Rashômon: A View of Japanese Samurai Culture*

         One of the reasons that Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film entitled Rashômon, is a great film in a global context is that it presents American audiences with a view of the different values that exist in Japanese culture. It does so by relating the mixed versions of a tale about the rape of a woman and her samurai husband’s murder. The circumstances of these tales involve subjects that had a different importance in Japanese culture than that of American Culture like honor and a woman’s place in society or a relationship. The frame story of the men telling the events in the rain gives the best example of common Japanese attitudes. Kurosawa uses the storytellers to offer comments about the story that have a broader social context behind them and to reflect the common attitudes of Japanese culture at the time.

         Some of the things in this film that may have seemed different to American audiences involved the different reactions to the situation of the rape and the murder that occurred in the different versions of the story. An audience member of western culture might find it shocking that the samurai would kill himself in one of the versions. In another version, the woman orders the bandit to kill her husband because she cannot bear the shame of having been with two men.

         The cinematography used in Rashômon offers elements that make it visually unique as well. The sets and costumes are distinctly Asian. The forest in which the story takes place is presented in an exotic way. The samurai sword fights that take place in the forest clearing are depicted well with the use of unique cuts and camera angles. Rashômon is a visually stimulating film in these ways. The story itself is presented in a unique way by the audience viewing different versions of a story and ultimately not knowing which one to believe. For these reasons, Rashômon is a great film and good for gaining insight into Japanese culture.

Brian Schuldt

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