Distinctive Storytelling Aspects of Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ (1950) and the Legacy of the ‘Rashomon Effect’

Distinctive Storytelling Aspects of Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ (1950) and the Legacy of the ‘Rashomon Effect’

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Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic takes us through the story of a brutal rape of a woman and the murder of her samurai husband through differing versions of the events by four different witnesses. Kurosawa stages this through a trial-like setting in which the witnesses address you, the viewer, and give their interpretation of the events. This unique storytelling method has since coined the term ‘The Rashomon effect’. By definition, this is contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. This method has been referenced by, or used in, many films since Rashomon to varying levels of success. Here I intend to argue what is unique about this method and also compare it to other, more contemporary films that have adopted it.
Rashomon allows us to make our own judgements. We, the viewer, are essentially the jury and the film plays out like a court case. We are given accounts and information and are expected to draw our own conclusions on to who may be the culprit. By the time the film concludes, we are still none the wiser in terms of gratification. Kurosawa’s method is masterful. He creates the scenario, builds the tension but exercises a right to make the viewer dictate the conclusion through his ambiguity. Upon first viewing, this ambiguity seems frustrating and arguably lazy. What cannot be argued is that this open ended conclusion firstly; requires the viewer to actively think about the film and secondly; draws the viewer into repeat viewings through the need to further nullify the insatiable desire for closure.
Another unique aspect to the film is the admittance of guilt and accountability of the crime from the witnesses. “The bandit admits to killing the husband; the wife admits to killing the husband; the husb...

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...o me, The Usual Suspects and The Constant Gardener being fine examples. I think I saw Inception (which plays beautifully with concepts of time and space and structure) four times before fully appreciating its tapestry. I think it’s fair to say that the chances of these stories functioning on screen and being easily accepted and digestible may not have been possible if it were not for Rashomon.

Works Cited

The Films of Akira Kurosawa by D. Richie, 1999, p. 72.

https://mubi.com/reviews/22103- Distortion of Truth: Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon
Rashomon. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perfs. Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki. 1950. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2002.

Stylistic Innovations in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction", Julian Sander, 2010, p17
The Screenwriter's Workbook (Revised Edition), Syd Field, 2006, p35

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