Saturday, December 7, 2013

Movie Review: Rashomon - 1950

Rashomon: The Trickster Film

IMDB If you like Asian movies, Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is a definite must-see because it is not only an overall great film but also the first Japanese film that became an international success, a classic that started it all. Plus, Rashomon is now in the public domain, so you can watch it for free legally on the Internet. Which you should. I watched it for the first time when I was very young, but it wasn't until later years that I could fully appreciate it. It's a movie for adults in the best sense of the word.

Strangely, while Rashomon was celebrated by international critics, Japanese critics didn't like it and suggested that it appealed to Westerners only because it was exotic, as Kurosawa bitterly noticed. Well, a prophet has no honor in his own country.

Although it cannot be denied that the exoticism of Rashomon adds to its appeal, that alone cannot explain the out-of-nowhere international success of this movie. There has to be something about Rashomon that strikes a chord in viewers independent of their cultural background. I think it has something to do with the fact that - intentionally or not - Rashomon plays with an archetypal constellation, a pattern more or less subconsciously known, and thus understood, in all cultures (and often expressed by mythological figures): The Trickster. A trickster constellation is a pattern where several or all of the following occur simultaneously: deception, disruption, reduced sexual inhibition, blurring of boundaries, and magical practices. Rashomon is about all of that. The tragedy begins with an act of deception by the bandit Tajomaru, and the deception doesn't end there. The events are disruptive - especially, of course, to the murdered Samurai and his wife. Obviously, uncontrolled sexuality plays a role as well, as does the blurring of boundaries. Ultimately, Rashomon blurs the boundaries between truth and fiction. Even the supernatural aspect is there: A dead man speaking from his grave through a medium, once again blurring a boundary, namely that between the living and the dead. The feelings of dread expressed by the monk near the end are also in line with trickster phenomena. At least that's what Jungian psychology says. Looking at the creation of Rashomon and at its international reception, I have come to believe that there's more to archetypal psychology than I once thought.

Now, I think there is a reason why foreign critics liked the movie better than Japanese critics. It is simple but paradoxical: It is easier for foreigners to detect the psychological content of the movie. For a foreigner, much of the movie is exotic. Yet the more exotic a movie is for a viewer, the easier it is for him to spot the aspects of it which are familiar, which are fundamentally human and independent of culture. Hence, foreigners are in advantage when it comes to noticing the psychology of the movie. This paradox, again, fits nicely with the trickster character of Rashomon.

Rating: 10 out of 10 different accounts.