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Akira Kurosawa
Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Kichijirô Ueda, Noriko Honma, Daisuke Katô
Writing Credits:
Ryûnosuke Akutagawa (stories "Rashomon" and "In a Grove"), Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto

The husband, the wife ... or the bandit?

A riveting psychological thriller that investigates the nature of truth and the meaning of justice, Rashomon is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. Four people give different accounts of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife, which director Akira Kurosawa presents with striking imagery and an ingenious use of flashbacks. This eloquent masterwork and international sensation revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema — and a commanding new star by the name of Toshiro Mifune — to the Western world.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Japanese Monaural
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:
English (For Selected Supplements)

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 11/6/2012

• Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Donald Richie
• “Robert Altman on Rashomon” Featurette
• “The World of Kazuo Miyagawa” Featurette
• “A Testimony As an Image” Documentary
• Interview with Actor Takashi Shimura
• Trailers
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Rashomon: Criterion Collection (1950)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2012)

One would be hard-pressed to find a more influential film than 1950’s Rashomon, as its then-unusual structure has been imitated repeatedly over the last 60-plus years. A woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) encounters a man’s corpse, and the rest of the film explores what happened.

The twist comes from the manner in which we examine the events that led to the death of samurai Takehiro Kanazawa (Masayuki Mora). Told in flashback, we hear the events from four perspectives: the woodcutter, bandit Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune), Kanazawa’s wife Masako (Machiko Kyô) and Kanazawa himself, told through a medium (Noriko Honma). Each take comes with its own twists and leaves the viewer in search of the truth about what happened.

Which seems to be the movie’s point: “truth” is relative and varies dependent on whose perspective from which it comes. Since we’ve seen so many movies that’ve used this approach over the last 60 years, I can’t imagine how revolutionary it must’ve seemed in 1950. It remains a clever and provocative way to examine events.

While Rashomon’s place as a seminal film classic remains assured, another question arises: is it still an interesting movie? After all, just because something was inventive/influential doesn’t mean it’ll still be enjoyable decades after the fact. Take Birth of a Nation, for instance; it may be an important film, but that doesn’t mean it’s something I’d like to watch.

Happily, Rashomon still holds up and feels moderately timeless. A lot of the credit goes to director Akira Kurosawa and his storytelling methods. He uses a mix of evocative visual approaches and editing techniques to keep the story moving well. With all its differing perspectives, it easily could’ve gotten bogged down in a morass of viewpoints. However, Kurosawa ensures that events remain understandable and clear, without issues related to confusion.

Rashomon looks great, too. The movie offers a striking visual presentation that allows it to stand out after all these years. This becomes most obvious during the scenes with the medium. Those offer the most potential to go off the rails, as it could be hard to accept the notion of the man who speaks from beyond the grave. However, Kurosawa avoids potential pitfalls and turns these sequences into some of the film’s most evocative.

It also helps that Rashomon remains philosophically relevant. While many films utilize the “multiple viewpoint” structure as a gimmick, this one does so in a way that opens up interpretations and allows for discussion/debate. The movie doesn’t wrap things up in a neat bow; that may frustrate some, but the choice lets the story deliver a greater intellectual and emotional resonance.

Having seen so many movies that use its framework, I worried that Rashomon itself might seem stale. That concern was unfounded, though, as the film provides a strong effort. It tells an interesting tale in a consistently bright, evocative manner.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Rashomon appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD. Due to those dimensions, the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. However, Criterion used a “pillarboxing” format that placed bars around all four sides of the movie. I’m not sure why they opted for this, as I thought the top/bottom bars were unnecessary and reduced the size of the image.

Otherwise, the movie presented a decent to good SD-DVD picture. Sharpness seemed erratic. Though much of the film demonstrated fine definition, more than a few examples of softness occurred. In any case, overall clarity was fine, and I noticed no issues with jaggies, shimmering or edge haloes.

Print flaws created no distractions, as the film came with a clean transfer. Blacks varied. Some of the movie showed deep tones and good contrast, but others displayed mushy blacks and a sense of excessive brightness. Contrast occasionally seemed off, as some shots were a little too bright. Overall, this was a positive presentation, but it wasn’t a great one.

I felt the monaural audio of Rashomon seemed lackluster but acceptable given the movie’s age and origins. Speech varied; some lines appeared fairly natural and concise, but others could be rough and edgy. I couldn’t easily judge intelligibility since I don’t speak Japanese; I’d estimate that the work remained understandable but lacked strengths.

Music was generally decent. The score could sound somewhat shrill at times, but it usually appeared acceptably full. The same went for effects; while these occasionally came across as distorted, they still provided acceptable clarity. Occasional bouts of noise could cause distractions. Nothing here was memorable, but the mix was decent for its period.

When we head to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from film scholar Donald Richie. He offers a running, screen-specific look at story/characters/themes, various filmmaking techniques, and cast/crew.

Though Richie occasionally touches on aspects of the movie’s creation, he mostly sticks with interpretation here. And that’s fine, though I prefer historical commentaries with more balance; I like a better mix of moviemaking info along with thematic/subtextual thoughts. This is a generally intriguing chat nonetheless.

We hear from a famed filmmaker via the six-minute, 37-second Robert Altman on Rashomon. The director reflects on Rashomon and gives us his thoughts on the movie’s techniques and impact. Though brief, Altman’s chat offers nice insights and observations.

Under The World of Kazuo Miyagawa, we find a 12-minute, 35-second look at the cinematographer of Rashomon. We hear from Miyagawa as well as director Akira Kurosawa. They cover aspects of the creation of Rashomon in this short but informative piece, as we learn some cool facts about the techniques Miyagawa utilized.

A Testimony As an Image runs one hour, eight minutes, and 18 seconds as it presents notes from script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, co-writer Shinobu Hashimoto, assistant director Tokuzo Tanaka, sound man Iawo Otani, lighting assistant Genkon Nakaoka, sound assistant Tsuchitaro Hayashi, dolly effects Hiroshi Shibata, 2nd AD Mitsuo Wakasugi, camera assistants Kanichi Aoki and Kenichi Araki, and trailer cinematographer Fujio Morita. They discuss aspects of their careers as well as elements involved in the making of Rashomon. It’s good to hear more from those involved in the shoot and we learn a fair amount from this useful documentary.

In addition to two trailers, we locate an audio Interview with Actor Takashi Shimura. Recorded in 1961, the actor discusses working with Kurosawa and aspects of making Rashomon as well as other films. Due to translation issues, the piece can move a bit awkwardly, but it nonetheless offers good insights.

Finally, the set includes a 44-page booklet. It presents an essay from film professor Stephen Prince, excerpts from Kurosawa’s autobiography, and the source stories on which Rashomon was based. Criterion usually creates solid booklets, and this is one of their better efforts.

More than 50 years after its creation, Rashomon remains an important, influential film – and it’s pretty involving, too. It uses its unusual techniques to draw us into its relative realities. The DVD gives us generally positive picture and audio along with some informative supplements. Criterion provide a nice release for a classic movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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