Rashomon: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

October 31, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

A crime of a very horrific nature has taken place, but the truth is hidden under the veil of doubt, as no two witnesses share the same account. The scene of this crime is the wooded forest, where a woman has been brutally raped and her husband has been murdered, which means serious consequences are involved. One might assume that if four other people were present, the facts would be simple to access and the guilty person could be brought to justice, but things aren’t that simple in this case. As each of the people give their views on the event, it becomes clear that none of the two have the same take, which means someone has to be lying. But all four seem to be collected and calm, so no one stands out as being untruthful, though someone has to be either mistaken or flat out dishonest in their statements. Some details remain the same in the stories and as each is told, a little more of the picture becomes clear, while some facts simply get more clouded over, not a good balance. Which of the stories is the truth about the event and if none are, will anyone ever be able to uncover the real story behind the crime?

I’ve seen a lot of movies that were great, but within those great films, very few rise above to stand as timeless, priceless motion pictures. I would hold Rashomon as one of those films and in my opinion, it is one of the top twenty-five movies of all time. I might shift it up and down that chart at times, but it never drops off, instead gaining even more steam, even over fifty years after it was released to the masses. I think Rashomon is best known for how it takes a single event, shows us four different takes on it, and then allows us to ponder the issues of truth and justice. In other words, you’ll be thinking about this movie long after the end credits have rolled, since it poses serious questions, one that resound on & off the screen. Toshiro Mifune (Hell in the Pacific, Seven Samurai) hands in yet another great performance, while Akira Kurosawa directs with his usual masterful touch. All the pieces fall into place with Rashomon and while some flaws are present, no film is perfect and to expect perfection is a pipedream. I cannot recommend this film enough and with the full Criterion treatment, this disc is one that belongs in any film buff’s collection.

In a career filled with excellence, Rashomon stands as one of Akira Kurosawa’s most powerful, as well as stylish pictures. I still hold a couple others above this one, but Rashomon is a memorable, classic movie that more than deserves a slot in The Criterion Collection’s roster. Kurosawa takes us on a trek through the entire spectrum of human emotion and all the while, keeps us on edge as what is real. His approach here has been mimicked countless times in cinema, once even by horror master Mario Bava, but no one has made it all come together like Kurosawa does in Rashomon. But not only is the story well crafted, the performances gripping, and Kurosawa’s direction superb, but the visuals are stunning, so it all plays out against a beautiful backdrop, simply magical work here. I think is one of the best films from one of cinema’s greatest directors, which is a true compliment to Rashomon. Other films directed by Kurosawa include High and Low, Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and The Hidden Fortress.

Video: How does it look?

Those familiar with this film will know what to expect in that its presented in a full-frame black and white transfer.  But fans of the standard DVD will be impressed a bit more since this title has now been given an overhaul in regard to its video.  The movie was restored in 2008 by the Academy Film Archive and a few other organizations all for the purpose of making it look its best.  They’ve succeeded.  The image is improved mainly with the clarity and depth to the image.  Yes, it is black and white but contrast and black levels are much improved and make for a beautiful picture.  The print used is free of any sort of blemish that might hint at a fault.  The previous standard DVD looked good, but this one is simply stunning.  Another fine effort from Criterion, as we might expect.

Audio: How does it sound?

While not quite as impressive as the video quality, the audio is presented in a LPCM 1.0 track.  Yes, it’s a bit limited with regard to range, but it does appear to be cleaned up from the previous edition.  The best way I can describe it is more…fluid.  There are no hisses or pops that can sometimes creep into a track and it seems a bit more balanced than before.  While it’s not the shining example of audio, it’s the best the film has ever sounded, by far.

Supplements: What are the extras?

All of the supplements from the standard DVD release have made the leap to this Blu-ray and we get a couple of new features to boot.  First up is the commentary with Japanese film historian Donald Ritchie.  This is the same track that appeared on the original Criterion DVD.  We get the same interview with the late director Robert Altman as well as some excerpts from the television documentary “The World of Kazuo Miyagawa.” Miyagawa served as the film’s cinematographer.  Another documentary “A Testimony as an Image” is also included and running at just over an hour is probably the most comprehensive feature on the disc.  There’s an interview with Takashi Shimura who played the woodcutter in the film, though the interview is circa 1961.  We also get an illustrated booklet with an essay by Stephen Prince, a film historian.  Also included are the original and re-release trailers.

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