The punctuation of Rashomon

One of the most remarkable aspects of Kurosawa’s film editing is the use of cinematic punctuation. Rashomon has 420 shots in all. This is twice the average of his other films. Yet these shots never call attention to themselves. They make it possible for a viewer to feel the film. All the shots, stationary or moving, are precisely calculated with their effect on screen in mind. One second less or more would have spoilt the effect of the shot. The dagger that drops is allowed to quiver just twice!

In Rashomon, he makes sense out of one of the silliest and most primitive of punctuation marks- ‘the wipe‘. He uses it to create the effect of time, usually a short period of time having elapsed. There is a fine use of it when the wife is waiting, in the bandit’s story. This technique is consistent with most Kurosawa films.

The dissolve technique, on the other hand shows passage of a longer duration of time. The last scene of Rashomon is a beautiful example of this. The three men are standing under the gate and there is a series of dissolves moving closer and closer. Kurosawa also deploys simpler ways to showing the passage of time. There is a scene where the husband is shown waiting for long. Kurosawa neither uses dissolve, nor wipe or fading effect. The effect is created through three long held shots– a distant shot, followed by a far-shot, followed by a medium close-up. This simply shows passage of time. How beautiful!

There is a scene through which the bandit takes husband into the woods, then runs back and tells the wife that her husband has been bitten by a snake. In the first notice, one would say that this is one shot, a swiftly moving pan. I couldn’t believe when I read that, this small scene has seven cuts! Kurosawa probably never moved the camera more than he did in Rashomon. The shooting script is full of directions to pan, to dolly in and out, etc. Yet the film, with its small and obscure story, with its camera work, and on screen precision, is a masterpiece!


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