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 is a 1950 Japanese crime mystery film directed by Akira Kurosawa, working in close collaboration with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. It stars Toshirō Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyō and Takashi Shimura. The film is based on two stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa — ("Rashomon" provides the setting, while "In a Grove" provides the characters and plot).

Rashomon can be said to have introduced Kurosawa and Japanese cinema to Western audiences, and is considered one of his masterpieces. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and also received an Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards.


The film depicts the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses, including the rapist and, through a medium (Fumiko Honma), the dead man. The stories are mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer to determine which, if any, is the truth. The story unfolds in flashback as the four characters—the bandit Tajōmaru (Toshirō Mifune), the samurai's wife (Machiko Kyō), the murdered samurai (Masayuki Mori), and the nameless woodcutter (Takashi Shimura)—recount the events of one afternoon in a grove. But it is also a flashback within a flashback, because the accounts of the witnesses are being retold by a woodcutter and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) to a ribald commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) as they wait out a rainstorm in a ruined gatehouse identified by a sign as Rashōmonmarker.

The woodcutter

An unnamed Woodcutter ( ; Kikori) claims he found the body of the victim (the samurai) three days previously while looking for wood in the forest. Upon discovering the body the woodcutter flees in a panic to search for the authorities.

The priest

A traveling Buddhist priest ( ; Tabi Hōshi) claims that he saw the samurai and the woman the same day the murder happened.

The bandit

Tajōmaru ( ), a notorious brigand ( ; nusubito), claims that he tricked the samurai to step off the mountain trail with him and look at a cache of ancient swords he discovered. In the grove he tied the samurai to a tree, then returned to fetch the woman. He planned to rape the woman, who initially tried to defend herself. When caught, she submitted in view of her husband and was "seduced" by the bandit. The woman, filled with shame, then begged him to duel to the death with her husband, to save her from the guilt and shame of having two men know her dishonor. He honorably set the samurai free so they could duel. In Tajōmaru's recollection they fought skillfully and fiercely, but in the end Tajōmaru was the victor and the woman ran away. At the end of the story, he is asked about an expensive dagger owned by the samurai's wife: he says that, in the confusion, he forgot all about it, and that it was foolish of him to leave behind such a valuable object.

The samurai's wife

The samurai's wife claims that after she was raped by Tajōmaru, who left her to weep, she begged her husband to forgive her; he simply looked at her coldly. She then freed him and begged him to kill her so that she would be at peace. He continued to stare at her with a look of loathing. His expression ripped at her soul and she begged him to kill her, to no avail, and then she fainted with dagger in hand. She awakened to find her husband dead with the dagger in his chest. She recalls attempting to kill herself, including attempting to drown herself some time later by a nearby lake, but failed in all her efforts.

The samurai

Through a medium ( ; miko), the deceased samurai claims that after he was captured by Tajōmaru, and after the bandit raped his wife, Tajōmaru asked her to travel with him. She accepted and asked Tajōmaru to kill her husband so that she would not feel the guilt of belonging to two men. Tajōmaru, shocked by this request, grabbed her, and gave the samurai a choice of letting the woman go or killing her. ("At this", the dead samurai recounted, "I almost forgave the bandit.") The woman fled, and Tajōmaru, after attempting to recapture her, gave up and set the samurai free. The samurai then killed himself with his own dagger. The ghost then mentions that somebody removed the dagger from his chest; upon hearing this (or more precisely, in the frame sequence after this part of the trial flashback is recounted), the woodcutter is startled, and claims that the dead man must be lying, because he was killed by a sword.

The woodcutter again

The woodcutter then says his earlier view was a lie, claiming he did not want to get too involved. He confesses he did in fact witness the rape and murder. He says that Tajōmaru raped the samurai's wife, and then begged the weeping woman to marry him. She instead said it was not for her to decide, freed her husband, then continued weeping. The samurai said that he was unwilling to die for a woman such as her, and that he would mourn the loss of his horse more than the loss of his wife. After hearing these words, Tajōmaru lost interest in the samurai's wife and began as if to leave.

