felix mcintyre’s review published on Letterboxd:
I think I’ve found my MBDTF.
Yes, this is indeed a reference to that fateful day in internet music-nerd history when he-who-shall-not-be-named awarded Kanye West’s insurmountable sixth album nothing more that 6/10. Hailed as an instant classic, a groundbreaking work that redefined pop music as we know it; such an opinion was not taken lightly by fans, critics and keyboard warriors alike, remaining a point of contention to this day. A modern masterpiece had been passed off as....just okay.
So why, then, do I feel the same way about Akira Kurosawa’s multifaceted, genre-bending Rashomon, a triumphant exploration of moral justice lauded by many as one of the greatest films of all time?
Rashomon’s first hour consists of three stories, or rather, the same story told from three different perspectives, each one slightly differing to the next, painting each of the three characters in varying shades of responsibility for the cold-blooded murder of a man. These stories are interwoven with scenes of three men, discussing, among other things, the reliability of each story. The stories are told with great tension and at a delicate pace - Kurosawa is simply laying out the clues. One particularly poignant scene involves the telling of the dead-man’s story through a medium, a bizarrely intense tonal shift away from the matter-of-fact way the prior two stories were told, into something far more dark and disturbing.
By contrast, the final, fourth story that comprises the majority of the film’s final 30 minutes, is a light, comedic and rather slapstick interpretation, that we are led to believe is the most accurate version of events. I didn’t find that this abrupt shift to humour and frivolity particularly suited the tone of the film, nor was a particularly fitting way to wrap up the mystery.
Yet, the majority of my irks with Rashomon are embedded within the stories themselves. From whatever perspective you view the murder from, misogyny seems to be the lifeblood of every intention and outcome. The bandit-kills-man-to-rape-woman plot itself is really too shallow and pathetic to award any real credit to the ‘deeper meaning’ of the film (concerning truth, morality etc). Unlike Yojimbo, Rashomon’s characters seem to be empty reflections of themselves, whether that be intentional or not.
That said, the rest of Rashomon (that being the aforementioned interjecting discussions) are some of the finest ‘courtroom’ style scenes I have ever witnessed. They are seemingly bursting with importance and philosophical magnitude. Kurosawa’s love for western culture does not go amiss here, the cynicism and objectivity of the three men hugely reflective of tales of noir taking Hollywood by storm during the 1950s (as well as the leading lady having a certain ‘femme fatale’ aspect to her). The director’s love for Shakespeare also shines through - the men discuss the dramatic events rather nonchalantly, their own quarrels and disputes slowly becoming more important than the stories of murder, exploding in a moral dilemma that’s ambiguous outcome is as haunting as their tales.
If I had seen Rashomon, say, six months ago, I may have tried to convince myself that it truly is the classic it’s hailed as, yet, today, I find myself disappointed by its lack of depth in some areas yet blown away by its meaningful ferocity in others.