The Value of Truth

         Rashômon, Akira Kursowa’s 1950 masterpiece, is one of philosophical depth and of cinematic beauty. Kursowa brilliantly shows how truth is subjective to the prospective of the storyteller. In this case there are four equally credible accounts of the same story, all with seemingly nothing to lose. Combined with great camera work and good action scenes, it stands the test of time as being a masterpiece in cinematic history.

         The story begins in Kyoto as a priest and a woodcutter return from a murder trial as they take cover from a rainstorm under an ancient temple. A third man is also taking cover from the storm and has the story of the trail related to him by the woodcutter. The basic story is as follows: a nobleman and his wife are traveling through the forest when they encounter an infamous bandit that falls for the nobleman’s wife. He tricks the nobleman, ties him up, and rapes the woman. This is the point at which the stories differ slightly. The bandit claims the wife had tricked them into a duel, and the husband was killed after an honorable fight. The wife claims that her husband had shunned her for allowing herself to be dishonored and after fainting found her husband dead. The husband’s, story as communicated through a medium, is that his wife had asked the bandit to kill her husband and take her away. He commits suicide because of the disgrace. The woodcutter says he that he had seen the whole thing from start to finish, that both were cowards, and that the bandit killed him almost by accident.

         All four stories are convincing but serve the interest of their respective storyteller. The bandit’s story serves his interest as not wanting to kill the husband; but he had to save his life because the wife had forced them into a duel. The wife’s story betrays her as an innocent bystander. The husband’s account shows him as being the victim of circumstance and of a disgraceful wife. The woodcutter seems to be the only one with nothing to lose, except that the murder weapon was missing. The problem with this is he describes the murder weapon as dagger of some value. The stranger accuses him of stealing the dagger.

         Akira Kursowa shows beautifully how truth is all in the conscious of the individual and is told from the prospective of self-serving interests. I think all the stories are true from the distortion and interests of the storyteller, or all of them are false. Who knows? I could be lying now.

Daniel Whitt Lawson

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