19 June 2006


For years I have been familiar with the term "Rashomon" more as a cultural touchstone than as a dramatic or cinematic artifact—a sort of super-signifier of the idea that everyone has her own way of seeing the same situation: truth is in the eye of the beholder.

So I had always thought that Rashomon (the film) showed that different people could accurately account for the same event in profoundly different ways. The movie doesn't quite live up to this expectation. Each of the four accounts (of a woman's rape and her husband's death) could be simultaneously true only in the most metaphorical sense. Really, there are three contradictory and self-serving accounts, and one account likely to be closest to the truth because the speaker was not involved—the events he described didn't touch upon his ego.

"Rashomon," then, refers less to multifaceted truth than to how we reshape reality as we remember it, to preserve our sense of self. Rashomon (the movie) is beautiful and engaging; directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune in a very stylized performance. The DVD includes a short, interesting introduction by Robert Altman.

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