There are very few directors like Akira Kurosawa and “Rashomon” is one movie where every explanation falls short. If you have not seen this movie already, please do watch it before reading this as this article may contain spoilers.
Rashomon is clearly one of the greatest movies ever made. Inspired from the popularity of this movie, The Rashomon effect is a term related to the notorious unreliability of eye witnesses. It describes a situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved. It is very much impossible to come up with all the messages Kurosawa wanted to convey here. However, there is one main motive behind the movie – perspective just does not drive the truth, IT IS THE TRUTH! The movie has a strange connection to the number 3. There are three layers in the movie, a story about a story about an incident and there are three major characters – the bandit, the wife and the husband where the bandit rapes the wife and the husband is killed. The woodcutter, who narrates the story to a commoner and a monk, is behind the bushes and sees everything. There were many breakthroughs in the cinematography of this movie, this was the first movie to be ever shot in direct sunlight, Kurosawa very cleverly used mirrors to bounce the sunlight. He even added ink to the rain so that the camera could capture it. Even the framing of every scene was deliberate and has a meaning to it.
At the beginning of the story, we see the wife riding a horse and her husband walking by her, both carrying their weapons and a tired Tajomaru, sleeping under the shade of a tree when suddenly the wind blows and Tajomaru driven by his bodily lust decides to rape the wife. He even decides to kill the husband if the need arises.
Afterwards, the bandit is caught and they are all summoned in a courtroom and when the Bandit says that he has killed the husband, he does not tell the truth as there is no sky in the scene, depicting his lie! Yes, the presence of sky in the background of the frame depicts the validity of a statement. While explaining the duel in the courtroom, we see that he throws a sword towards the husband, but we never see a dead husband and we see the bandit is surprised. Why? Because even after such a gruesome fight, the husband is not killed! Anyway, the two great fight sequences, which we get to witness in this movie never, actually happens! He surely injures the husband, but he does not die. He then takes away his sword and is caught when he tries to sell it off in exchange for liquor.
The wife’s version is again a little different from whatever the bandit says. She says she faints after her husband throws a look full of wrath at her and she never sees how the husband actually dies. Again we have to notice the frame here, the sky in the frame depicts the truth, no sky in the frame means she is lying.
The ghost of the dead man, the husband speaks through a medium and he says that he committed suicide with his wife’s dagger after his wife is raped and the bandit runs away.
Let us now come to the woodcutter and the baby. We see that the woodcutter is full of guilt, but are we aware of his guilt? He sees the entire happenstance from behind the bushes, so his version should be the absolute truth. However, is it? The guilt of the woodcutter is actually caused because he probably has witnessed a man commit suicide, and he does nothing to actually stop the guy. He has to live his entire life bearing this guilt. So what does he do? Let’s us now come to the elemental symbolism of this movie. The water, the rain by which they, woodcutter, the monk and the commoner are caught actually symbolizes a trap! The woodcutter adopts the crying baby which happens to be his redemption. Redemption from his act of doing nothing when he sees a suicide, stealing the wife’s stone embedded dagger. The dagger symbolizes confusion. The confusion arises when the bandit has his way with the wife and dagger falls from her hand. The sunlight, the sky depicts truth while the dagger enforces mystery, confusion. The wind on the other hand is shown to be a mischief monger, a notorious element. At the beginning, we see the bandit accusing the wind and telling to the court that nothing would have happened if the wind had not blown causing the face of the wife to be unveiled. And at the end, everyone pay for their wrongdoings. The wife tries to commit suicide by drowning herself but she pays by living. The bandit also pays for his wrongdoings.
So, again, remember when we are caught in a Rashomon effect, everyone is an honest liar. Their truth is their perspectives!