcutter builds up on the commoner’s anticipation and tell him that he hasn’t heard anything as grave as this. The story then goes about a samurai who was found dead by the woodcutter, his wife who has been raped by the bandit Tojamaru.  The story revolves around each of them (the dead samurai, his wife and the bandit) giving their description of the truth.

All the first versions of the story are made by the three principal participants, each showcasing completely different emotions, thought processes, and different visual effects in relation with their psychology. Tojamaru being a bandit displays himself as a masculine animal who doesn’t find anything wrong in forcing himself on a woman. He describes the woman in a very exotic manner and puts her across as very fierce and explains that this further enticed him to have her. He asserts his masculinity and kisses her for a time she does revolt but then is swept away by his passion and finally gives in. the woman then demands both the men to fight in her honor Tojamaru then describes that the samurai fought ‘very well’. This displays the stereotypical presentation of masculinity and its theoretical characteristics.

 The woman on the other hand displays the entire event from a very feminine stereotypical side. She presents herself as utterly feeble and helpless, the complete opposite of Tojamaru’s description. She defends herself by saying that she had no other option other than give herself to the hands of a savage animal (Tojamaru). She focuses more on her husband and less on the bandit. She describes how his husband gave her the look of rejection and a cold stare of disapproval.  She succumbs to the guilt and faints. When she regains consciousness she finds her husband and is terrified so flees from there in her grief.


The third version is by the dead husband in which he showcases that the story is about two men and the woman is just a mere part of it. He presents her as worthless and of no use to either of them. The husband proclaims that he did not die in a combat with the bandit but killed himself in his own honor. Unlike the previous two he tells the incident in a way describing about honor and self righteousness. He depicts the characteristics of a true samurai. He in a way stereotypes honor and self virtue.

Surprisingly the woodcutter reveals the last version as he was a witness to the actual event. He breaks all the connotations of the earlier version and describes the three participants were actually smaller then what they represented themselves. He describes both the men as cowards and scared of fighting. The woman was insistent on the fact that both the men should fight for her, making her a shrew.  Their fight is more about saving themselves from swords not to assert and kill the other until one the samurai loses his weapon and falls getting killed.

One may feel that this is the true version the audience and the listener should believe in but as soon as soon as the woodcutter completes his version all three men hear the sound of a baby crying. The woodcutter picks up the baby to keep him calm but the commoner tries to steal the clothes from the baby. In order to stop this, the woodcutter takes out the missing dagger and warns the commoner. The commoner gets the whole irony of the situation and laughs at the woodcutter for being a liar himself. The priest who was a witness to the whole evening looses all his hope in humanity. The woodcutter then asks for the baby but the priest so shaken refuses. Then the woodcutter explains that he already has six children and one more won’t make much of a difference. Hearing this, the priest apologies for losing faith and the woodcutter apologies for being self-fish.


 Kurushava has used the technique of framing (narrative framing) and framing-within-framing (core narrative). Kurushava since the time he had been making movies, has used weather as very important element in presenting the scenes and emotions related to the movie. Here in the movies in the opening sequence he uses heavy rain to show the turmoil and the unsettledness in the story. The opening shot he takes a long shot of the ruins and then takes up a close-up of the gate on which Rashomon is written. The framing narrative is the building up of the story by the woodcutter as he increases the anticipation of the commoner by telling him that this is the worst he has ever seen, here the commoner is surrogate for the viewer. All that the woodcutter tells him about his journey in the forest and his discovery is just a build up for the proceeding story. Kurushava has covered this scene with pan shots and photographic shots to give the viewer the best of the location. As the woodcutter finds the various objects which lead him to the body, the speed of the camera increases and the shot span decrease making the whole sequence all the more faster.

The core narrative starts when the three participants of the movie begin with their own versions of the story. The three begin with their versions and the camera is placed in place of the ‘judge’. It is the eye level, kept at eye level and here it plays the surrogate for the audience. The camera work for the bandit’s story is both fast and furious in the tracking as it tries to keep up with the bandit. The tracking shots are fast and pans are very swift. The fight scene is also extremely furious and brings out the bandits stereotypical masculinity. Kurushava has used light also as an element in the movies as when the bandit describes that the woman had fallen for him, both he and the women are shown in the brighter light but the husband is shown in the darker light at backdrop of the scene. In the woman’s version there is maximum zoom-ins on her face to show her helplessness and depicting her personality as the feeble feminine. She is shown in the natural glow of light while the bandit is hardly represented in her version. The main camera work which happens in her version is when she describes her husband’s cold stares and the camera moves between him and her. A very steady camera but the music used is very pulsating with fast beats. When she takes out the dagger and moves towards her husband, the camera doesn’t play the crucial role but music does. In the husband’s version, unlike the camera work used for the previous versions, there are long shots and lot of light. The camera is steady and still and brings out self-introspection of the samurai. The self importance of the samurai and his honor are presented very subtle. On the other hand his transformation (from the dead to the living) has abrupt and jerky camera shots. The viciousness and the anger in the husband can be seen in the close-ups of the character. In the end when the woodcutter takes the baby with him, there is a sign of hope and faith. In order to present it, the rain has stopped and Kurushava brings out a clear sky. The closing sequence is a zoom out of the rashomon gate just like the opening sequence.

The entire focus of the movie is on the metaphysical reality of the incident i.e how we as human know the facts but modulate them according to our convienence and there is no actual coverage on the reality of the incident. Kurushava brought human psychology into the theme. The focus of the entire movie is the way humans perceive themselves and the actual reality of their nature.