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.