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In Which I Ruin Rashomon For Everyone, Forever
August 4, 2009 6:24 PM   Subscribe

With the initial belief that there is no story, or at least no fluid story behind the events of the events of the classic Kurosawa film Rashomon, MeFi's Own Shepherd set about diagramming the movie in an attempt to figure it all out. Join him as he, in his own words, Ruins Rashomon For Everyone, Forever. [via mefi projects]
posted by Effigy2000 (36 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Heh... this looks like fun. I'll have to peruse it at length when I have the time, but on a quick scan, I do like this line: "I am writing Rashomon fan fiction, and nobody is more embarrased about that than I."
posted by scody at 6:34 PM on August 4, 2009


Wow...Rashomon is one of my favorite films. I promised myself I wouldn't take my laptop on vacation with me next week. I think I'll be doing some light abusing of the office printer before Friday!

And just called the hotel, they have VCR in their conference room I can use :D
posted by effigy at 6:36 PM on August 4, 2009


Totally amazing. Rashomon is one of my favorite films ever, and your analysis was a great read.

In your analysis, all the characters seem to tell their stories in a calculated way, in order to "take the fall." I think the movie is about control, and about how people alter their own memories and believe their own version of events. I think each character (except the woodcutter) believes their version of the story; they aren't really lying, per say - they've chosen on a subconscious level to remember themselves as the active party in what happened. Admitting to murder is less frightening than admitting they weren't the one in control.

The woodcutter, I think, IS a liar, in that he wants to divert attention from the dagger. Other than that, I would say his story is the true one, or at least the true-est.

Anyway, amazing work. Diagrams make everything better and this was hilarious.
posted by Rinku at 6:42 PM on August 4, 2009


Isn't it obvious? The bandit lures the husband into the woods to have a fling, then brings wife into woods so that they can confess their love. He ties up husband to keep him from backing out and/or they're into rope play. Wife can't process this, goes into fugue state. At this point, husband, after being freed by his lover following the confession, kills himself after being overcome with shame about his identity and breaking his wife's heart.

It's Brokeback Kurosawa, an early monument in queer cinema.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:47 PM on August 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


Rashomon is the Japanese version of the Cretan Paradox: do you believe a Cretan who tells you that all Cretans are liars?
posted by rdone at 6:48 PM on August 4, 2009


That was really cool.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:52 PM on August 4, 2009


I love this project, but I feel like such a failure. *Huge* Kurosawa fan here, and I think Rashomon is plodding as hell. I love the concept, and the story, but am very meh about the actual film. I have not read it, but I imagine the book it is based on must be better?

Oh, and before everyone starts calling me a poseur who only likes the samurai-ass-kicking Kurosawa (which, of course, I do), my favorite Kurosawa film is Ikiru.

It is ok to turn this thread into a general Akira-love-fest, right?
posted by absalom at 6:55 PM on August 4, 2009


tl;dr
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:06 PM on August 4, 2009


There's one more thing you aren't taking into account. The framing story is that the woodcutter and the priest are telling the vagabond about the trial. This means that the stories you see on the screen aren't the actual testimony given by the bandit, wife, and samurai. They are their stories as related by the priest and/or woodcutter.

We've already established that the woodcutter lied in court to conceal the fact that he stole the dagger. What if the woodcutter was the one who related the bandit's version of the testimony? The dagger might have actually played a bigger role in the bandit's actual testimony, but the woodcutter glossed over it.

Rashomon is one of my favorite movies, by the way. After watching it for the fourth time, I came to the conclusion that the wife's story was probably closest to the truth.
- The bandit was a notorious criminal, and would be in big trouble whether or not he was convicted of killing the samurai. His testimony was simply bragging about his prowess in battle, and his prowess with the wife.
- The woodcutter made his sword-focused story to cover up the fact that he stole the dagger, and (perhaps) to convince himself that he deserved to have it the dagger more than anyone else. (His portrayals of all three of them were quite unflattering.)

