It’s difficult to write about a film that is widely considered one of the most important in cinema – because there is so little original to say about it. It’s a movie Kurosawa made before he became the globally famous bad boy of Japanese cinema, one that was made with a small budget, even smaller sets, and a tiny cast.
With the properly good films, even though it’s the opposite of what I’m supposed to do, less is better than more in trying to describe it.
It is, essentially, four testimonies about a rape and murder that do not match. However, it’s hard to think any of the four are lying – since they all claim to be the killer.
True, in that they present an accurate portrait of what each witness thinks happened. False, because as Kurosawa observed, ‘Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.’
Since its release, the device of Rashomon h as been borrowed over and over again. The Usual Suspects showed us flashbacks that do not agree with objective reality. The ‘Rashomon effect’ is a term related to the notorious unreliability of eyewitnesses.
It is human nature to listen to witnesses and decide who is telling the truth, but the first words of the screenplay, spoken by the woodcutter, are “I just don’t understand.”