For a film buff, I really don’t own that many DVDs — somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40, and most of them were either gifts or finds at a Blockbuster 5-for-$20 sale. One of the films I’ve made sure to add to my collection, though, is Rashomon, a low-budget samurai flick from the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. I wrote several papers over it during my undergrad years, and now I’m working on another one for a graduate course I’m taking. I’m far from the first to write about it, though, since it was such a revolutionary film. Every western, crime movie, and art house drama — every movie — from the last 60-odd years has stolen something from it.
Rashomon isn’t a narrative film. It tells the same crime story — a rape and a murder — four different times, each time from a different character’s perspective. It’s not a mystery, though. It’s not a film that invites you to piece together what happened and figure out whodunnit. All four stories are entirely different, and mutually exclusive. And all four characters take credit for the murder.
Rashomon is a deeply postmodern film because at its core it denies the existence of “truth.” Each character involved in the incident constructs his or her own truth, recalling the same events, but casting them in a light that is both self-aggrandizing and self-incriminating. And Kurosawa has no interest in telling you “what really happened,” because there is no “what really happened.” Without an observer, there’s no event to be observed, and there has never in history been such a thing as a neutral observer. Continue reading