Tuesday, April 14, 2009

World Movie Series - 19 - Rashomon

Here comes the superstar. When writing about the movie, it’s like writing about Amitabh Bachchan, or Rajnikanth or Sean Connery. There is nothing more to write about Rashomon, coz already loads of pages have been written about this film. A very popular one, among world movie fans. It has been a trend setter in many aspects, and even now, it never bores the audience and still withstands the flow of time. I can go on and on writing about this film. One of my most favorite movies.

How can we determine the difference between truth and false? If a person tells us something, how can we identify the truth or the untruth behind the message? What appears as truth to a person might appear false to another. It entirely depends on our intellect to settle on the result.

‘Rashomon’ is one such film about the same story recited by four different people and which appears different every time. It’s a unique, fresh screenplay and has inspired thousands of films till date (virumandi is an example).

The film begins at an old ruined temple named Rashomon. It’s a huge downpour, and two people – a woodcutter and a priest - are sitting at the temple. We see a man running in to the temple to seek refuge from the rain. When he settles inside, we see the woodcutter muttering to himself that it’s incredible, and it’s not true; everybody are lying. Curious to know what he meant, the traveler sits near the woodcutter, and he starts to recount the story.

Story of the woodcutter

Three days ago, the woodcutter goes in to the forest to cut wood, and he discovers a woman's hat. He goes further down and finds a rope and a samurai’s headgear. While moving further inside, he suddenly finds a dead body. Terrified, he runs to the police.

We cut to the woodcutter testifying to the judges. He says he was the one who found the dead body and there was nobody near it. We then see another person testifying that he captured the bandit ‘Tajomaru’ at the bank of a river. The bandit Tajomaru says since he drank poisoned water at the spring, he fell down at the bank, and was captured.

Story of Tajomaru

Tajomaru begins to narrate his story. He was sleeping in the forest and gets awakened by the sound of a horse and he sees a beautiful woman on a horse and a samurai accompanying her. They cross Tajomaru and he decides to have the woman. He follows them and confronts them deep inside the jungle. He lies to the samurai that there are a lot of swords he has buried inside, and he can sell them to a cheap price. The samurai agrees, and leaving the woman near a river, they both walk. Tajomaru points to a place where he says the swords have been hidden, and when the samurai walks to get them, Tajomaru attacks him. Tajomaru ties the person down, and rapes the woman. While he tries to leave, the woman pleads to him that she will be the wife of only one person since she doesn’t want two men to know about her shame and so they both have to fight. Tajomaru claims that the samurai fought with valor but finally Tajomaru was able to kill the samurai. He further adds that after seeing him kill the samurai, the woman must have fled, and being asked by the juries about the expensive dagger which the samurai had, Tajomaru says he has forgotten it and he is foolish enough to leave it behind.

Story of the woman

We cut back to the wood cutter and he says Tajomaru’s story was false and he lied. The traveler asks woodcutter to continue the story and he starts narrating the story of the woman, who was captured by the police.

The woman says that after being raped by Tajomaru, he left her in the forest. Unable to withstand her husband’s piercing eyes, she cries and begs him to kill her, as she is now shameful after being raped. The samurai doesn’t reply and keeps staring the woman with a cold glance, tormenting her. She finally faints with a dagger in her hand, and when she awakens, the samurai is dead. She doesn’t know how it happened.

Story of the dead samurai

We cut to the woodcutter again, and he adds that the woman’s story too is false. The traveler then asks him to continue and he starts telling the story of the dead samurai himself, who spoke with the help of a medium.

The samurai’s ghost tells that it is suffering in the darkness of hell, and it was due to the words he heard the woman speak. The ghost had never heard words similar to those anywhere. After being raped by Tajomaru, he asks the woman to come with him. She accepts but asks Tajomaru to kill her husband. A shocked Tajomaru grabs the woman and asks the samurai to give him the verdict of killing the woman or setting her free. The ghost adds that hearing these words, he forgave the thug. The woman flees from the place, and Tajomaru chases her. After many hours, he returns empty handed and sets the samurai free and leaves. The samurai kills himself with the dagger after a while. The ghost adds that after sometime, someone removed the dagger from its chest.

We cut to the woodcutter and he shouts that the ghost's story too is false, as the samurai was killed by the sword and not the dagger. It clearly indicates that the woodcutter might have removed the dagger from the dead body.

Story of the wood cutter, again

Now, after reciting the three stories, the woodcutter says he knew the real story, and he didn’t narrate it before the juries since he didn’t want to get involved. He then narrates what happened. While the wood cutter was going inside the forest, he witnesses the rape and the woman being begged by Tajomaru to marry him. The woman frees the samurai, telling she can’t decide about it. The samurai tells he doesn’t want to be with such a woman, and will be more interested in his horse, than the woman. Hearing the samurai, Tajomaru loses his interest and begins to leave. The woman then shouts at both Tajomaru and the samurai that both of them are not qualified to have her, as the samurai didn’t look after her with compassion, and Tajomaru is afraid to take her away. Hearing this, both Tajomaru and the samurai start to fight with each other, and Tajomaru is able to kill the samurai finally. The woman screams witnessing the samurai’s death and flees away and Tajomaru is not able to chase her coz of his injuries.

The woodcutter concludes the story, and the traveler laughs at the woodcutter. He says he didn’t believe this story, and enquires about the dagger. Their conversation gets interrupted by the sound of a baby crying, and they discover a baby at a corner of the building. The traveler takes the kimono (expensive overcoat) and the baby’s amulet with him and tries to run away, and while the woodcutter tries to stop him, the traveler questions him about the dagger. Since the wood cutter had stolen the dagger, he doesn’t have the rights to stop him. The woodcutter becomes gloomy, realizing his guilt. The traveler further adds that it’s a selfish world around them, and each man is concerned ONLY about his own safety, and runs away.

The priest, seeing the woodcutter taking the baby, runs and stops him. The wood cutter says he already has 6 children, and the baby will not make a difference. Understanding that the woodcutter has realized his guilt, the priest allows him to move away. The rain has stopped, and the wood cutter leaves with the baby. The film ends.

‘Rashomon’ is a different story which talks more about the inner self of the people around us. Everyone talks as if they are good and the people around them are bad and crooked. This becomes evident from all the four stories, where the narrators portrayed themselves as good people.

Rashomon successfully experimented many trendsetting aspects. This was the first film which filmed the sun directly (while the woodcutter walks inside the forest, some shots show the sun, to create the impact of the woodcutter walking). Also, mirrors were used instead of silver foils to reflect light on the characters.

The water during the downpour scenes was tinted with black dye, as the background of the temple made the water very light, and Kurosawa tinted the water to create the impact of a heavy rain.

The camera work is stunning in the picture. Kazuo Miyagawa, a very experienced cinematographer, has done a great work.

During shooting, the cast approached Kurosawa en masse with the script and asked him, "What does it mean?" The answer 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 (thanks: IMDB).

Often credited as the reason the Academy created the "Best Foreign Film" category. Also, The title of the film has recently been added to the Oxford English Dictionary as describing "...resembling or suggestive of the film Rashomon, esp. in being characterized by multiple conflicting or differing ... interpretations." (Thanks: IMDB).

Rashomon was released in 1950 and received the best foreign film award at the Oscars. A cult film indeed, Rashomon is the result of a lateral thinking genius named Akira Kurasawa. Try seeing the film, and get to know about the skill of Kurasawa.

See the trailer here.


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