Kurosawa Diary, Part 7: Rashomon

And now, finally, we get into classic Kurosawa.

Both from my own personal experience and its place in film history, Rashomon is in a different league than the other films I’ve yet seen since undertaking to watch all of Kurosawa’s films (or at least all that are available) in chronological order. I’ve seen Rashomon more times than I remember, and I didn’t have to rent it–I own the DVD.

And I’ve posted a short review in this blog’s weekly newsletter many times, although I admit that what I wrote was intended more to entertain those who knew the movie than enlighten those who don’t:

I know that I’ve reviewed Kurosawa’s first masterpiece–the film that opened Japanese cinema to the world. But according to a search of my site, I’ve never reviewed it. How could I remember it one way, when the WordPress search engine remembers it differently? I could check Google, but what if its memory contradicts both? If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, you haven’t seen Rashomon, and that’s a real shame.

So what’s it like to watch Rashomon in the context of what Kurosawa made before it? It’s like watching a flower burst open and bloom, or a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Here’s a promising young artist alternating between very good works and very bad ones, but without really a discernable style. Then, in one concise (88 minute) piece, shot entirely in daylight with a cast of eight, the master emerges. You’ve got the striking use of the telephoto lens, you’ve got the lateral cuts (well, at least one), you’ve got the brilliant mix of Japanese and Western music styles. You’ve got a daring story that no one else has ever tried before, one that challenges the very assumptions of life, truth, and cinema. (And, yes, Elijah, you’ve got rain. Torrents and torrents of rain.)

And you have, only in the last few minutes, only the second appearance of Kurosawa’s main theme: We live in a heartless, meaningless universe, but that makes it all the more important that we act with kindness and charity.

Next up: The Idiot, which, if I recall correctly, will prove that the man who could create Rashomon was still incapable of making two good films in a row.