Un­re­li­able nar­ra­tors

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jonathan Richards I For The New Mex­i­can

Rashomon, 1950, drama, not rated, in Ja­panese with sub­ti­tles, CCA Cin­e­math­eque, 4 chiles Few movies make such an im­pact that their names en­ter into the lan­guage. Rashomon is such a movie, and “the Rashomon ef­fect” is its con­tri­bu­tion to the lex­i­con. An on­line en­cy­clo­pe­dia de­fines it as “the ef­fect of the sub­jec­tiv­ity of per­cep­tion on rec­ol­lec­tion, by which ob­servers of an event are able to pro­duce sub­stan­tially dif­fer­ent but equally plau­si­ble ac­counts of it.”

Ja­son Sil­ver­man, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts’ Cin­e­math­eque, men­tioned an­other word coined be­cause of the im­pact of this 1950 mas­ter­piece from Ja­panese leg­end Akira Kuro­sawa. “It gets its own ad­jec­tive,” he said. “ ‘Rashomonic’ is gen­er­ally used to de­scribe the film’s nar­ra­tive, which was then dar­ing and post­mod­ern in its shift­ing per­spec­tives. But it could also be used to cel­e­brate any num­ber of this film’s in­cred­i­ble virtues: its sharp, ground­break­ing cin­e­matog­ra­phy; the enor­mously pow­er­ful cen­tral per­for­mances— this is the mo­ment at which the world is in­tro­duced to the Kuro­sawa-Mi­fune [ac­tor Toshiro Mi­fune] part­ner­ship, still per­haps the great­est in cin­ema his­tory; its use of a his­tor­i­cal set­ting to ex­plore con­tem­po­rary is­sues (in this case, the volatil­ity of the sub­jec­tive voice and the prob­lem­atic na­ture of ap­plied jus­tice); or the pos­si­bil­i­ties for one sin­gle work of art to im­pact global con­scious­ness. There’s re­ally been noth­ing like Rashomon.”

Sil­ver­man ex­plained that all copies of the film seen in re­cent years were com­pro­mised. The film that the CCA is show­ing “has been metic­u­lously cleaned, frame by frame, both by hand and dig­i­tally by an in­ter­na­tional team of re­stor­ers. There was no chance of us pass­ing up the op­por­tu­nity to play it in its newly re­stored state.”

In Rashomon, four peo­ple re­count the story of a crime. Three of them are par­tic­i­pants in the event, the fourth is a hid­den by­stander. None of them tells the story the same way. The rea­son for the dis­parate ac­counts may be de­lib­er­ate ly­ing, it may be sub­jec­tiv­ity, it may be self-serv­ing self-delu­sion. It may be that there is no such thing as ob­jec­tive truth. “Hu­man be­ings are un­able to be hon­est with them­selves about them­selves,” Kuro­sawa writes in his mem­oir, Some­thing Like an Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “They can­not talk about them­selves without em­bel­lish­ing. This script por­trays such hu­man be­ings — the kind who can­not sur­vive without lies to make them feel they are bet­ter peo­ple than they re­ally are.”

The movie is set in 11th-cen­tury Ja­pan; a priest (Mi­noru Chi­aki), a wood­cut­ter (Takashi Shimura), and a com­moner (Kichi­jiro Ueda) are trapped by a tor­ren­tial rain­storm in the mas­sive, di­lap­i­dated old gate to Ky­oto. As they wait out the storm, the first two re­flect on a story they have heard that day in court; a story so strange and ter­ri­ble, says the priest, that “I may fi­nally lose my faith in the hu­man soul.” The com­moner, who was not in court, de­mands to know what they are talk­ing about.

It was a case of rape and mur­der. The crime took place in a for­est — a set­ting which for Kuro­sawa rep­re­sented the wilder­ness of the “strange im­pulses of the hu­man heart.” The wood­cut­ter first tells how, wan­der­ing through the woods, he dis­cov­ered the body. He and the priest then re­call for the com­moner the tes­ti­mony they have heard in court. The ba­sic story in­volves a samu­rai (Masayuki Mori) and his wife (Machiko Kyo) who are

at­tacked by the ban­dit Ta­jo­maru (Toshiro Mi­fune) as they travel through the for­est. The ban­dit ties the hus­band to a tree and has sex with the wife. The hus­band is then killed. Th­ese facts are not in dis­pute, but in each telling they mu­tate ac­cord­ing to the im­pulses and self-in­ter­est of the teller. Was it rape or con­sen­sual sex? Was there a heroic duel or was it cow­ardly slap­stick? Did the ban­dit kill the samu­rai? Did the wife kill him? Did he kill him­self? Each par­tic­i­pant gives a ver­sion, even the dead hus­band, whose tes­ti­mony is re­layed to the court through a medium. Back at the rain-drenched gate, an­other ac­count comes from the wood­cut­ter, who ad­mits to his com­pan­ions that the story he told in court was not the whole truth. He then pro­ceeds to give his eye­wit­ness ver­sion of the events as he saw them from hid­ing.

Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val in 1951 and an honorary Os­car for out­stand­ing for­eign lan­guage film the fol­low­ing year, in a time be­fore the Academy had in­sti­tuted that as a for­mal cat­e­gory. “This was Ja­pan’s first huge in­ter­na­tional suc­cess,” said Brent Kliewer, di­rec­tor of The Screen. “It put Ja­panese cin­ema on the map.” He de­scribed the Ja­panese mood in that pe­riod af­ter the war as “the Sartre view of the hos­tile world, won­der­ing how we got to this point and whether it’s pos­si­ble to get at the truth ex­actly.” He added, “I think it’s the first film that re­ally probes th­ese is­sues.”

When Rashomon was re­leased in this coun­try in late De­cem­ber of 1951, Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, also spec­u­lated about the film’s rel­e­vance to the mood of post­war Ja­pan. “Much of the power of the pic­ture— and it un­ques­tion­ably has hyp­notic power,” he wrote, “de­rives from the bril­liance with which the cam­era of di­rec­tor Akira Kuro­sawa has been used. ... Whether its dis­mal cyn­i­cism and its ul­ti­mate grasp at hope re­flect a cur­rent dis­po­si­tion of peo­ple in Ja­pan is some­thing we can­not tell you.”

That grasp at hope in­volves an aban­doned baby found at the gate at the end of the film and adopted by the wood­cut­ter. The wood­cut­ter’s act of re­demp­tion re­stores the priest’s faith in hu­man­ity. But in­ter­est­ingly, the ges­ture doesn’t hap­pen un­til the com­moner, the au­di­ence sur­ro­gate to whom th­ese con­flict­ing tales have been re­lated, has left. It’s as if Kuro­sawa is say­ing, this part isn’t for the pub­lic; this part is just for me.

Con­flict­ing ac­counts: Masayuki Mori, left, and Toshiro Mi­fune

Sex, lies, and re­stored video: from left, Mi­noru Chi­aki, Kichi­jiro Ueda, and Takashi Shimura

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.