Rashomon (Film) Background

Rashomon (Film) Background

Even if you have never heard of the world Rashomon, you are probably intensely familiar with the plot of this 1950 Japanese film directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. Committed fans of TV shows as diverse as All in the Family, The X-Files and King of the Hill have enjoyed episodes that pay homage to the legacy of Rashomon. Big fans of The Dick Van Dyke will feel especially comfortable with the film as roughly a third of all episodes of the 1960s sitcom are structured in the form of full-length flashback that provides a subjective recreation of previous events that recalls the structure of Rashomon. It is worth nothing that the bulk of those are structured in this way for absolutely no reason that can be termed necessary from a narrative perspective.

Ah, but perspective is what Rashomon is all about. Even with the originator of the much-copied structural gimmick, it is the structure that takes center stage. The actual story that is told using the structure of multiple perspectives told in flashbacks in attempt to arrive some sort of objective truth behind the subjective facts of the incident almost always takes a subservient position to how that story is related in critical assessment and scholarly analysis of Rashomon. Not that a significant amount of literature exists that focuses on the significance of the story itself, of course, which is only to be expected in light of the issues about sexism, class differences and potential for historical context through allegory.

Rashomon itself could technically join the list of the endless supply of remakes, imitators, homages and parodies since the film is actually based on a story published in 1922 with English title translated into “In a Grove.” While that short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was considered a landmark example of modernism in Japanese literature, the title left Kurosawa a little cold so he co-opted the title for his adaptation from another story—by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa—while also adding details from the second story to expand the significance and resonance of the movie’s framing device to the central story inspired by “In a Grove.”

The fact that a movie dealing with the nature of multiple perspectives as a means of piecing together a coherent and unified truth is itself a seamlessly coherent whole stitched from two different sources is almost too much to hope for. That factual reality behind the construction of Rashomon only serves to intensify the appreciation of Rashomon becoming one of the first mainstream examples of postmodern filmmaking despite its being partially based on one of the icons of Japanese modernist literature.

Rashomon was received a special honorary Academy Award for Best Foreign Language in the waning years of the era before the Academy created a category for nominating foreign language films as a regular part of its yearly lineup. In the years since, Rashomon has not only served to inspire a legion of imitators, but to inspire a number of critics to rank it among the ten or twenty greatest films ever made.

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