Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Edge of Horror: Rashomon 1950

I find it very hard to write about the films of Akira Kurosawa. Words do not do justice. The first film of his that I saw was Dreams, which was one of his last. Dreams was a film that I thought was beautiful when I first saw it, but I really didn't understand it until I was much older. Watching it as an adult I find the film terrifying (the majority of the dreams have an element of horror in them), melancholy, visually dazzling and strangely hopeful. Many of the same things can be said about his 1950 masterpiece, Rashomon.

The plot of Rashomon is well known (and much copied). A rape and murder take place in the woods, and 4 witnesses (including the dead mean speaking through a Medium) tell their conflicting stories about what really happened. Each version contains an element of truth, but that truth is twisted to satisfy the teller's needs. A Priest, a Woodcutter, and a Commoner debate the accounts under the gate to the city of Rashomon. Each man draws his own conclusions about human nature from the tales. The film ends on a sad but hopeful note.

Much has been written about the incredible cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. It was not until I saw Rashomon on the big screen that I was really able to appreciate and marvel at what Kurosawa and Miyagawa had done. The natural light, filtered through the trees of the forest, create a surreal setting for the horrific events that take place in the grove. The light, the breeze, the dazzling sun puts you in the grove with the participants. You feel the wind brush past you, and you squint with the characters as they look up into the sky. May God strike me down for saying this, but in a way it reminded me of the scenes in the woods during Last House on the Left. So familiar yet so horrifying. You can easily imagine yourself there.
As a final thought, haunting my dreams tonight will be the Medium, seen above, who conveys the dead man's tale. Through body language and tone of voice alone she conveys the wrath and rage of the wronged Samurai. If I were the Priest and the Woodcutter sitting behind her I would have hightailed it out of there the minute she let out her first scream.

If you can, see Rashomon, or any Kurosawa film, on the big screen. And if you haven't seen one in years, I recommend watching some again. I find new things in his films with every viewing.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Samething happened to me whiel watching Dreams, as a kid, I didnt really get it. Saw it as an adult and I appreciated it so much more. Its visually dazzling.

Rashomon is my favorite of his films that Ive seen. I havent seen them all...yet.

Jonny Metro said...

Turner Classic Movies is playing something like TWENTY-FOUR of Kurosawa's films this month. Keep your eyes peeled for them.


Jen said...

Thanks Jonny- I didn't know TCM was doing that--I always forget to check the schedule!