Rashomon: The Criterion Collection
Winning the 1951 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is the original modernist and formalist assault on the nature of truth. It's set mostly under the gate at the entrance of 12th Century Kyoto, whence the title "Rashomon," which means "gate of the dragon." It sounds like the start of a dirty joke: A peasant (Kichijiro Ueda), a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) discuss the events of that day that have shaken their faith in humanity. A heavily armed samurai (Masayuki Mori) is dead, his wife (Machiko Kyo) in hiding, and a notorious bandit (Toshiro Mifune) arrested for the crimes of rape, murder, and robbery. The bulk of the film lays out what turns out to be five accounts of that day: the priest's seeing the couple pass by; the woodcutter finding the body; the bandit bragging at the hearing of ravishing the woman and more or less winning her over before killing the man in a duel; the woman speaking of her shame; the samurai, via a medium, revealing that in fact he had committed suicide; and finally, the woodcutter piping in again to reveal that in fact he lied to the police and saw the whole conflict among the three people, in which the woman manipulated the men who ended up engaged in a clumsy duel that led to the samurai's ignominious death. The woodcutter himself may share some of the guilt of the day's events. None of the accounts can be fully believed. Kurosawa, in collaboration with his cast, his co-screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto (adapting two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa), and his cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, orchestrates this material beautifully. We forget that there are really only three settings in this film, and a cast of about six. Rashomon is also the first of Kurosawa's great existential humanist films, in which he explored the meaning of man's life in a time of chaos. Criterion's DVD release offers a superb, restored black-and-white image (1.33:1), while the monaural DD 1.0 audio also has been restored and the English subtitles are newly translated. Supplements include a video introduction to the film by Robert Altman, a commentary track by scholar Donald Richie, who wrote a film-by-film study of Kurosawa that remains the definitive book on the director. In addition, there is an excerpt from a documentary about the film's cinematographer, The World of Kazuo Miyagawa, the theatrical trailer, and a 28-page booklet that is an abundance of supplements in itself. Keep-case.