It’s raining furiously as the courthouse and its surrounding garden are forced to bear the brunt of the heavy and relentless downpour. The two villagers, a woodcutter and a priest, sitting on the edge of the courthouse entrance, are shocked and dismayed. “I don’t understand. I just don’t understand”, states the woodcutter with a look of utter shock on his face. The priest looks at him then turns away and stares across the garden, seeming to agree with his fellow villager’s assessment. Suddenly, a third villager approaches the courthouse, running frantically towards it in an attempt to escape the vicious rain. He notices the villagers sitting there, both in total silence and bewilderment. He approaches and asks them what is wrong. The woodcutter looks at him, pauses, then replies: “I have never heard such a strange story.” Indeed, as the viewer soon finds out, what unfolds is quite the bizarre story.
Rashomon is directed by the legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and stars Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, and Takashi Shimura. It tells the story of a violent crime and how it is remembered by four witnesses, each providing opposing and conflicting descriptions of the events. Rashomon is a Japanese crime-drama that lasts for almost an hour and a half.
Hailed as Japan’s greatest ever director, Akira Kurosawa is most definitely one of the main reasons why Rashomon is such a heralded classic. The way he films this motion picture is distinctive and very different from any other film one will encounter. Not only are his close-ups of the actors’ facial expressions done with such great effect, Kurosawa also provides such a wide range of rich visuals that amaze the eyes and make each scene a beautiful piece of art.
However, what truly makes Rashomon such an important motion picture is Kurosawa’s revolutionary use of flashbacks as a mechanism to tell a film’s story. Before Rashomon, the film world had not witnessed this method and was simply stunned by how effective flashbacks could be in telling a film’s story effectively and with style. Nowadays, we see many films that try to replicate this but only a few have succeeded. Those that have, owe it all to Rashomon. One can only imagine how exciting and thrilling it must have been to witness this breakthrough technique explode unto the film scene in 1950.
Another aspect that makes Rashomon a great film is the acting. The entire cast does an excellent job but only one actor truly delivers a wondrous performance, Toshirô Mifune. As the fierce, ruthless, and menacing bandit Tajômaru, Mifune is absolutely captivating. He really immerses himself in the role and provides much of the film’s tense and thrilling moments. His acting in Rashomon is a pure delight and one that keeps on getting better the more one watches it.
A particular scene of his that sticks out is the one where Tajômaru stumbles upon a samurai fighter in the woods and engages in a majestic and exhilarating fight. The way Kurosawa directs both actors in that scene is also what makes the scene such an iconic one. However, Mifune deserves credit as well as his facial expressions and intensity elevate the entire scene. It is a scene that exemplifies the astonishing acting found in Rashomon.
Having starred in sixteen of Akira Kurosawa’s films, Toshirô Mifune is considered Japan’s finest actor in the 20th century. As soon as one watches him in any of those films, especially in Rashomon and Seven Samurai (1954), it becomes quite evident that he unquestionably deserves that special honor. A terrific and legendary Japanese actor.
There is this distinguished quality about Rashomon that makes one long to watch it all over again as soon as it has ended. Indeed, the film is just a gorgeous piece of work that sweeps the viewer away. The black and white cinematography gives it a glamorous and eternal feel that makes the entire experience almost dreamlike. However, Rashomon will forever be remembered and cherished for Akira Kurosawa’s development, and effective use of, the flashbacks technique that has changed the cinema landscape forever. That is of course without forgetting Toshirô Mifune’s iconic and memorable performance.
If you are looking for a truly unique and stimulating motion picture then look no further than this film. Even though Kurosawa has created a lot of classics throughout his illustrious and renowned career, Rashomon remains my favorite film of his, and the director’s most important work, in my opinion. An eternal jewel in the world of cinema.
- Toshirô Mifune as Tajômaru the Bandit
1 hour and 28 minutes
Crime / Drama / Non-English