Rashomon: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

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?

Rashomon is presented in a full frame transfer, as intended. This is a solid looking visual effort and Criterion has done some restoration work, but in the end, the flaws of the source material remain evident. The print has numerous nicks and lines in most scenes, though not to an extreme level, but you can plainly see the defects. The contrast is well balanced however, which is crucial here, since this is a black & white film, of course. As expected of a movie from 1950, the image is soft in some places, but not too often, so no worries. In the end, this might not be one of Criterion’s finest efforts, but considering the source materials, I’d say this is a solid treatment.

Audio: How does it sound?

The film’s original Japanese soundtrack is presented via a mono option, which sounds good and should please all viewers. As far as a 1950 mono track is concerned, this one is well presented and suffers from minimal age defects, but it is an older mono option, so keep that in mind. The audio is sometimes limited, but the material is never held back much and while it won’t dazzle the ears, it does cover all the basic bases. The dialogue is crisp and never gets overrun by the other elements, while the music and sound effects also sound solid here. This disc also includes an English language track, as well as new & improved optional English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

An audio commentary with Japanese film historian Donald Richie starts us off and while it is sometimes dry, it is an informative and worthwhile session. Richie talks about the film’s influences, relays behind the scenes information, discusses the cast & crew, and hits on all sorts of tidbits in between, a wide array of information is offered here. This disc also includes an introduction from filmmaker Robert Altman, excerpts from the documentary The World of Kazuo Miyagawa (the film’s cinematographer), and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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