Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rashomon: The Negotiation Of Reality



“L'auteur est mort.” (Barthes, 1967)


There is a frustratingly funny contradiction when viewers of the 1950 Akira Kurosawa classic Rashomon end up confining their discussions within the theme of perception subjectivity. Funny, because their notions, while remaining subjective, are practically the same – that the film takes on a pessimist view of the human nature, that it reinforces the idea of relativity of truth. Frustrating, because you would know that these people have further been socialized into the dominant-hegemonic position (hence their expected interpretations) by a film whose plot is inherently counter-hegemonic. Indeed, many have spoken of Rashomon and its non-conformist elements, but only a selected few has taken the path of deviance in trying to deconstruct the film.


In his post-structuralist essay The Death of the Author, Roland Barthes critiques the manner in which readers attempt to extract meaning from a certain text by basing it on various aspects of the author’s identity such as political views, historical context, religion, ethnicity, and other personal attributes. He argues that such a means of interpretation “[imposes] a limit on that text.” Mikhail Bakhtin (1981) follows by claiming that “meanings are constructed through dialogue,” and needless to say, the experience of watching films is a dialogic activity between the producers and consumers. In a useful analogy of V.N. Voloshinov (1973), he explains:


A word is a bridge thrown between myself and another. If one end of the bridge

belongs to me then the other belongs on my addressee. A word is a territory shared

by both addresserand addressee, by the speaker and his interlocutor.


The dominant hegemonic discourse on Rashomon heavily relies on Kurosawa’s explanations in Something Like An Autobiography. Clearly, there is an obvious contradiction when a film preaches about subjectivity and relativity of truth yet the director/writer provides the audience a perspective on how to interpret the film. It is therefore unsurprising that people would think along the lines of these themes, and consequently fail to notice the other agenda it may contain. The discourse, however, is altogether different yet subsumed under the bigger dominant hegemonic position which ultimately defines the way people read the messages. This process is more familiarly known as depoliticization.


In the four mutually incompatible accounts of what people so often refer to as “rape” and murder presented in the film, a common theme – equally explicit as the central subject – can be found. For lack of a better and forgiving term, let it be called women discrimination. The only female character was portrayed as a weak, submissive, deceiving, adulterous, cunning, and basically evil individual. In the bandit’s narrative, the woman still ended up failing to protect herself, although it was made clear that she struggled to fight with all her might. From the husband’s recollection however, she immediately left the woods with the bandit after having slept with him. And then there is the woodcutter’s version, where she was able to successfully manipulate the two men to engage in a sword fight, with the winning party taking her home as a prize. Finally, even in her own account of the incident, it was depicted that she rather dies than suffer from the glaring stares of her husband, as if to say that the judgment of a man is more important than the life of a woman. It does not take a genius to arrive at this observation. It is far from subtle, and needs no deciphering. Why then does it appear to be so?


The norm dictates that generally, men, in most if not all respects, are stronger than women. This is the dominant hegemonic position that has accustomed people to think that it is logical for a man to defeat a woman in a battle of physical strength, or it is sheer common sense that necessitates a man to walk a woman through a forest by letting her ride on a horse. Some would argue that this is a manifestation of culture – but it is precisely the point! After all, culture is a contested space where various social forces struggle to achieve “political, intellectual, and moral leadership” (Gramsci, 1971), and film is but one of the many areas where such battle happens. Thus, adopting Barthes’ approach, Japanese culture is irrelevant in making sense of Rashomon. The point is once a film is produced and released, it goes beyond lifetimes, and whatever idea it seeks to permeate will continuously politicize or depoliticize the minds of its audience. There are no fair and unfair judgments – only judgments which would either strengthen or challenge the dominant hegemonic position where most films are juxtaposed.


Much has been said about how grand of a masterpiece Rashomon is – the stunning visual experience, the innovative style and techniques of filming, the groundbreaking concept and its eternal influence to the industry. This post does not intend to add up to the all-praise list. If only for the technical aspects and the buzz it created accordingly which led to the introduction of Japanese cinema to the world, Kurosawa deserves much credit. Everything else is debatable. But since its content is essentially political – exploring the philosophy of justice and exposing conventional power-relations, among others – Rashomon still rightfully deserves the attention and importance it has been receiving. It should definitely be included in the bucket list of someone who claims to be a film buff.


