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Rashomon

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matthewscott8
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Rashomon

#1

Post by matthewscott8 » July 24th, 2020, 5:44 pm

I've been ducking out of seeing this one for years. Finally got round to watching it. There were some very obvious merits in the film, Toshiro Mifune's performance is iconic. Also the symbol of the inn the narrators stop over in is electric, the half burned shelter from the rain, metaphoric of how we fracture the world when we are mean and when we lie. There are some cool bits as well where characters either look at clouds and patterns of dappled light and meditate on the role of chance.

My main gripe though is the actual incident. Rape is sometimes used quite obnoxiously and lazily as a motif in a film and it struck me that it was a bit tasteless here. I also didn't really care about the different versions of the story, curtains for the bandit any which way, so there's no real gravity about which version is believed. I also think there is some profundity in how different people see the same events differently, this subjectivity is very fragile and nuanced, the characters here are more just lying than having their memories play tricks, or seeing things that differently. Admittedly, one example of nuance is the way the wife interprets her husband's stare. It felt a little more like Kurosawa was playing with narrative techniques, that is, some directors may choose to show samurai as noble and skilful, others may prefer to show them as venal and bludgeoning wildly with their swords, so there's something metafictional going on with the different accounts.

I also don't know if people find the result profound, that is the result that we never really know what happens, and can't trust recollection. That to me is a fairly basic point, maybe others found it more shattering. Rashomon didn't hit home for me as much as I think it has for others. I acknowledge that the mise en scene were way above par though.

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OldAle1
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#2

Post by OldAle1 » July 24th, 2020, 6:07 pm

I think you make good points; I guess a lot of the film's reputation comes from the perception on critics' parts that it is the first -or first major, prominent - film to use the 'Rashomon effect" of multiple unreliable points of view, and from the fact that it essentially introduced Japanese cinema to the outside world by winning the Venice festival's top prize. How much of that is true though - I mean, it did win the Venice prize, but was Japanese cinema so unknown in Europe of the USA before 1950? I don't know. Reminds me of the many conversations with people, online and in person, over early color films, with people insisting that Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz were the FIRST and being quite vehement about it. I think there are other examples of unreliable narration or multiple points of view in film before this - Citizen Kane being a prominent example - but perhaps there are none that explore the subject as a primary narrative device.

I first saw it sometime in the 1983-4 school year, my first in college. I think it was in the fall, don't know; being in a (mostly) dry town, no car, not many friends made at that point, not really being a party guy, I gravitated to movies as my primary entertainment and we had a pretty good campus film society which did a Kurosawa retrospective; I saw Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Ikiru, don't know what the order was, surely my first three Japanese films seen and three of the first five films not in English that I saw in the cinema. I definitely can't remember my exact feelings about any of them at the time but I do think that in combination they helped a great deal in developing a burgeoning cinephilia. I re-watched Rashomon a couple of years ago - doesn't look like I wrote anything about it, must've been during one of my off periods - and I felt much the same way I've always felt: a very good, even an excellent film, but one that doesn't quite add up. I think Le doulos uses some of the same concepts in a more interesting way, and of course there's an unreliable narrator - or unreliable memory - aspect to Once Upon a Time in America which has been one of my very favorites for 30 years now.

blocho
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#3

Post by blocho » July 24th, 2020, 6:19 pm

matthewscott8 wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 5:44 pm
I also don't know if people find the result profound, that is the result that we never really know what happens, and can't trust recollection. That to me is a fairly basic point.
It's been some years since I've seen it, but I had the exact same reaction. Yeah, memory is fragile, truth is evanescent. Did people need to see Rashomon to understand this?

It's a decent movie, but I prefer at least eight Kurosawa movies over it.

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OldAle1
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#4

Post by OldAle1 » July 24th, 2020, 6:26 pm

Oh and as to your last paragraph - I suppose I found it rather profound when I first saw it at 17-18, with little to compare it to. But over the next few years I saw many more films beyond the modern blockbusters that had been all I was used to, and more importantly I read a lot more, and the unreliable narrator is certainly an important literary device going back to Dostoevsky at least, and is of course central to the modernism of Joyce, Faulkner, Proust, etc. So Rashomon stood out less but I definitely like the device and it can be fairly valuable and artistically used, and can tell us a lot about how for example the subject of an investigation might be perceived by those around her, when we the audience see something very different - when we are given the tools to put together a tragedy that the story's characters can't really see - Flicka och hyacinter (from the same year as Kurosawa's film) being a great example, though this is more a case of incomplete bits of story and narration rather than lies which add up to a different whole than just one person's viewpoint would deliver.

