Rashomon

Released:  1950

Cast:  Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura

Oscar Wins:  Honorary Award – Most Outstanding Foreign Language Film

SUMMARY:  In a torrential downpour, woodcutter Kikori (Takashi Shimura) and priest Tabi Hoshi take shelter under the Rashomon city gate.  They are soon joined a villager, whom they start to tell about their strange day.  The woodcutter and priest have just returned from a murder trial in which both were called as a witness.  Kikori claims that three days earlier, he was working in the forest when he found the body of a murdered samurai.  He reported this to police.  The priest saw the murdered man traveling with his wife on the same day that he was killed.  Kikori and the priest tell the villager that the trial was extremely strange, and they cannot make heads or tails of it.  Since it is still running, they begin to tell the villager about the various testimonies.  The first is that of Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune), a notorious bandit.  He claims that he was in the woods one day when he saw the samurai (Masayuki Mori) and his wife (Machiko Kyo) walk by.  He immediately fell for the wife, and decided he had to have her.  He tricked the samurai into following him deep into the woods, then overpowered him and tied him up.  He then brought the wife to the same clearing.  When she realized what was happening, the woman tried to fight of Tajomaru with a dagger.  Tajomaru disarmed her and began kissing her; he claims that she returned the passion.  However, she then became ashamed that both her husband and Tajomaru knew what had happened, and begged them to fight until one was dead.  Tajomaru cut the samurai loose and fought him, eventually defeating and killing the husband.  When he turned back to the wife, though, she had disappeared.  Tajomaru is asked what happened to the wife’s dagger, which had a somewhat valuable pearl inlay; he says that he forgot about it in the heat of the moment.  The wife of the murdered samurai testifies next.  Her story is similar to Tajomaru’s at first, but she claims that the bandit raped her and then left, with her (alive) husband still tied up.  She was prepared to release him, but was so appalled by his obvious loathing of her that she passed out.  When she came to, her husband was dead, with her dagger in his chest.  The woman attempted suicide several ties, but did not succeed.

Last to testify is the (dead) samurai, who testifies through a medium.  He claims that Tajomaru raped his wife, but then asked her to leave her husband and come with him.  The woman agreed, but asked Tajomaru to kill her husband to protect her honor.  Tajomaru was disgusted by this attitude.  He asked the samurai what should be done with his wife:  whether she should be killed or released.  The samurai claims that this act made him forgive the bandit for the rape.  The wife managed to escape alive, and Tajomaru ultimately released the samurai.  However, the man decided that the shame was too much, and killed himself with his wife’s dagger.  He claims that an unknown person later removed the dagger from his chest.  This is the end of the woodcutter’s account of the trial, but the villager doesn’t believe him.  When pushed, the woodcutter admits that he didn’t tell the court everything he knew.  In fact, he had actually witnessed everything, but didn’t want to get involved.  However, he now tells his side of the story.  He says that Tajomaru did rape the woman, but then begged her to leave her husband and marry him.  She refused and set her husband free so he could kill Tajomaru.  However, the samurai decided his spoiled wife wasn’t worth fighting for.  The woman then erupted at both men, telling them that they were both cowards:  a real man would fight for the woman they loved.  Both men then prepare to fight, but neither wants to make the first move.  Their ensuing “duel” is more a game of avoidance, with Tajomaru finally killing the samurai after he trips and falls down.  The woman had already left the scene, so Tajomaru took the samurai’s sword and left too.  After finishing his story, the woodcutter and the two other men hear a baby crying, and discover that one has been abandoned on the other side of the gate.  The villager takes the kimono and an amulet left with the baby for himself, to the disgust of the woodcutter.  The villager reproaches him for his moral attitude, saying that the real reason the woodcutter didn’t intervene in the trail was because he was the one who actually took the valuable dagger.  The villager then leaves.  All of these events have made the priest question his belief in the innate goodness of humans.  He is even more shocked when the woodcutter attempts to take the baby the priest is now holding, but the man explains that he intends to take the baby home and raise it alongside his own six children.  The priest’s faith in humans (and his understanding of the dagger theft) is renewed, and he happily hands the baby to the other man.

MY TAKE:  After watching Seven Samurai, I was a little excited to see this movie, which was also directed by Akira Kurosawa.  I really enjoyed that movie, and expected this one to be similar.  I was disappointed in that aspect.  Though one of the actors (Toshiro Mifune, who played the crazy Kikuchiyo in the other film) appears in both — he actually appeared in most of Kurosawa’s movies — the films don’t have much else in common.  For starters, I don’t like that you don’t know what the real story is, and frankly, it’s kinda boring to watch the same basic series of events four times.  I had a hard time sympathizing with any of the characters.  Tajomaru is a thief and apparently a rapist, though he tries to get the woman to marry him later.  His crazy antics, while funny in Seven Samurai, were overdone and irritating in this movie.  You would think that it would be easy to sympathize with the wife, being that she’s the victim, but I had several problems with her.  First, she does a horrible job of trying to defend herself:  she tries to fight off Tajomaru and just does not use her head at all.  Then, she apparently asks the men to fight to the death.  According to the woodcutter, she actually shames the men into doing this.  I know that morality and social acceptance were a lot different from these characters than they are for me, but it’s hard for me to accept somebody advocating for somebody else’s death.  In addition, she’s really ambivalent about which one wins, which shows she has very little loyalty to her husband.  Speaking of him, he’s a poor excuse for a samurai.  He gets completely bamboozled by a bandit, and then gets overpowered TWICE.  I thought samurai were supposed to be these tremendous fighters who were worth ten regular guys in a fight, but this one couldn’t fight off a half-naked crazy man (and the second fight was possibly the lamest duel in the history of the movies).  He also seems to blame his wife for the rape.  Again, this could be a culture thing (and he definitely should have taught her to fight), but it wasn’t like she had a whole lot of choice in the matter.  Maybe if he wasn’t such a pushover he could have done a better job of defending her.  The woodcutter didn’t want to tell the truth because it would give away that he stole the knife:  I understand his motivation for stealing the knife, but I can’t condone lying in a murder case, or stealing for that matter.  The priest is apparently having a crisis of faith, because a handful of people lying sends him into a tailspin.  The villager is willing to leave a helpless baby behind, taking away the objects that are meant to protect it.  The whole thing was just a wash for me:  a repetitive and rather uninteresting story (the dude is still dead, and Tajomaru admitted from the start that he killed the other man) and irritating, unsympathetic characters.

RATE:  Skip it.  Watch Seven Samurai instead.

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