On a more personal note, I would like to emphasize the idea of deconstructing a film beyond the boundaries of how it is packaged. For instance, when we talk of James Cameron’s Avatar, do we talk about the future of technology, or the potential of humanity to destroy the world? Or do we ask why it lost to Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker in the bid for Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards and eventually discover for ourselves that it was due to the fact that it takes on an anti-imperialist stand, while the latter depicts the struggles and victories of American soldiers in the Iraq War – as if saying that they are part of the unspoken heroes of the world. The bottom line is deviant perspectives, aside from being refreshing, may in the end prove to be more critical and useful. Then again, my interpretations are as sensible and valid as someone else’s, because as Roland Barthes puts it, “the author is dead.”


References:

Bakhtin, M. (1975). Epic and Novel. The Dialogic Imagination, 1, ---.

Barthes, R. (1967). The Death of the Author. Aspen, 5-6, ---.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Hoare, Q. and Smith, G. N.

(translators and eds). New York: International Publishers.

Voloshinov, V. (1973). Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Matejka, L. and

Titunik, I. R. (translators and eds) Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


- Mico Quijano


A woman is allegedly raped and a man is found dead in a grove in the woods. This might just be the most accurate summary of the incident around which the film Rashomon revolves. The rest of the details form an intricate tangle of testimonies that mismatch, and as the story unfolds the audience is led, more often than not, to utter the very same line with which the film opens: "I don't understand."


That is not to say, of course, that the film is a failure. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon (1950) is an internationally-acclaimed Japanese crime/mystery film that tells of a supposed murder and a rape incident mainly through the testimonies of four different people: the bandit Tajomaru (the rapist and possibly the murderer), the Samurai’s wife (the raped woman who also claims to be the murderer), the Samurai himself (who, through a medium, instead claims suicide), and a woodcutter who later claims to have witnessed the entire incident. Closely based on the short story In a Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the film is groundbreaking in its use of the narrative device of contradictory flashbacks from multiple points of view to expound on what had happened.


What makes Rashomon so compelling, however, is that it doesn’t expound on what had happened, because the reality of “what happened” depends on agreement. Rather, the film boldly raises the question: what if there is no agreement on what happened? By reviewing the same incident over and over again, through different perspectives, the film cleverly depicts how subjectivity is injected between an act and how one perceives the act, creating entirely different meanings. Thus from four different viewpoints, was the rape really rape, or was it consensual? Was the death of the samurai the result of a valiant duel, or a pathetic attempt to save the last of one’s dignity? Yet, despite the absurdity of it all, Rashomon is a film that deals uniquely with the idea of reality. Rather than presenting a single, solid reality, the film comes up with a surprising, and sometimes disturbing premise - that the truth of one’s reality is actually as subjective as one’s personal opinions.


And it is indeed disturbing, as Kurosawa expresses through the monk who sits shivering by the Rashomon gate. If there is no consistent truth to speak of, if all reality is colored by egotism, self-interest and motive, lies become the lot of humanity, and earth becomes, as the monk and the commoner put it, “a living hell.” Tracing the root of such subjectivity to our being human, Rashomon is thus also an exploration of human nature, delving into the darkest recesses of humanity – or inhumanity, in this film.


Kurosawa masterfully brings these themes to life through the various, well-coordinated elements of the film. The black and white of the film, for example, seems to heighten the interplay of darkness, shadows, and light – visual representations of how what we perceive to be the truth can sometimes be obscured by grey areas. The same can be said for his extensive use of the forest foliage and the contrast it creates with the sunlight. The torrential rain in the opening scene was not merely used to distinguish the present from the very sunny flashback scenes; it highlighted the divide between physical reality and the transformative power of the meanings we attach to it. The Rashomon gate serves as another metaphor for the threshold that we have for physical reality, while the scene of the woodcutter’s long, silent walk in the forest is somewhat reflective of how we sometimes lose our grasp of reality in the midst of meanings and interpretations.


More than the visuals, however, it is the portrayal of the characters that truly bring out the film’s themes. The stark contrast of the flashbacks are easily tangible through the performances of the actors: the samurai is cold and hateful from the woman’s point of view, while from his own viewpoint he was dignified and even pitiful in his sorrow. From the bandit Tajomaru’s point of view, the woman was weak and easily subdued, while from the woodcutter’s, the woman was extremely manipulative and calculating. It was also interesting to see how the theatricality of the acting in this film brought attention to the extremes of human character. Tajomaru is loud and boisterous, callous and unapologetic, easily and unabashedly giving in to his passions and fancies, while the samurai is quiet, restrained, dignified yet cold and even cruel, and in contrast to Tajomaru he seems to have no passion at all. And yet, even with four different viewpoints on hand, there is the insight that there will always be something beyond what these characters do. Tajomaru might have had true feelings for the woman, or the woman might have hated her husband, or the samurai might not have seen the woman as anything but his “beautiful wife,” but who knows? The film does not tell.


