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Jacqueline Mercado
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 For my film review, I chose to watch the Japanese film "Rashomon."  I chose this film because I heard it was a good movie and was curious about Japanese cinematography and film.  Filmed in 1950, this film is intense, dramatic, perplexing and thought provoking.  It is a black and white feature film and it is its cool cinematography, intense music and the compelling action that gives this movie its appeal and force. The action of the movie involves four main characters whose paths intersect--a samurai, his wife, a bandit, a woodcutter and a priest, who adds a layer of morality to the story.  The story's setting is feudal Japan and the story opens in a courtyard as a priest and a wooodcutter converse about a "story as strange as this."  The opening is symbolic and indicative of the complexity of the story and of the experience of the viewer; that is, that as the narrative unfolds, the viewer become more and more unsure and ultimately, does not know what is the truth of the story that just unfolded.

The plot of the story unfolds as a samurai and his wife take a stroll in the woods, a bandit sees the pair and lusts after the wife, the samurai is murdered, his wife raped and the bandit suspected of the murder.  We do not actually see what happens, but we hear of the events that just transpired from the woodcutter, the bandit, the wife and the dead samurai (who speaks through a medium) as each retells what happened.  Interestingly, each version told seems to change as the person telling the story changes.  Their version of the truth is influenced by who the person is within the norms and structure of Japanese society.  In the end, we do not know what actually happened but are left to make our own opinions about what we think happened.  But viewer beware, as one character states, it is human to lie and that most of the time, we are not honest with ourselves.  In the end, we are not sure what to believe; there are a lot of questions this film leaves unanswered and that is the point.

The film explores many themes that can easily be explored in the classroom with students.  Such universal themes as truth, identity and how identity is determined by culture and how that influences perspectives and experiences within that culture can be explored.  Students can research the role of gender, identity and class within Japanese society and examine how each chapacter's identity, gender and class might influence their motivations, actions and version of the events in the film.  Students could also consider what view of humanity the movie presents. This movie could be a sound springboard for a lively debate about who in the story is the most credible character and whose version might be closer to the truth.  This film can be easily incorporated in the classroom as it lends itself to much analysis and discussion.    

Jonathan Tam
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Topic Posts: 28

Recommended by Clay as a must see, Rashomon is directed by film legend Akira Kurasawa and tells the story of the retelling of a crime as well as how the story that we retell and the perspective that we retell it from might not always be the truth - or perhaps our truth. The film begins with a few characters sitting by the gate of Rashomon (which is a city). They discuss the death of a recent Samurai and the film then transitions to the story of the Samurai's death - which involves the Samurai, his wife, and a bandit. Without going into too much beyond that, it becomes evident early on that each of their stories have gaps - but it's those gaps that result in lost faith in humanity. Faced with a similar situation and question of intention, the original characters (the ones sitting by the gate) eventually are faced with an ethical dilemma to do good or the get away with evil.

Despite the fact that I was told beforehand that the film is a masterpiece, I can safetly agree with that assessment. Kurasawa's analysis of the human psyche as well as what it means to be moral and virtuous even as the world around us burns. I interpretted Kurasawa's film as a way of saying that we are all inherently evil. We all act in self-interest, but it is the fact that we have each other that allows us to be more than just self-interested. We must be each other's moral compass if we are to survive.

And in there lies the most beautiful thing about this film - how it can be interpretted as well as how important it is for cinema today. When you see interviews of George Lucas or Christopher Nolan or other thought provoking directors of our modern age, they will all attribute the work of Kurasawa as the director that influenced their career. And it shows. There are so many dimensions to the characters and layers to each shot that a film maker needs to account for. This creates so many opportunities for arguing interpretations about morals and the human condition that can be brought into the classroom. More so than that, for students who are interested in being film makers one day (which there are a lot of especially in Los Angeles), films like those by Kurasawa should be ones that they watch before they leave high school. I can't believe that it's taken me so long to watch this, but I am incredibly glad that I did and that I am in the position to recommend this to students - especially those aspiring to be part of the film making industry one day.

As a jidaigeki (Edo period piece), the film offers a visual representation of what 16th century of Japan looked like - the dwindling faith in the Samurai and the warring conflicts between cities. This makes it a great component to any World History class intent on focusing particularly before the Meiji era.