Mr sausage wrote:
I suppose I'll inaugurate the new version of this thread.
When I first saw Rashomon, on Criterion DVD, I was quite underwhelmed despite my love of Kurosawa. It was dull and continually redundant; and by the close of the first forty minutes I was pretty irritated. Yes, ok, I get it, all the stories are different and we can never know the truth (yeesh that's smug). I was mordantly disappointed (blasted blind buys); I put it away; and yet the next day was quite sure I had missed something. I've never liked to write off a highly regarded film too quickly, as I am not always a good viewer, and will readily admit this. So I watched the movie the next day--being 80 minutes made it seem less a chore--and was equally irritated. Rashomon was some kind of masterwork--what the hell is wrong with me? Bloody ignorant, that's what.
The essential design of Rashomon is not, as I had previously thought, to examine the nature of truth. In that it would be a redundant and overwrought foray into the obvious. Rashomon is instead a treatise on the fallibility of reality--which is also to essentially explore the fallibility of memory and consciousness, so linked are the three in this movie. Kurosawa's trademark humanism posits the existence of no outside objective reality, and instead presents it as reliant on the human perception of events--in this case four separate individual perceptions, or layers, of reality, each one informed according to consciousness.
The film doesn't seek obscurantism, though, despite such suggestions in deliberately neglecting a solution. It is impossible to know what actually occurred in the sense of seeing the unobstructed series of events ourselves rather than through mediators. But we are not given that, and must read the events through such filters. As I said, the film provides no solution or answer; yet what could be aggravating or manipulative about that is actually the key to understanding. The truth of the matter doesn't indeed matter, and the reality of the event is unknowable, and must be so. Reality in Rashomon is fallible because human consciousness colours it; and reality is presented to us as in a way unknowable in any objective sense: it can only exist as a product of memory, and memory is necessarily clouded by bias and perception, by vanity and desire--by our essential humanity. Reality then in Rashomon is all perception, and we cannot truly know or separate it from subjective colouring. It expands the grandeur and plies us with artifice by making all four stories drastically different, perhaps beyond any verisimilitude, and so confronts us directly with the troubles of reality, and questions how we know what's real. Going over-the-top in pointing out reality's fallibility allows Kurosawa to entertain this notion as well as slip successive layers beneath the surface.
Again Kurosawa's humanism is a way to approach successive filmic layers. Each of the four characters are not symbols--despite often seeming stylized--which importantly removes any suggestion of allegory. So then below the shell of reality's suspiciousness is the question of human perceptions and how consciousness can colourize it. If Kurosawa first plies us with the notion that reality is coloured, later he will ask us to examine how indeed reality has been coloured.
Rashomon is a puzzle, a rubic's cube, an elaborate maze in which the solution plays no part in the problem. To desire to know what really happened in the middle of that forest is to not understand the question; and to find an answer in the middle of the morass is to have misread it. At its heart is a very human issue, and the problem is not in discovering who is right or who is most truthful, but to analyse and understand the various personalities and how each person has constructed their own reality--what in them has coloured their perception; how much is intentional; how much not? The solution plays no part in the problem because the end result does not tell us what happened, nor bring us closer to knowing reality. Rather it gets us to understand, or bring us closer, to the nature of humanity, of which reality is only one part. The end result is not an answer, but a new and knowing question, one which seeks the wisdom in probing questions rather than through answers. In understanding the four characters and their reality, their method and modes of perception, we can, if we wish, ask basic questions about ourselves and our reality and how our consciousness functions. In Rashomon, asking questions is more revealing than getting answers.
Lastly, Kurosawa presents the puzzle of film: that cinema often presents itself as an objective recording of reality--a uncoloured, unfiltered presentation. What Rashomon suggests is that this too is fallible, as an objective reality cannot, in human terms, be knowable; and film is regardless still a filtered representation of the storyteller's personality. This is quite subtle because it isn't directly referenced at all, its formal patterns not really suggesting reflexivity. Yet Rashomon is a film presenting itself as unable to provide an objective representation of a story, essentially refuting all claims in the ability to do this. And even if it were to provide in the end an 'objective procession of events,' it would, after all, be like Shimura's answer to "what really happened, as seen by me, an outside spectator;" just watching alters the events, how ever slight; and even the Woodcutterï¿½s desires, his life, his existence as a poor labourer, have obscured the events.
And yet with such a dark message about humanity, Kurosawa still shows there is essential good in humankind, fallible as we may indeed be.
Great post, Mr Sausage. When I think of the film, it seems to me bordering on self parody. As if Kurosawa is mocking his own attempts in filmmaking at furthering character development and telling stories in general. I kept getting the feeling that the film was maybe born out of Kurosawa second guessing his intentions in directing itself. Maybe exposing an inner distrust of filmic manipulations... I was wondering if anyone else got this impression.