Rashômon: Whom Should the Audience Reside with?*

             Akira Kurosawa’s post-war film Rashômon (1950) plays an important role in global cinema, as it became one of the first Japanese films to reach out to the western world. Many critics have analyzed the film for its symbolic depictions using light and setting, but another unique aspect is the style. In Rashômon, Kurosawa portrayed four different character accounts on a murder inside a frame story, leaving the audience to depict their own conclusion.

             The bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune) told his story first. His account of the event started with him enticing the samurai away from his wife by telling him about ancient swords he had discovered. After luring the samurai away, he tied him up and went back to rape the wife. Ultimately, the wife gave in, and they made love. After this she begged him to kill her husband because she could not be pure by being with two men. The bandit untied the samurai and killed him in an even fight. Then the woman ran away.

             The wife’s account was different because she said that, after the rape; she was the one that had untied her husband. She had pled for forgiveness, but her husband just stared at her. She even begged him to kill her, but still he just stared at her. Eventually she passed out; and, when she awoke, her husband was killed, and the bandit was gone.

             The woodcutter was in the forest and claimed he had seen the entire event take place. On his account, after the bandit had raped the wife, he begged her to marry him. She said it was not up to her and freed her husband, who went on to say that she was not worth the horse he owned. Eventually, she convinced the two men to fight for her; and this was the point that the bandit kills the samurai. After the death of her husband the wife ran off.

             However, in the film a bias is set for the husband’s voice. The narrator explained that the dead man has his side of the story, and dead people do not lie. Through a medium the samurai explained that the bandit had raped his wife then asked her to travel with him. The samurai’s wife then asked the bandit to kill him since she could not be with two different men. The bandit questioned the samurai on whether he should kill his wife to spare her, and she then ran off. After looking for her the bandit gave up and freed the samurai. The samurai in turn killed himself.

             So, with four different perspectives to take into account, the viewer has a right to his or her own opinion about who is telling the truth. Kurosawa may have done this in order to let people relate to each of the individual characters and take sides depending on which one they connected with most. Typically, while watching the film or thinking about it afterwards, the viewer will reside with a particular character; and Rashômon proves to be an original example of this tendency.

Greg Humkey

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