Out of the other two, the husband's story seemed less likely, since samurai traditionally killed themselves by cutting open their bellies.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 7:10 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Way to completely wuss out about "Giant-Size Man-Thing."
posted by Pronoiac at 7:31 PM on August 4, 2009


Dare I step into this?
The film [to me] is really about the nature of truth, memory and reality and the fact that under pressure people always lie (consciously or not) by putting themselves at the center of the stories they tell. Because of this it's safe to say that none of the stories are true. Yet as a whole they do constitute some kind of truth about what happened.

Hence, the film is telling us that there is no solvable solution; everyone is lying for their own [selfish] reasons. However, Kurosawa adds the kicker in the end that says even if the characters are all selfish bastards, at the end of the day [end of the film] people [mankind] are generally pretty good.

Shepherd's analysis is pretty impressive. Combine it with this wild shot /time graph and you got yourself more information than you need about one of the great films.
posted by Rashomon at 8:03 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Now, if only we could get this guy to diagram 'Lady from Shanghai' - I've seen that pic a dozen times and am still not sure what's going on.
posted by jettloe at 8:08 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Among the three perpetrators, there’s a tidy knot: each admits to the crime (mostly; the Wife leaves some room for doubt, but not much). But, presuming that Japan was not chock-a-block with compulsive liars, they must have had some reason for making these stories up.

The simplest reason is love: each of our three murderers is trying to cover for another person, and the best reason to do that is that they are trying to shield them from the consequences of the murder.


I always thought that each of the witnesses lied in order to save face, which tends to be a much bigger deal in Asian cultures than it is in Western society. For each of them, being seen as having acted honorably and/or socially appropriately is more important than avoiding blame for the murder, so in each of their stories they act in a way that let's them take the high road in some way.

For the bandit, although he lives a life of crime he's also concerned about being seen as following an honorable set of ethics. He rapes the wife, but since she reciprocated it means that she wanted him anyway, and instead of murdering the husband he skillfully battles him in a fair fight.

The wife, having been tainted by the rape in society's view, asks for her husband to kill her, which would be more honorable than continuing as if it didn't happen. She also portrays him as being unsympathetic, which somewhat justifies his murder, and she describes the murder as being a result of her feminine breakdown rather than as an act of aggression.

The husband has been tainted by the rape as well, and he does his best to paint himself as the only real victim of the events. He does not fight or even die at the hands of anyone, but rather takes his own life, which would be seen as an honorable thing to do in such a situation.

The woodsman mostly tells the truth, since most of the events he's scene have nothing to do with him. The part that he lies about is taking the dagger, which was the only dishonorable act he committed.

To me all of the stories told are shaped by selfishness and the tendency to exaggerate one's own positive personality traits. None of them are trying to cover up for anyone but themselves, and why would they? The bandit will be hanged for other crimes no matter what happens, the husband is already dead, and the wife is a widow and rape victim in a time period where that would be an extremely bad situation. For those three the trial was less about determining blame and more about having the last word about the events that ruined all of their lives.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:24 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nicely done. Now get to work and tell me who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:42 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mr. Green. In the Hall. With the revolver.
posted by The Whelk at 8:50 PM on August 4, 2009


I remember the whole thing differently.
posted by crossoverman at 8:52 PM on August 4, 2009


Nicely done. Now get to work and tell me who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep.

The alien from Repo Man. Who was hiding in the case in Pulp Fiction.

The thing that blew everyone's mind about this movie was the idea of the unreliable narrator. I actually don't think it's ever been demonstrated as well as this film.

(Oh, and don't bother watching the western version of this The Outrage. Despite having an excellent cast, it never really flies for some reason.)
posted by lumpenprole at 9:06 PM on August 4, 2009


Giant sized man-thing!
posted by Artw at 9:32 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


CrunchyFrog,

Nice try. But every viewing I've had of Rashomon I've come away with the feeling that the Samurai Husband was a rather weak man. And, there are countless stories in Japan of broken and disgraced Samurai who didn't have the stones to commit seppuku.

This particular samurai always seemed to be portrayed as a man who understood that the woman to whom he was married was of higher status than he. Again, a common tactic in feudal japan was to saddle a vassal with an expensive bride to keep him from getting too powerful. Thus setting up a power dynamic where if the samurai was strong and he was disgraced he would feel no compunction or need to commit seppuku to regain his honor, since he could just claim that his wife was a willing partner to the bandit. OR if he was weak he would be too afraid of losing his own life and thus again fail to commit seppuku, and set up the further story of the wife promising to run off with the bandit, because her husband is not worthy of her hand.

