Rashomon is a 1950 Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa, highly regarded for its philosophical undertones and its exploration of the unfathomable human psyche – a brilliantly spun riddle. It is about the four people, who give four different versions of the testimonies at the court, on the recently occurred crime. It is one of those of rarest moments when truth is shown to be subjective.
I’d like to focus here on what I think is the rarest of Kurosawa’a abilities: the way he changes the eye of the camera- and the composition of the world it creates for us, for each of the narratives- some are impressionistic; some flat and full of contrast; some deep. Some are composed around people, some around the environment with people in it, some around fleeting motion. Sometimes the words are the organizing principle, sometimes images.
It is very much a visual film. It would be reduced to unimportant and insignificant fare without the cinematography, which captures the mood and feel of the jungle perfectly, as does the score. The film achieves an epic feel, especially during the battle between the bandit and the samurai during the last telling of the story. Kurosawa was also wise enough to choose a location for the film that would accurately capture the eerie, slightly disturbing mood of the story.
“Worth mention is also a line in the movie where the bandit says “it was a very hot afternoon. I was lying under a tree and resting. I saw a samurai who was moving with his wife in a horse. I would not have anything but for a cool breeze…which moved the veil move from the lady’s face and i was mesmerized by her beauty”
Now, how will a normal director shoot this scene. I can think of 3 shots which are cut like this-
shot 1: Bandit lying under tree. Sweat on his face (to denote hot afternoon)
shot 2: Moving shot of bandit and his wife on a horse
shot 3: Wind machine blowing and the veil of lady flowing
But Akira shot this in a very innovative way. And I think that speak volumes about his sheer talent. Here the bandit is clearly shown as a man who has walked long under hot sun and observe the shades of the leaves over his body. In the scene, bandit is sleeping in this state and suddenly the shades on his face starts moving. Not a wild movement, but a gentle move which clearly captures the phrase “cool breeze”. So without using that wind machine, you have shown what was the intention in the script.”
Another shot in the film worth mentioning is one which starts with the husband and wife kneeling, facing each other, a view of the wife over the shoulder of the husband; the camera then moves round to the side and simultaneously zooms in on the wife’s profile; then pulls back behind the wife, ending with a view of the husband’s face over the shoulder of the wife – a mirror image of the initial shot in the sequence. Kudos.