Monday, February 12, 2007

Movie Musings: Rashomon and Truth

I finally watched this film for the first time last week as part of my years long Akira Kurosawa film review. Kurosawa was only about 40 when he made this film and it's nothing short of brilliant.

Rashomon is the story of a rape and murder told from several different viewpoints. And I don't mean where there are niggling differences in details, I mean where the story each person tells is almost completely different. The event is told from the viewpoint of the Bandit (rapist), the woman, her husband the Samurai (the murder victim) and a Woodcutter (a witness of sorts).

This film is fascinating because it is almost impossible to figure out the truth of the matter. You start to see that each person has their own agenda and colors their telling of the story with their own fears, prejudices, social viewpoints and self-perceptions. Much like how each eyewitness will tell a different story at a car crash scene, Rashomon shows us in a startling and uncompromising way how different we can all perceive the same event.

This film got me thinking about the concept of whether we can ever perceive reality as it really is. As everyone has, I have encountered people who consistently tell skewered versions of things that happened to them. I have made it a priority in my life to tell things are they are to the best of my ability, and yet I'm certain that my telling is skewered as well. I just hope it's less skewered for all the effort I put into being accurate.

I wonder if this is the same as truth? In a way it might not be. One thing that fascinates me about observing objects at the subatomic level (electrons, for example) is that their behavior sometimes changes simply because we are looking at them. Yes, folks, this means that the fact that we are watching an electron will change its behavior for no reason at all. What does this mean? I have no idea, but it does give me interesting food for thought as in what if an event changes simply because we're looking at it? What is truth anyway? Are we a distorted lens through which everything is filtered with the truth just out of our reach OR does the event actually change as we are watching it?

I'll stop the strange and fun questions now. I'm sure you can tell I have almost no background in philosophy otherwise I wouldn't be wondering such things.

More about the film:

The cinematography is glorious black and white. Much of the film setting is in a large forest and Kurosawa makes the most of the play of light and shadow. The camera angles, the way the camera moves, the trees, the sunlight and shade are all poetic and beautiful. During the filming they used a large mirror to focus light on the actors faces in key scenes. The other setting is at a broken down temple gate and here we see the famous Kurosawa rain. The rain wasn't visible enough so he had it stained with ink so it would show up better on camera.

Rashomon was made in 1950 and the first of Kurosawa's films, or of any Japanese film for that matter, to capture international attention. It won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. It also won an Oscar for Best Foreign film.

Rent it, watch it, watch the commentary. This is a great film by a master and will keep you thinking for a long time afterwards. Hopefully you won't be wondering about those electrons, though.

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