Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995 .J36 1987
Jarvie's chapter Rashomon: Is Truth Relative? discusses the film from a philosophical standpoint and examines what he calls the "Rashomon problem" as proposed by the film in the 1950's - simply, which person's storyline described in the film is true? Or is it even that none of them true as they are all mutually exclusive? Kurosawa does not imply that the samurai did not exist, or that the wife did not lose her husband. Instead, the construction of events, based on single-person perception tells "truths" based on their individual points-of-view.
In Rashomon, the audience is deliberately given too much information. They cannot coherently piece together the contradictory details and create a cogent picture of what happened. Jarvie argues that the film is more than only the truth relative to a point of view; it is also about each reality that the subjective truths attempt to describe and how those truths are interpreted through the character's perception of events.
Kurosawa uses several film techniques to show different points-of-view in Rashomon. He knows that the audience is able to transition across cuts to deduce what is going on; techniques such as eyeline matching, seamless sound, and complementary point-of-view shots, enable the audience is able to fill in the gaps between cuts. But Jarvie argues that Kurosawa goes beyond these simple editing tricks by showing the audience that in one setting, events are presented in a manner in which the mind cannot reconstruct. Hence, transitioning is made difficult, and the audience's sense of reality is thwarted. This effect is intentional and induces the audience to think about relativity in truth.
In addition, Kurosawa plays with point-of-view through the film's cinematography. Although each story is told from a first-person perspective, the cuts in the scene and the shifting of the camera do not make it clear who is speaking. The eye-witness is not in a fixed position, as to be assumed in first-person, and the point of view is shifted from one eye-witness to several. This freedom in filming that Kurosawa incorporates makes Rashomon even more of a challenge to the audience to view the chain of events as truth, which the audience may never solve.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995 .P6173 1985
Bordwell differentiates the narrative between the classical and modernist styles of writing and cinema in his chapter Objectivity, Subjectivity, Authority. In classical cinema, reality is coherent and consistent with individual identity. On the other hand, modernist cinema considers the mind's perceptions and reality as well, with individuals treating it as if it were "objective like the world before us." Hence, variations in character psychology are put on the spotlight. Also, modern cinema is characterized by what Bordwell calls a "boundary situation," where the turn of events makes the character aware of significant human issues. Through a flash of insight, the character realizes the meaning of human existence. According to Bordwell, this boundary situation is often present in modernist films and which enables the film to explain the mental states and emotions of the characters. Lastly, he also suggests that because modernist cinema holds truth from a relative view point, modernist narration focuses the attention of the audience on others aspects construction of the film, and moreover, calls for a higher level of interpretation.
Through his differentiation between classical and modernist cinema, in light of narrative style, Bordwell classifies Rashomon as a modernist film. He doesn't delve into Rashomon in particular, but he is right on point in describing the film style that Kurosawa employed. First of all, the film unravels from subjective points-of-view, four in particular with one of them repeated at the end. Rashomon does not reveal which storyline is true, but it is certainly possible that the characters think of their versions as objective. Secondly, as the story concludes, the audience sees the woodcutter in a boundary situation: the woodcutter realizes how much mankind can be self-centered and egoistic. In coming to this realization, he knows that it applies to himself as well: in feigning innocence, he does not tell the complete truth to the high court. This spurs him to reverse compensate and carry out a benevolent act by adopting an abandoned child. These events call for interpretation from the audience, and it is through this analysis that one is able to understand the character of the woodcutter in the film.
Call#: Van Pelt Library--4 East--Temporary Location Annenberg PN1998.3.K87 G66 1994
In his book, Goodwin carefully examines each of the five points-of-view presented in Rashomon. He suggests that the overarching motivation of the conflicting accounts reflects each character's "egoism," each tells their story in a manner that is most favorable to themselves. In particular, the woodcutter emphasizes his non-involvement in the crime, even though it is later implied that he is guilty of stealing the woman's dagger. The bandit projects an image of heroism and romanticism, and that "grand passion" was the motive for his actions. The wife's story emphasizes herself as the victim in the situation, with the bandit taking advantage of her and her samurai husband ultimately betraying her. Similar to the wife, the samurai perceives himself as the victim in the situation, reflected in his suicide as a desperate act of passion. Finally, the story goes back to the woodcutter who is led to re-tell his version of the events. This time, he discredits the other characters to maintain his own innocence and credibility.
Through Goodwin's picking through the details of Rashomon, the truth in the first-person narrative is examined. One could deduce that all of the characters in the film are lying. But, it is also reasonable to hypothesize that the intensity of the situation the characters were in could have forced a change in their perception of the situation. From the way the Kurosawa directs the film, each account is made ambiguous because each character is trying to project a positive image for his/herself, either deliberately or accidentally. The film, as a whole, then brings to mind questions beyond finding the crime's solution and the explicit credibility of the characters. The film instead raises higher-order questions examining the motives in which the events are told. Thus, Rashomon is not only to be looked at for the veracity in first-person narratives, but also for the driving forces influencing the characters behind those narratives.
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.