(2002) - Daiei Studios (Criterion Collection)
by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/A
Specs and Features
88 min, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no
layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by
Japanese film scholar and Kurosawa historian Donald Richie, excerpt
from The Camera Also Acts: The World of
Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa documentary, theatrical
trailer, 28-page booklet with book excepts and reprints of source
novellas: In a Grove and
Rashomon by Ryunosuke
Akutagaw, video introduction from director Robert Altman, animated
film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (13 chapters),
languages: Japanese and English (DD mono), subtitles: English
all the literature, poetry and films dealing with the subject of "truth,"
virtually all fall short when held against Akira Kurosawa's
breakthrough film, Rashomon.
Winner of the 1952 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film,
Rashomon opens with the only
bit of absolute truth shown in the entire film. Three man stand
stranded at Japan's dilapidated Rashomon gate during an incredibly
torrential rain storm. They include a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura),
one of the central characters in the story, a priest (Minoru
Chiaki), who may have lost his faith in man, and an unsuspecting
vagabond (Kichijiro Ueda). The woodcutter and the priest are
emotionally beat up, having seen a murder trial where the very
questions: "what is truth" and "what do we perceive
as being truth" are shaken down to their fundamental roots. The
woodcutter proceeds to tell the vagabond (who has no idea of the
tale he's in for) his awful story, which starts with a stroll
through the woods.
In a glen, seemingly at the center of the deepest Japanese woods,
the woodcutter finds a woman's hat, a dagger sheath and the dead
body of a noble samurai. He runs straight to the local constables to
alert them of a murder. We then cut to a trial, more specifically,
the trial of the notorious bandit Tajomuru (Toshirô Mifune).
He's being questioned as to why he was caught with the murdered
samurai's horse and bow, and he immediately fesses up. He himself
murdered the samurai in an honorable duel, but there's more to his
story. While he was laying in the shade of the trees, a samurai
(Masayuki Mori) and his wife (Machiko Kyô) walked by. It could
have been the way the sunlight hit her, or it could have been the
fact that he was lonely and looking for some company. Either way, he
knew he had to steal her away from her husband, even if that meant
killing him. So he quickly hatched a plan to lure the warrior away
from his wife. Once the man was tied up and pacified, he took the
wife as his own (yes, raped her). And then, to make good the deal,
he challenged the man to a duel - the winner gets the woman. That's
Tajomuru's story and he's sticking to it. Except, as we find out
back at Rashomon, that doesn't seem to be the truth. Not the whole
truth at least. Maybe not even a partial truth.
You see, the man's wife was found hiding in a temple, and when she
was brought to the court to tell her story, she contradicted
everything Tajomuru had to say. Yes, the husband was lured away. He
was tied up and she was raped. But afterwards, Tajomuru left the
scene of the crime. He got what he wanted and away he went. The
wife, full of shame, found her husband staring at her as if the
darkest dirt known to man had muddied her virtue. She couldn't stand
the look in his eyes, and so she asked that he kill her. She even
brought a dagger for him to do the job... but in a blackout, she
must have killed HIM because of her shame and the disparaging look
in his eyes. That, indeed, must be the whole truth and nothing but
the truth. But it isn't. At least according to the woodcutter.
The story told to the vagabond continues; a medium was then brought
to the court to spiritually connect to the husband, who communed a
story even more different than the previous two. Again, the husband
was brought to the glen, he was tied and Tajomuru took his wife...
but the man's spirit claimed his wife told Tajomuru to kill her
husband so she could run away with him. Tajomuru was utterly shocked
and gave the samurai the choice of having her killed or letting her
live. Hearing her options, the wife ran in fear with Tajomuru in hot
pursuit. When Taj came back empty handed, he freed the man and left.
The husband, full of pity and self-loathing, killed himself with his
dagger and fell into the bushes to die. But as he lay there dying,
he felt a hand reach down and remove the dagger from his chest.
So who removed the dagger? That story is explained by the
woodcutter; who apparently also didn't tell the entire story -
truthfully or otherwise. He held something back. In fact, he
witnessed the entire story, and the version he tells contains
aspects of every story that preceded it with major theatrical
flourishes. When it's all said and done, you won't know who is
telling the truth, who is lying and, most importantly, why.
And it doesn't matter one bit. Kurosawa isn't interested in truth,
lies or anything of the sort. He's interested in reality, and the
reality of human truth is that no one will ever really know it. Did
O.J. kill Nicole? We'll never know. He could come on TV tonight and
say he did it, and half of America wouldn't believe him even then,
thinking he was just promoting a new website or something. And it
doesn't matter. Even days after the murder occurred, we all knew we
would never know the truth. The truth settled into the ground with
I've always enjoyed Rashomon.
It's an incredible film. The cinematography is beautiful. The acting
at first seems off, but once you see "why", you know that
the acting is perfect. When I first saw this film, I knew that
Mifune was the greatest actor I had ever seen. I still think he is.
This is Kurosawa's masterpiece. He's made better "movies"
in my opinion, but as a commentary and a piece of cinematic art,
there's very little you will find that could even stand in
Criterion does here what it does best, which is to give us a great
version of this film on DVD. The picture quality is very, very good
for a film of its age and country of origin. There are some moments
of wear but, for the most part, you have never seen this film
looking this good before... unless you happened to see it in the 50s
in a Japanese theater. The sound is mono, and there is some hiss and
pop associated with the film's age. But it certainly sounds better
than it probably should, or ever has in the past. I'm very pleased
with this DVD.
But what makes it even better is the special edition treatment this
film gets on DVD. To start with, you get an incredible audio
commentary track by Donald Richie, who walks us through the film and
seems to answer every question you may have before it pops into your
head. Richie knows what he's talking about, and never sounds
scripted or as if he's reading from notes. He simply loves this film
and the filmmaker more than any commentator we've heard before on a
Criterion disc. I really enjoyed hearing everything he had to say.
Next, we get a short video introduction from Robert Altman, who also
seems to love the film. He talks about its influence on his work
(and the work of many filmmakers), as well as the importance of the
film as an art piece. The original trailer is on hand, as is an
excerpt from a documentary made about the life and career of
cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, who still owned the original
Rashomon sign from the film when the documentary was shot. He has
since passed away. Also in this little film is an interview with
Kurosawa conducted before his death. It's a very cool piece, where
Kurosawa and Miyagawa both go into how some of the more elaborate
shots were created with shadow cheats, complicated dolly shots and a
stolen wardrobe mirror. It's good stuff, but I wish the whole
documentary was on here. But the best extra you get here isn't even
on the disc - it's in the huge insert booklet. Along with excerpts
from books about Kurosawa, and the standard essays, the two original
stories this film is based on are reprinted here in their entirety.
That's a great and rare gift indeed, because I personally know that
it's often hard trying to track down a film's source material...
especially when they're from another land.
I always enjoy Criterion's editions of Kurosawa films. I can't help
feeling disappointed by the fact that a few of my all-time favorite
Kurosawa films have yet to be released on DVD with this kind of
treatment (if at all). But if they eventually arrive with this kind
of quality, I can wait. Let's just put Ikiru
out next, shall we guys?