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April 07, 2008

Rashomon

After my last experience with Kurosawa, I approached Rashomon with caution. In fact, I received it 2/27 and only just watched it last night. That's a good deal of avoidance there.

It's just that after not getting his other film, the thought of watching another black and white Japanese language movie, this one released in 1950... it just didn't appeal to me to much.

Fortunatley, I was wrong to worry. I found this film very engaging and entertaining.

The interesting thing about Rashomon, and the reason that a good deal of (film) people still talk about this film to this day, is that it revolves around a horrible incident, where a woman is raped and a husband is killed. (Just so you know, none of this is graphically portrayed in the least... the "rape" consists of the woman being kissed on the lips, but more is implied just by dialogue.)

That's all we really know. We have a dead man, and then the film gives us 4 different people's perspectives of what happened, all of which are not only different but completely incompatible. It's a meditation on how difficult it is to arrive at an objective truth, and how different people remember or portray things differently. There is no "objective God perspective" in this film, that we can trust is "the way things really happened." We take this for granted in most films, but most films are shot from this perspective. In Rashomon, we're left not knowing what exactly truly happened.

Pay attention to the first spoken line of films. Often, the first lines are used to somehow get the overall theme across in a clever way. In Rashomon, the first line (and it's said 3 times) is "I don't understand." And that's exactly what this film portrays so well. It's very hard to understand exactly what happens sometimes.

This is an entertaining, well-acted, and short (88 minutes!) film. It's very watchable, even today. My one main critique is the music is ridiculous, and unfortunately it drains a lot of the tension from the scenes. Seriously, it sounds like jokey cartoon music during what should be very intense moments. I'd say if someone re-scored this film with music more in tune with our modern film soundtrack sensibilities, it would have much more emotional impact. (By the way, I'm not anti-old movie soundtrack, I loved the soundtracks to Laurence of Arabia and Citizen Kane. This film's soundtrack is unfortunately just laughable and inappropriate to the scenes the majority of the time.)

The film ends with one of the witnesses of the crime and a Buddhist Priest, both of whom have had their faith in humanity shaken by the crime and the inability to arrive at a true understanding of what really happened, coming across a crying baby abandoned. The Buddhist Priest has his faith restored when the witness takes the baby to take care of it. I think the meaning of this oddly satisfying ending was roughly "Hey, we can't really reach an objective truth because we all witness and remember things differently, but we can love and take care of each other, and that's where our hope lies." That's a sentiment that I can relate to. And, if you think about, a masterstroke for an ending. If the whole movie had just been this terrible crime, and in the end no resolution to it could be reached, the audience would have left annoyed.

(One minor quibble: it would have been nice if the baby had been somehow integrated into the overall story instead of just showing up at the end.)

3 out of 4 - I really liked it.

Posted by jason on April 7, 2008 01:51 AM

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