Rashomon (1950) movie review
Rashomon is a classic Japanese film, from pioneering director Akira Kurosawa, which follows a crime that is recounted by several people who meet in the ruins of a small town. The film’s frame story follows the moral debate between the central characters recounting the incident, while the base story shows it from each’s perspectives. And while that has been done more than once, this was not only one of the first, but quite possibly the best to ever tell a story like this.
So I have had a recent binge into Kurosawa and samurai films from Japan, actually just a lot of foreign films, and Rashomon was sadly one of the first I saw in this. I say sadly because it was all downhill from there! (That’s a joke, there are some other fantastic ones I saw, and some that aren’t really comparable. Anyway…) As a film that balances crime and drama wrapped in a bit of mystery, it is important that the tone stands out above most others, as the tone carries with it the themes and moral debate at the center of the film. Rashomon absolutely kills it with its tone. It’s occasionally fun, and even a little funny here and there. You get to sit back and question what the film is showing you, as well as the implications of the ideals the characters are presented with. However when this film sinks in, it’s not only deeply thought-provoking, but somber. While much of the film is enjoyable, the rest focuses on the more dramatic aspect, the themes, which makes the entire film consistently engaging.
The quality is minimal, which works for the concise story, so it never tries to be bigger than it is. The framing, cinematography, and even editing are all honestly so good, they are head of their time a bit. You are shown what is important through camera work, and what you are following through the editing, which lead the audience on a ride they don’t have to think about too hard, but are forced to engage with as if they were under the Rashomon gate too. Something that took a bit of getting used to were the over-the-top performances. While that is fairly common in older samurai films to confer emotion and feeling, as it is in many older films from the US too, you can actually judge the realism, or lack thereof, in the story by the varying performances if you pay attention. It’s a nice detail that could easily be overlooked.
I could probably go on and on about Rashomon, but just check it out. It’s great filmmaking, a classic ahead of its time in story and quality, and overall a fun and compelling watch that you can either enjoy or deeply appreciate. It’s fantastic is what I’m getting at. 9/10
-review by Ryan Prince