Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FOREIGN CORNER: Rashomon (1950)

For whatever reason, in my film career I have not seen enough of Akira Kurosawa.  And over the last month I have tried to remedy this great misstep.  Yojimbo is a classic, without doubt, but Rashomon might be considered more important in the Kurosawa timeline.  It is an early film in his career and one that opened doors in his career.  Without Rashomon, which was a worldwide success and groundbreaking film, some of the best of Kurosawa may have never existed.  That being said, I did not entirely love Rashomon, not in the way I adored Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, or Kagemeshu.  But, as I have said in defense of myself many times before, I understand why the film is great.

While it may be too melodramatic or slow or drawn out for my personal tastes, the structure and the ingenuity behind the plot of the film is important in the grand scheme.  It is an inspiration for so many pictures in history.  But it doesn't change the fact that, in my eyes, the film is lacking.  Don't get me wrong, the fact that there is no resolution to this film doesn't have any sort of bearing on my reaction.  In fact, the ambiguity of the events is one of the better aspects. 

Rashomon tells the story of a murder and a rape through the eyes of four different witnesses, all who claim to have been the murderer.  That last point of the description is key.  Had all four been accounts of guiltless participation, Rashomon would have taken on an entirely different tone.  But, as these witnesses all claim to be the killer, then who is right and why would all of the others express their guilt.  In the forefront is the bandit, played by Kurosawa regular Tishoro Mifune.  As a compatible piece, Kurosawa never had a more reliable actor than Mifune.  When considering the career of Martin Scorsese, who idolized Kurosawa, his use of Robert Deniro seems parallel to Kurosawa's use of Mifune.  The two men understood each other completely.

the film opens on a rainy afternoon, where a commoner is struggling to work through the confessions he has heard.  The flash back to the past is without the rain, and a clear break in the action, as the confessions come one after another.  But nobody is right and nobody is wrong.  How does it work?  There is no answer in the film, instead it focuses on the way these characters embellish their stories.  And Kurosawa shows his skills as a visual master in early scenes where the past and present are separated by long, extended journeys through the jungle.

There are things to admire about Rashomon, especially since this was one of Kurosawa's earliest films.  He is working out things with this picture, and they work.  They just don't work to me.  At times the melodrama drowns the film, and there are moments which go on much too long for their own good.  I understand that Rashomon is a classic in cinema, but I think it is more for what it created than what it was itself.