In this respect I see the possibility of suicide on the part of Takehiro (the husband) to be the least likely.


For me I enjoy the movie for the sake of ignoring the most and least possible, and just watching the stories for their own sake (very post modern).

One further thing to consider. The present moment in the movie, the one that the viewer is initially introduced to the actors is the rain-on-ruin scene. And all subsequent returns to the present are in the rain. What Kurosawa may have intended here was to conflate the idea of the "muddy" present and the "clarity" of the past.
posted by Severian at 9:36 PM on August 4, 2009


Related: The Macbeth Murder Mystery by James Thurber
posted by CrunchyFrog at 11:02 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is ok to turn this thread into a general Akira-love-fest, right?

Put me on the huge fan list— just two nights ago I watched The Quiet Duel, which means I've now seen every film that Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune made together. (I can't believe I'm watching a b/w melodrama about syphilis, I said to myself, but I wanted to see all 16.)

Rashomon is actually one of my least favorite of the bunch (I'm with absalom on this), but Shepherd's project looks awesome. It's a lot more complex than diagramming, say, The Lady or the Tiger?
posted by LeLiLo at 12:56 AM on August 5, 2009


Hey, neat! It's immensely gratifying to see something I did front-paged on MeFi, and there's a ton of great comments in this thread, and on the blog now as well, advancing even better theories on what exactly happened in the woods (including some "goose in the bottle" solutions that boil down to "it was only a story, there was no murder").

One thing that bothered me about the movie, and the hardest thing to diagram, was making a timeline work where the Woodsman finds the Wife's hat and still arrives at the scene in time to witness all the action. He doesn't find the horse, which means it is gone by the time he finds the hat, and yet he still arrives at the rape/murder scene in time to see how it all goes down. But if he was close enough behind the Bandit/Wife (yet not quite close enough to hear them running through the woods ahead of them) to not miss any of the crucial events, how could he have found the hat after the Bandit has stolen the horse?

(actually, I think I'm going to tack that onto the end of the blog post right now).
posted by Shepherd at 3:35 AM on August 5, 2009


Worth mentioning that Rashomon is a short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, one of Japan's foremost literary stylists (it says that on the cover of my Penguin copy.) I can't really vouch for that, but I did find Jay Rubin's translations of his short stories very readable.
posted by johnny novak at 3:41 AM on August 5, 2009


Oddly -- they cover this on the Criterion release of the movie in the booklet and also in the commentary track -- the story that the title of the movie is taken from, Rashomon, really only provides the setting for the framing story, and the main plot elements are taken from another Akutagawa story, In A Grove. Rashomon is a great story, but has practically nothing to do with the events in the movie per se.
posted by Shepherd at 4:19 AM on August 5, 2009


good point Shepherd, it's been a while since I read the stories.
posted by johnny novak at 4:41 AM on August 5, 2009


So what have we learned? Well, first of all, it would be a wise move to keep me the hell away from Primer.

...and that is the line that send me straight over the edge into wild howling cackling that scared all my co-workers. Dangit.
posted by dabitch at 5:53 AM on August 5, 2009


I've never really cared "whodunnit" because the film is so satisfying on so many levels anyway. A few years ago I screened it for a class of college students used to linear plots (and color movies) and they were like, "Huh? Wait a minute..." I was ostensibly teaching pre-production (storyboarding, in this case) but it was a great opportunity to fuck with them a little.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:45 AM on August 5, 2009


And what of the medium? In a movie filled with unreliable narrators, why should we be so quick to accept that she is accurately relating the dead husband's testimony? Given the general skepticism of MeFites towards real-world "psychics" (as seen in this recent AskMe), why should we believe she's psychic at all? Though she didn't hear the testimony of the bandit or the wife before her (or did she? was she within earshot when that was going on, even if not visible?) she might have spoken to others involved in the investigation beforehand, and is making up a story as best she can given the facts available to her. Or if she did hear the earlier testimony, perhaps she thought it would do more for her reputation to come up with a story different than either of the previous ones, rather than merely confirming one or the other. And/or, since she didn't know who was responsible, she was unwilling to risk blaming a potentially innocent living person for the husband's death so came up with a story in which neither was responsible.