It is exactly this sort of speculation this film generates which makes it so riveting. As it looks into the subjectivity of our perceptions of reality, it ingeniously forces the audience to do the same, leading the audience to examine the characters and the complexity of their actions, and ultimately, to the conclusion that the truth is only as good as how we see it.


Produced after the war, the film is certainly political in many ways. For one, Rashomon may actually serve as an allegory for post-war Japan. After experiencing such tragedies, Kurosawa might be putting across a message of hope and redemption through the film’s final scene, wherein the woodcutter who initially lied and thieved exhibits some nobility of heart by adopting an abandoned baby.


Yet the greatest political issue in the film is one that is easily missed. The film, as much as it is an exploration of human nature and human reality, is also a vivid portrayal of how women’s issues have long since been depoliticized and reduced into mere context, that is, a function of history. Set in 10th or 11th century Japan, portraying women as weak and subordinate to men is of course understandable. Thus the woman in Rashomon sits by the river while the two men make their way through thickets and brambles; much like her horse, she was nothing more than the samurai’s property, and it is but appropriate that it was a bandit – a thief – who tried to “steal” her from the samurai. Even she sees herself as helpless (“what is a poor woman like me to do?”), and in the film she did nothing but weep or faint or stumble as she ran away. At some point even the bandit who raped her was deemed more honourable by her own husband, but of course these are all perfectly consistent with the setting.


It is rather ironic that such a dilemma can be found in the film Rashomon – a film that as a work of art has itself broken the conventions of its time by creating new contexts in film-making; even more so because the film challenges people to review how they agree to perceive reality. There is nothing wrong in the film’s portrayal of women; historians would even deem it accurate. What is disturbing, however (so much so that even today, it remains neglected even by top movie critics), is that much like the resignation of the commoner to the evil nature of human beings, the issue is treated as not an issue at all.


- Therese Buergo


28 comments:

Margaret Gallardo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret Gallardo said...

Part I


Honor, dignity, shame, female virtue, lies, truth. These are just some of the words that come to mind when one is to think of Rashomon. Rashomon is a 1950 film by the renowned director Akira Kurosawa. It is based on two short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. “Rashōmon” for the setting and "Yabu no naka", otherwise known as “In a Grove”, for the story line. It is a sensual film that has made a tremendous impact on several key aspects in society. Sensual because the scenes in the film can be imagined, observed and/or enacted by the audience using their five (5) senses. The film was incredibly visual because it entailed the use of the environment. “In a Grove” speaks about people wandering around and going astray. “These strange impulses of the human heart would be expressed through the use of an elaborately fashioned play of light and shadow.” (Kurosawa, 2002) Kurosawa gave great importance to small things. The use of rain, shadows, and the sun are just a few factors that contribute to the brilliance that is Rashomon.

The film is “set during a time of social crisis––pestilence, fires, civil war––in 11th century Japan, a period Kurosawa uses to reveal the extremities of human behavior.” (Prince, 2002)Deterioration is a constant theme in the film. It is evident in the character’s wardrobe, the temple and more importantly, in the attitudes of the characters. The opening scene is witness to Kurosawa’s pessimistic view of human nature. The film is full of characters that portray everyday human beings -- “the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are.” (Kurosawa, 2002) Since the film was produced a few years after World War II, damage is seen everywhere. It was during the aftermath of the war that Kurosawa decided to embark on a journey to social recovery through his films that portrayed heroism.

Margaret Gallardo said...

Part III


What I liked most about the film was the setting. Daiei, the company responsible for producing the film, was initially reluctant of granting Kurosawa money to begin his project. They found the film to be “too unconventional and feared that it would be difficult for audiences to understand.” (Prince, 2002)The script seemed too complicated and they thought the Japanese would want to watch something that did not remind them of the tragedy that had just taken place. Rashomon, however, made the most money for the company and was considered groundbreaking during, and some would argue it still is, its release in the 1950s. Seeing the numerous positive reviews it received, Daiei sent the film to participate in an overseas film competition. It garnered international awards and the rest is history. Some would say that Rashomon was the entire reason a “Foreign Film” category was created. I have yet to agree with the aforementioned statement, as I have not watched other films released during the same period. I found the movie entertaining. How many times can you tell someone you watched a person get possessed and actually enjoy the scenario? Rashomon did that for me. The message of the film is simple: Truth is ambiguous. It is open for questioning and it is entirely up to the spectator to decide what to believe in. It is from this film that the term “Rashomon Effect” was coined.