The samurai's wife continued to weep, more forcefully now, which prompted her husband to demand that she stop crying. Tajōmaru retorted that the samurai's remarks were "unmanly" of him since, according to Tajōmaru, "women are weak" and cannot help crying. At this, the woman was provoked into an embittered rage about both her husband's reluctance to protect his wife and Tajōmaru's half-heartedness, whose passionate affection had all too soon turned into mere pity. In a fit of mad fury she spurred the men to fight for her, which she seemed to regret as soon the men actually started a pitiful fight, apparently more for the sake of keeping their face in front of each other than because of any true affection for the woman. After a pathetic struggle, Tajōmaru won the duel, more by luck than through skill, and killed the samurai as he was attempting to scamper away in the bushes. At the sight of her husband's death, the woman screamed in horror and ran from Tajōmaru who tried to approach her. Tajōmaru, unable to follow her, took the samurai's sword and left the scene limping.


At the temple, the woodcutter, priest, and commoner are interrupted from their discussion of the woodcutter's account by the sound of a crying baby. They find the baby abandoned in a basket, and the commoner takes a kimono and an amulet that have been left for the baby. The woodcutter reproaches the commoner for stealing from the abandoned baby, but the commoner questions him about the woman's dagger; the woodcutter does not reply and thus the commoner puts two and two together and figures out the truth: that the woodcutter, too, is a thief, having stolen the dagger used in the murder of the samurai. The commoner, smiling and snickering at his own purportedly trenchant observations, claims that all men are selfish, and all men are looking out for themselves in the end.

These deceptions and lies shake the priest's faith in humanity. He is brought back to his senses when the woodcutter reaches for the baby in the priest's arms. After initially snapping at the woodcutter ("Are you trying to take all that he has left?") he relents when the woodcutter explains that he has six other children at home, and that the addition of one more (the baby) would not make life any more difficult. This simple revelation recasts the woodcutter's story and the subsequent theft of the dagger in a new light. The priest gives the baby to the woodcutter, saying that the woodcutter has given him reason to continue having hope in humanity. The film closes on the woodcutter, walking home with the baby. The rain has stopped and the clouds have opened revealing the sun in contrast to the beginning where it was overcast.


Toshirō Mifune & Machiko Kyō in Rashomon

Influence of silent film and modern art

Kurosawa's admiration for silent film and modern art can be seen in the film's minimalist sets. Kurosawa felt that sound cinema multiplies the complexity of a film: "Cinematic sound is never merely accompaniment, never merely what the sound machine caught while you took the scene. Real sound does not merely add to the images, it multiplies it." Regarding Rashomon, Kurosawa said, "I like silent pictures and I always have ... I wanted to restore some of this beauty. I thought of it, I remember in this way: one of techniques of modern art is simplification, and that I must therefore simplify this film."

Accordingly, there are only three settings in the film: Rashōmonmarker gate, the woods and the courtyard. The gate and the courtyard are very simply constructed and the woodland is real. This is partly due to the low budget that Kurosawa got from Daiei.

Kurosawa's relationship with the cast

When Kurosawa shot Rashomon, the actors and the staff lived together, a system Kurosawa found beneficial. He recalls "We were a very small group and it was as though I was directing Rashomon every minute of the day and night. At times like this, you can talk everything over and get very close indeed". One result of his closeness can be seen in Toshirō Mifune's performance: While the actors and Kurosawa were waiting for the set to be built, they watched a film on Africa directed by Martin and Osa Johnson. The film included shots of a lion roaming around, and Kurosawa suggested that Mifune play the bandit like a lion. As a result, Mifune gave the wild, nearly inhuman performance that can be seen in the film.


The cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa, contributed an enormous amount of ideas and support. For example, in one sequence, there is a series of single close-ups of the bandit, then the wife, and then the husband, which then repeats to emphasize the triangular relationship between them.

Use of contrasting shots is another example of techniques in Rashomon. According to Donald Richie, the length of time of the shots of the wife and of the bandit are the same when the bandit is barbarically crazy and the wife is hysterically crazy.

Rashomon was the first film to shoot directly into the sun. In the shots of the actors, Kurosawa wanted to use natural light, but it was too weak; they solved the problem by using a mirror to reflect the natural light. The result is to make the strong sunlight look as though it has traveled through the branches, hitting the actors. The rain in the film had to be tinted with black ink because camera lenses could not capture rain made with pure water.

