Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Rashomon (1950) Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Then came Rashomon. And it was not a moment too soon. We were in our mid twenties crawling towards the thirties- the age of cynicism. We had crossed the moment when reality and truth are enthusiastically, even euphorically embraced. Right or as we were soon to discover what we perceived to be right and good were passionately defended. And life was simply a struggle between the good and the evil with naturally the good always emerging victorious. We were suspended in that nebulous region somewhere between passionate adherence to our sense of right and the soon to engulf us unfathomable skepticism.

At that moment Rashomon happened. The rain falls incessantly and the three men take refuge under a gate and soon the monk and the woodcutter are narrating to the commoner a most incredible tale. A woman is raped and subsequently her husband is murdered. At the enquiry the woman, the accused bandit, the ghost of the dead husband and the woodcutter who chances upon the lifeless body in the forest narrate four versions of the story. Each version totally different from the other and yet each describing the same truth while dragging us through a labyrinth of trees and human deception with the dappled light hiding much more than it reveals. The sun peers through the dense foliage, the leaves rustle, the shade flickers, the shadows stretch across the faces and the rain refuses to relent. Even the elements conspire to obscure that, which should be self-evident. The camera seems to run to capture the truth that shifts shapes with every passing moment to elude it.

So, a simple story gets transformed into a philosophical treatise on the relativism of truth and the subjectivity of our perceptions. It becomes a film about, as Kurosawa writes, “…such human beings–the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are…this sinful need for flattering falsehood going beyond the grave...Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem.”

Rashomon showed us who ultimately wins when reality and the ego clash. Therein lies the truth. And we think we became better humans, if only in our perception, just by becoming aware of that.

Another thing, Rashomon went on to win the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival and the American Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Kurosawa writes, “ Japanese critics insisted that these two prizes were simply reflections of Westerners’ curiosity and taste for Oriental exoticism, which struck me then, and now, as terrible. Why is it that Japanese people have no confidence in the worth of Japan? Why do they elevate everything foreign and denigrate everything Japanese? Even the woodblock prints of Utamoro, Hokusai and Sharaku were not appreciated by Japanese until they were first discovered by the West. I don’t know how to explain this lack of discernment. I can only despair of the character of my own people.” (Something Like an Autobiography)

If we replace the word Japanese/Japan with Indian/India the above thought would still hold true.

(On cinema part 2)

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