Or perhaps she is psychic and is in contact with the soul of the samurai, but has some motive not to relay it accurately. We know so little about her that it's hard to speculate on that, however. Maybe the samurai's soul is actually telling her that one or the other did it, but she suspects he is lying and, again, is unwilling to see a miscarriage of justice due to her testimony.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:10 AM on August 5, 2009


Next, I ruin Transformers 2 for everybody. Forever.
posted by Naberius at 10:27 AM on August 5, 2009


It is ok to turn this thread into a general Akira-love-fest, right?

TETSUOOOOOOOOO! KANEDAAAAAAA!
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, first of all, it would be a wise move to keep me the hell away from Primer.

As much as I take this statement as a challenge, I'm wary to accept it...

Begs the question: have you tried to map it?
posted by pokermonk at 10:59 AM on August 5, 2009


Related: The Macbeth Murder Mystery by James Thurber
posted by CrunchyFrog at 11:02 PM on August 4 [+] [!]

That piece was brilliant. Thanks for the link.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:57 PM on August 5, 2009


The simplest reason is love: each of our three murderers is trying to cover for another person, and the best reason to do that is that they are trying to shield them from the consequences of the murder.
I always thought that each of the witnesses lied in order to save face, which tends to be a
much bigger deal in Asian cultures than it is in Western society.


I always assumed this movie was about how there is no such thing as objective truth, but I ironically thought everyone else knew this as well! Shame on me.
posted by shii at 3:48 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


burnmp3s: I always thought that each of the witnesses lied in order to save face
I'm with you on that, burn, call it face or pride or the centrality of Me, as others have done -- each of the three portrays themself as hero of the piece. But I disagree that the woodcutter's version is necessarilly more truthful than the others. He is pleased to portray the upper class and the bandit would-be folk hero as cowards and twits. He, too, has an agenda: "My role is that of the poor but honest soul." I don't think his version is truer than any of the others. When the monk gives him the baby, I don't think it's because he believes the woodcutter's version, but because he accepts that the truth is unknowable and that human beings must, of necessity, live within a lie (or an illusion, or maya). I've seen two other versions of this play/story. One of them emphasized the monk's doubts about the woodcutter -- not with extra dialogue but through physical expression acting.
on preview: sort of what shii said.
posted by CCBC at 4:54 PM on August 5, 2009


When the monk gives him the baby, I don't think it's because he believes the woodcutter's version, but because he accepts that the truth is unknowable and that human beings must, of necessity, live within a lie (or an illusion, or maya). I've seen two other versions of this play/story. One of them emphasized the monk's doubts about the woodcutter -- not with extra dialogue but through physical expression acting.

Yeah, I agree, although I think that only comes through in the framing story. With the four versions of the events taken in isolation, the woodcutter's version is the most plausible and seemingly objective, but in the context of the framing story there's a lot of doubt cast on the whole story itself. That functions as a sort of twist ending, in that the audience will most likely come up with some sort of reconstruction of the real events, only to be shown that since the overall story was told through one of the character's perspective, none of the events in the film can be fully trusted.

I always assumed this movie was about how there is no such thing as objective truth, but I ironically thought everyone else knew this as well! Shame on me.

I don't see how that theme necessarily contradicts any analysis of the film's events taken at face value though. Even if the woodcutter's story of the trial is completely made up, in order to make him look like an honest man in a dishonest world, it's still possible to look at the fictional characters in his story and think about what their motivations were and what the stories they tell say about them. The point of the film isn't about figuring out what really happened, and more about showing why figuring out what really happened is impossible, but in my opinion part of the fun of the film is trying to do it anyway.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:10 AM on August 6, 2009


Good analysis, though you've not taken into consideration the interpretation I've always taken to be true -- the woodcutter did it. The samurai was still alive until he came for the dagger, and the woodcutter gave him the coup de grace.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:40 PM on August 10, 2009


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