Symbolic use of Light

Toshirō Mifune as bandit Tajōmaru is standing, Machiko Kyō as Masago is kneeling and Masayuki Mori as samurai Kanazawa-no-Takehiro is sitting in the background.

Robert Altman marvels at the use of light in the film. He compliments Kurosawa's use of "dappled" light throughout the film, which gives the characters and settings further ambiguity. In his essay "Rashomon", Tadao Sato suggests that the film (unusually) uses sunlight to symbolize evil and sin in the film, arguing that the wife gives in to the bandit's desires when she sees the sun. However, writer Keiko I. McDonald opposes Sato's idea in her essay "The Dialectic of Light and Darkness in Kurosawa’s Rashomon". McDonald says the film conventionally uses light to symbolize "good" or "reason" and darkness to symbolize "bad" or "impulse". She interprets the scene mentioned by Sato differently, pointing out that the wife gives herself to the bandit when the sun slowly fades out. McDonald also reveals that Kurosawa was waiting for a big cloud to appear over Rashomon gate to shoot the final scene in which the woodcutter takes the abandoned baby home; Kurosawa wanted to show that there might be another dark rain any time soon, even though the sky is clear at this moment. Unfortunately, the final scene appears optimistic because it was too sunny and clear to produce the effects of an overcast sky.


Stanley Kauffman writes in The Impact of Rashomon that Kurosawa often shot a scene with several cameras at the same time, so that he could "cut the film freely and splice together the pieces which have caught the action forcefully, as if flying from one piece to another." Despite this, he also used short shots edited together that trick the audience into seeing one shot; Richie says in his essay that "there are 407 separate shots in the body of the film ... This is more than twice the number in the usual film, and yet these shots never call attention to themselves".


Hayasaka's film score included the application of "Boléro" by Maurice Ravel. It helped to provide a highly elated atmosphere, little by little.

Allegorical and Symbolic content

Due to its emphasis on the subjectivity of truth and the uncertainty of factual accuracy, Rashomon has been read by some as an allegory of the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II. James F. Davidson's article "Memory of Defeat in Japan: A Reappraisal of Rashomon" in the December 1954 issue of the Antioch Review, is an early analysis of the World War II defeat elements.

Another allegorical interpretation of the film is mentioned briefly in a 1995 article "Japan: An Ambivalent Nation, an Ambivalent Cinema" by David M. Desser. Here, the film is seen as an allegory of the atomic bomb and Japanese defeat. It also briefly mentions James Goodwin's view on the influence of post-war events on the film.

However, Akutagawa's "In a Grove" predates the film adaptation by 28 years, and any intentional postwar allegory would thus have been the result of Kurosawa's influence (based more in the framing of the tale than the events themselves).

Symbolism runs rampant throughout the film and much has been written on the subject. Bucking tradition, Miyagawa directly filmed the sun through the leaves of the trees, as if to show the light of truth becoming obscured. The gatehouse that we continually return to as the 'home' location for the storytelling serves as a visual metaphor for a gateway into the story, and the fact that the three men at the gate gradually tear it down and burn it as the stories are told is a further comment on the nature of the truth of what they are telling.

Impact and Influence

Japanese poster for Rashomon

Japanese responses

The film was produced by Daiei. When it received positive responses in the West, Japanese critics were baffled; some decided that it was only admired there because it was "exotic," others that it succeeded because it was more "Western" than most Japanese films.

In a collection of interpretations of Rashomon, Donald Richie writes that "the confines of 'Japanese' thought could not contain the director, who thereby joined the world at large". He also quotes Kurosawa criticizing the way the "Japanese think too little of our own [Japanese] things".

Influence outside Japan

The film appeared at the 1951 Venice Film Festival at the behest of an Italian language teacher, Giuliana Stramigioli who had recommended it to Italian film promotion agency Unitalia Film seeking a Japanese film to screen at the festival. However, Daiei Motion Picture Company (a producer of popular features at the time) and the Japanese government had disagreed with the choice of Kurosawa's work on the grounds that it was "not [representative enough] of the Japanese movie industry" and felt that a work of Yasujiro Ozu would have been more illustrative of excellence in Japanese cinema. Despite these reservations, the film was screened at the festival and won both the Italian Critics Award and the Golden Lion award—introducing western audiences, including western directors, more noticeably to both Kurosawa's films and techniques, such as shooting directly into the sun and using mirrors to reflect sunlight onto the actor's faces.

