Hunter’s review published on Letterboxd:
What do we do when it’s too late to change things?
To reference another equally great film, we lie to gain an advantage. The storytellers in Rashomon - which is exactly what they are - each have something to gain from their own angle. Yet for all the legacy regarding the “Rashomon effect,” the ambiguity doesn’t lie in the facts of their stories, so much as in the question of what do they themselves believe. Of course we don’t know exactly what happens, but we do more than some folks seem to give credit. Depending on how fascinated you are by such details as, Did the samurai fight nobly or was it a bitter round of tired scratches to the death, the story on the surface level is really only supported by the single question of who killed him, and whose idea was it. There’s intrigue there, no doubt. The brilliance here is that beneath the surface question of What Happened, which admittedly makes a fascinating run in its own right, is a deeper concern with how people lie.
The bandit establishes right off the bat that he has nothing to gain and nothing to lose in telling his story, which sets him up as immediately unreliable. He frequently interrupts himself and is amused in retrospect with how it all played out. His greatest lie is not to the court, but to himself, the idea that it would’ve necessarily ended up like this for himself sooner or later, and so such fate might as well be embraced unrepentantly. What we learn of his life before the incident affirms this. His advantage from lying is nothing more than sedation of the guilt on his soul.
The wife is a tricky consideration, because she exists in a unique position. The wealthy wife of a samurai who is so ineffective at fighting that he is fooled once and overtaken twice, she lives in a society that expects someone like her to stick to their role. She does so when it suits her, yet reveals a fieriness in spirit that latches into her own interests when she detects a moment of maximum risk, and it is her true response to the failure of her husband that is among the most difficult aspects of the story to ascertain. She lies because, as the only allegedly innocent living participant, she has a life ahead of her to think of. It’s not just a matter of legal protection, but maintaining as much social cred as possible in a culture that doesn’t treat rape victims very kindly, to say the least. Her advantage is in the interest of social stature, and if you can convince yourself of a great big lie, it becomes a lot easier to live the rest of your life with.
The motivations of the apparition samurai are addressed directly in the film itself. The only reason he wouldn’t lie to protect his own legacy is based on the idea that dead men wouldn’t lie. Well, who ever said that has to be true?
As for the woodcutter? The corruption of his intentions is also revealed in the film, but frankly I just don’t trust him anyway. Even if he was being completely honest, I don’t find him to be the trustiest dude at having made sense of the scene before him.
To sum up, I’ve always loved the way people laugh at each other in this movie. Like, they go all the way into some serious mockery, and I think more Americans should laugh at each other like this.