Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1994 .S8176 2002
In this essay, Van Es discusses the important influence of societal roles in traditional Japanese society and compares them to the way the stories in Rashomon unfold. He suggests that the characters are not able to tell the truth under certain circumstances, because the social roles predetermined in the feudal Japanese society forbid them to do so. Marriage was a highly socially-significant institution during the Heian era, where Rashomon is set. Hence, the characters' mindset is impacted by powerful, external forces. The social aspect of an individual is a necessary part of the personal aspect: the two are almost inseparable. In effect, the characters present their stories in a way that is fitting for the role strongly demanded of them. Van Es suggests that this drives each of them to divulge a different version of the story.
Rashomon, in part, deals with marriage customs and faithfulness between partners. In examining Japanese marriage customs during this period, one can see how valid relativity of truth is as a proposed explanation for the differences in the characters' point-of-view. How strongly the Japanese society demands certain social roles of its inhabitants influence how personal perception of events changes in trying to conform to these roles. In particular, it was absolutely unthinkable for the samurai to have been humiliated in his perspective, which then led to commit suicide. Also, it was unimaginable for the wife to have had two sexual partners. So much so that she believed that she must kill one of them. Hence, she is led to killing her own husband.
Stressing the importance of social roles in the Japanese society makes one see how it can cause emotional distress so strong as to skew each of the perceptions of the characters in Rashomon. It is reasonable to attribute the disparities in point-of-view to the relativity of truth. Effectively, truth is relative because it is seen within the framework of what society demands. The characters' social roles impacted them so greatly that their subjective points of view were drastically altered.
As part of an emerging literature between law and film, Kamir talks about the influence of legal films on the understanding of law, society and culture. Apart from portraying legal situations, he argues that films can unconsciously evoke the audience to engage in its own judging process. Then, films play an active role in using its plot, characters and imagery to create a general representation of legal and social issues. Kamir points out that the audience comprises society's "jurors, judges and reasonable people," and that legal films have real-world impact.
Kamir describes Rashomon as one the classic and most powerful courtroom films ever made. The manner in which the story unfolds is an influential and complex insight not only on human condition but on the nature of legal processes in a socio-cultural context as well. It alerts the audience to the possibility that truth is completely subjective, and legal processes evaluate subjective rather than objective truths against each other. He refers to the film as a participant in society's perception of legal proceedings, and to some extent, in society's self-formation.
That Rashomon may have an impact more than just on the cinema world is an interesting idea to explore. First of all, it speaks of the film's powerful delivery and effectiveness. Second, because it deals with issues that are extremely relevant to society, it sparks thought that is not limited to the theoretical or philosophical aspects of human condition. Instead, its impact extends to the practical and socially significant aspects as well. The seemingly simple story of the death of a samurai, made complex by the different versions it is told by goes far beyond the confines of the film's single setting to real institutions such as the courtroom.