The 1964 Western The Outrage, which starred Paul Newman, Claire Bloom and Edward G. Robinson, was a remake of Rashomon.

The film's concept has influenced an extensive variety of subsequent works, such as the films Hero, Vantage Point, Courage Under Fire, One Night at McCool's.

The concept has also been used, usually with over-the-top exaggeration for comedic expression, in episodes of many television programs. The first act of Michael John LaChiusa's musical, See What I Wanna See, is also based on the same short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and features a main character who goes to a theater to see Rashomon. In an episode of Fame based on the movie, the Rashomon Gate setting is replaced by a theater marquee, under which two characters huddle to wait out a rainstorm; only after the entire story has unfolded in flashback does the camera pan back enough to disclose that the theater marquee announces "A Kurosawa Festival".

Influence on philosophy

  • Rashomon plays a central role in Martin Heidegger's dialogue between a Japanese person and an inquirer. Where the inquirer praises the film early on for being a way into the "mysterious" Japanese world, the Japanese person condemns the film for being too European and dependent on a certain objectifying realism not present in traditional Japanese noh plays.
  • The political scientist Graham Allison claimed to have used Rashomon as a starting point for his magnum opus, Essence of Decision, in which he told the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis from three different theoretical viewpoints (and, as a result, the Crisis is described and explained in three entirely different ways).


Italian poster for Rashomon

Top lists

The film appeared on many critics' top lists of the best films.

See also


  1. Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa.
  2. Qtd. in Richie, Films.
  3. Richie, Films.
  4. Altman, Robert. "Altman Introduction to Rashomon", Criterion Collection DVD, Rashomon.
  7. The article has since appeared in some subsequent Rashomon anthologies, including Focus on Rashomon [1] in 1972 and Rashomon (Rutgers Film in Print) [2] in 1987. Davidson's article is referred to in other sources, in support of various ideas. These sources include: The Fifty-Year War: Rashomon, After Life, and Japanese Film Narratives of Remembering a 2003 article by Mike Sugimoto in Japan Studies Review Volume 7 [3], Japanese Cinema: Kurosawa's Ronin by G. Sham [4], Critical Reception of Rashomon in the West by Greg M. Smith, Asian Cinema 13.2 (Fall/Winter 2002) 115-28 [5], Rashomon vs. Optimistic Rationalism Concerning the Existence of "True Facts" [6], Persistent Ambiguity and Moral Responsibility in Rashomon by Robert van Es [7] and Judgment by Film: Socio-Legal Functions of Rashomon by Orit Kamir [8].
  8. Hiroshima in Film
  9. Rashomon
  10. (Richie, 80)
  11. Heidegger, "Aus eimen Gespräch von der Sprache. Zwischen einem Japaner und einem Fragendem", in Unterwegs zur Sprache, Neske, 1959, p. 104ss.
  13. Schröder, Nicolaus. (2002). 50 Klassiker, Film. Gerstenberg. ISBN-13 9783806725094.

Further reading

  • Davidson, James F. "Memory of Defeat in Japan: A Reappraisal of Rashomon". Rashomon. Ed. Donald Richie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UPmarker, 1987. page 159-166.
  • Erens, Patricia. Akira Kurosawa: a guide to references and resources. Boston: G.K.Hall, 1979.
  • Kauffman, Stanley. "The Impact of Rashomon". Rashomon. Ed. Donald Richie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987. page 173-177.
  • McDonald, Keiko I. "The Dialectic of Light and Darkness in Kurosawa's Rashomon". Rashomon. Ed. Donald Richie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987. page 183-192.
  • Richie, Donald. "Rashomon". Rashomon. Ed. Donald Richie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987. page 1-21.
  • Richie, Donald. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. 2nd ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California P, 1984.
  • Sato, Tadao. "Rashomon". Rashomon. Ed. Donald Richie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987. page 167-172.
  • Tyler, Parker. "Rashomon as Modern Art". Rashomon. Ed. Donald Richie. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987. page 149-158.

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