羅生門 (Rashômon): The movie so good, they made it four times

I’ve seen this one before, but as always, its a question of “seeing” versus “watching”. Whenever I look at classic cinema, my question is “how did this change how people thought about film”? Kurosawa makes this a bit hard — more accurately, Japanese cinema makes this hard — because it’s coming from a different tradition than American cinematic technique. This mostly shows in the acting, which is generally more expressive than realistic. If I knew more about the rich Japanese theatrical traditions, I might have something a bit more intelligent to say here, but I’m putting the acting differences down to cultural divergence and moving on. Cinematically it’s excellent, since Kurosawa generally exhibits a talent for setting a scene and making it have the right atmosphere, but that wasn’t a revolution as such. So what’s the take-away technique from Rashômon? In most circles it seems to be the idea of non-linear narrative, and in particular the artistic value of repetition with variation. Telling a story from different angles is easy in text, since you don’t have to reiterate the similarities, but in a screenplay you’ve either got to do it well or be intolerably repetitive. Kurosawa made it work, which opened the floodgates for Groundhog Day and Lola rennt. See, the more I watch, the more connections I get to draw, although I drew those months ago in a prior review. Let’s blame Rashômon for L’année dernière à Marienbad too, just to look all erudite and stuff.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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