The effect overall is very different on the page than in the frame of the film though - we can't really experience an inner monologue in the same way in the two media. Probably one reason why modernist works have generally not translated so well to film, and haven't even been attempted all that often.

matthewscott8
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#5

Post by matthewscott8 » July 25th, 2020, 12:55 am

Thanks guys, glad I'm not going crazy. Ditto, not high on my Kurosawa list. High and Low, then Sanjuro are in my top 500.

Flicka och hyacinther looks worth a look.

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Fergenaprido
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#6

Post by Fergenaprido » July 25th, 2020, 2:51 pm

Rashomon was the first non-anime Japanese film I ever saw (Muddy River was the second), shortly after I joined the forum in 2014. Thus, it was also the first Kurosawa I saw. I wasn't terribly impressed (gave it a 7.2/10), but it is one that I've wanted to revisit as I've seen more Japanese films and have a better sense of what to expect. I think I was too green at the time to be able to appreciate it, and I wonder how that (and Muddy River) would fare upon rewatching (most films that I've rewatched tend to get a higher score from me; only rarely have I downgraded a film upon rewatch).

I've since seen 9 other Kurosawa films, and I've rated all of them higher than Rashomon.
Kurosawhat?Show
8.8 - Seven Samurai (1954)
8.2 - High and Low (1963)
8.2 - The Hidden Fortress (1958)
8.0 - Yojimbo (1961)
8.0 - Ikiru (1952)
7.8 - Sanjuro (1962)
7.6 - Stray Dog (1949)
7.6 - Scandal (1950)
7.4 - The Quiet Duel (1949)
As for the rape incident itself, I don't remember having strong feelings about it at the time, but it's something I'll keep in mind for whenever I rewatch it.

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#7

Post by Onderhond » July 25th, 2020, 3:25 pm

blocho wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 6:19 pm
It's been some years since I've seen it, but I had the exact same reaction. Yeah, memory is fragile, truth is evanescent. Did people need to see Rashomon to understand this?
While I agree, that pretty much goes for all movies, no? Did you ever go "damn, in order to understand this fact of life, I really needed to watch this film"?

It's still one of my favorite Kurosawa films, then again I'm not a pretty big fan of the man.

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#8

Post by blocho » July 25th, 2020, 3:30 pm

Onderhond wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 3:25 pm
Did you ever go "damn, in order to understand this fact of life, I really needed to watch this film"?
Yes. I've learned a lot about life from the movies. As with literature, it's a way of understanding the experiences and feelings of others. In which case, I should be more sympathetic to admirers of Rashomon. I saw it at a point in my life when I already understood something of the vagaries of truth and memory, but perhaps some of the people who were wowed by it saw Rashomon at a time when its themes were more revelatory.

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#9

Post by Onderhond » July 25th, 2020, 5:53 pm

blocho wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 3:30 pm
I saw it at a point in my life when ...
Maybe it's because I only got into film (for real) around my 20th, but I've really never got that from a film. Somehow it's never real enough, too constructed, too fake to make it something that really says something valuable about reality that couldn't be better learned by observing actual reality.

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#10

Post by prodigalgodson » July 25th, 2020, 6:58 pm

blocho wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 3:30 pm
Yes. I've learned a lot about life from the movies. As with literature, it's a way of understanding the experiences and feelings of others.
Yeah, aside from aesthetic enjoyment this is one of the main reasons I watch movies. Even if it's not giving completely novel insights, I've certainly gained new perspectives and elucidations from films I don't think I would have reached independently, and I've had a fairly nutty little life that's offered a lot of opportunities for lessons, haha. And because it's more than a century-long international art form, it's a way to learn about cultures across time in a way that's opened my eyes to so much more than reading histories; even if I don't love the final product, considering how and why it's constructed that way can be illuminating. To paraphrase Matthew in his review of an old favorite Epileptic Seizure Comparison, one of the medium's potentials is a literal empathy machine.

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