"The body was lying flat on its back dressed in a bluish silk kimono and a wrinkled head-dress of the Kyōto style. A single sword-stroke had pierced the breast. The fallen bamboo-blades around it were stained with bloody blossoms... a gad-fly was stuck fast there, hardly noticing my footsteps" ("In a Grove," loc. 93)
The woodcutter testifies the details of the murder scene like a detective. The gadfly is difficult to interpret; it could signify the strangeness or supernatural character of the scene, because, as it happens, others refute many of the details of his testimony later on.
"Flocks of crows flew in from somewhere. During the daytime these cawing birds circled round the ridgepole of the gate. When the sky overhead turned red in the afterlight of the departed sun, they looked like so many grains of sesame flung across the gate... here and there the stone steps, beginning to crumble, and with rank grass growing in their crevices, were dotted with the white droppings of crows" ("Rashōmon," loc. 235)
The crows’ presence at the site of the gate lingers visually even when they aren't there. It is clear whose territory this destitute and dilapidated structure really is.
"Goi was a very plain-looking man. His hollow cheeks made his chin seem unusually long. His lips . . . if we mentioned his every striking feature, there would be no end. He was extremely homely and sloppy in appearance" ("Yam Gruel," loc. 317)
This hilarious turn in which even the narrator is bored of describing just how homely and how sloppily Goi dresses shows the reader how little anybody cares about this samurai. Instead of going to lengths to create a perfect image of the man as would be the Victorian style of 19th-century English literature, Akutagawa, no doubt well-read in this style, looks the other way toward a concise representation. His description of Goi does not suffer from cutting off the imagery, but rather exceeds the capacity of words to describe the character in a swift slice.
"Tomorrow will not fail to shed its cold light on my headless body" ("Kesa and Morito," loc. 827)
Kesa's plot to undermine her pact to kill her husband with Morito is finally branded into the reader's visual memory with this ruthless imagery. The moonlight that keeps the psychological secrets of the night will not be around to cover up the terrifying reality in the morning. Morito will have cut off the wrong head and the cold light of day will make it ever known.
"The tip of his nose shone frightfully crimson all the year round, as if it'd been stung by a wasp" ("The Dragon," loc. 858)
Hanazō gets his nickname from his extraordinarily large nose, which is aptly described because of the constant attention it gets. No doubt, the old potter who narrates the story must have contemplated it many times to nail this imagery.
Rashomon Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Rashomon is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.