The Truth Is Often Mutable And Ambivalent

The events that take place over the course of “Rashomon” are fairly easy to parse. A woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) recounts a sordid tale of murder and sexual assault to a priest (Minoru Chiaki) and a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda), who are perplexed by the elusive nature of the truth. A samurai (Masayuki Mori) and his wife (Machiko Kyō) are involved, who are targeted by a notorious bandit (Toshirô Mifune), who is either a murderer or assaulter (or both) in various versions of the story. By the end of this unfortunate affair, the samurai is dead, leaving the wife and the bandit to appear in court and provide their testimonies. The third witness is none other than the dead samurai himself, who recounts his version of the truth via a Shinto psychic. The results are baffling, and as for the verdict — there isn’t one.

Kurosawa’s decision to not provide us with a verdict, or a glimpse into the decision-makers in the courtroom, directly creates space for the audience to arrive at their own conclusions. While all works of fiction that are rich in subtext inevitability usher in interpretative analysis, “Rashomon” actively invites audiences to engage with the dynamic tale woven in deception and half-truths. The three witnesses look directly at the camera and plead their case, revealing their clumsily-hidden follies in the process. People lie for various reasons, to the point that they start believing in these self-fabrications themselves — “Rashomon” exemplifies this human instinct to falsify reality to suit one’s interests, sometimes even from beyond the grave. 

In Kurosawa’s world, there is no objective truth, as every memory, recollection, and proclamation of the truth, is a tweaked, bastardized version of an incident. Life itself is governed by The Rashomon Effect, where individual perception and recollection paint our everyday realities.

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