It is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.” Countless films, Television series, and stories have adapted the “Rashomon” idea. They are Ghost Dog, Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), How I Met Your Mother, Rugrats, and The Blind Men and the Elephant to name a few. Not only has it changed the way directors, producers and other media-related folk think, it has also carried over into the legal realm. Lawyers speak of the Rashomon effect when dealing with accounts from witnesses. These people deal with the relativity of truth and it is solely up to the judge to decide which is true.


Rashomon, indeed, has made an impact on numerous generations. It is an allegory of human behavior. “Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.” (Kurosawa, 2002) It is with this statement that I challenge you, dear reader, to defy the odds and seek the truth.






References:

Kurosawa, Akira. (2002, February 25). Akira kurosawa on rashomon. Retrieved from http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/196-akira-kurosawa-on-rashomon

Prince, Stephen. (2002, March 25). Rashomon. Retrieved from http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/195-rashomon


Roth, W.D., & Mehta, J.D. (2002). The rashomon effect combining positivist and interpretivist approaches in the analysis of contested events. SOCIOLOGICAL METHODS & RESEARCH, 31(2), 43.

Liane Candelario said...

What catapulted Rashomon to success may well be attributed in its ability to transcend beyond generations and cultures, not necessarily because it is the prima facie to a multi-narrative film approach, but because of how well it uncovers what seems to be the most contested battle of mankind- the perversion of truth. That, I believe, single-handedly carried the whole debate about Rashomon ever since it was released in the 1950s. Of course, there is no conclusion as to who holds the ultimate truth, and all that is left at the film viewer’s disposal won’t even be his rationality but his gut instinct to choose one gradient of truth amongst the multi-faceted confessions. I agree, however, that arriving at a decision doesn’t come blindly. There will always be a prepackaged conclusion, may it be intentional or not, within the progression of the story. It doesn’t have to be as final as a court (which by the way was never shown though perceived as present during the trials) reading its decision. For this instance, there is only a mere woodcutter retelling his self-proclaimed ‘coming clean’ version. As a film viewer who have been immersed in the continuous cycle of listening to a version of then ‘truth’ and watching as that version gets debunked or rephrased again and again, the pattern is obviously noticed and the quench to hear the ultimate truth grows stronger. It’s as if the ending isn’t the rolling of the credits but the individual attempt to reconcile how the man really died in the grove. In the end, who knows? After all, if there’s one thing that Rashomon surely relays to its audience- it is the fact that truth is, more often than not, just a story weaved at our own disposal.

Subsumed within this whole debacle of philosophizing truth is the universal feminine struggle amidst societal contexts and predispositions. It is of course understandable how strong the dichotomy would play between masculinity on one hand, whether it is a well-bred man or a mischievous bandit, and femininity on the other. In this era of Kurosawa productions, it is commonplace to treat an untouched woman as a prized possession, and then an adulterous woman as a pariah that has lesser worth than an able horse. Of course such extremes have much lesser occurrence in the post modern world stricken with a diaspora of feminist values, but that doesn’t erase the fact that films of this kind may seem alarming to those who have deep personal advocacy for egalitarian principles especially equality within genders. Suffice to say, we could push this forward to the direction of the debate between art versus alarming, morally-challenging content. Even if systematic oppression of women had been justified in the past and still in small pockets in the world today, its propagation seems counterintuitive to the current struggle. But really, this should never stop the continuity of Rashomon screenings. There is still a value of reminding people the roots of the struggle, if not hopefully to incite further awareness to feminist practices.

-CANDELARIO, Liane Stella

faysah said...

Part 1

In response to the first blog entry, I would argue that using subjectivity as a main theme for discussing Rashomon does not necessarily limit the interpretation of the film. Rather, it opens up the conversation to a wider array of possible issue areas. Due to constraints on space, I will limit these issues to three. First, the film presents an opportunity for the convergence of several theoretical frameworks namely the rational actor model, the constructivist approach, and the use of narratives by the theory of perspective. Second, the theme of subjectivity revives debates such as modernism versus post-modernism and foundationalist versus anti-foundationalist ontological positions. And lastly, it brings into mind the application of subjectivity on contemporary issues where public opinion on controversial matters is mainly driven by a trial-by-publicity at the cost of marginalizing other views by the prevailing judgement.

Each character has shown the propensity of humans to protect their own self-interests. Even the wood cutter who was supposed to be a bystander turned out to have omitted certain details in his testimony in order to protect himself from prosecution. Putting a premium on self-interests is the cornerstone of the rational-actor model. Under this model, actors seek to maximize their means to achieve their desired ends. However, rational choice takes preferences for granted and assumes they are fixed. As the four characters from Rashomon have shown, their motivations have been far from homogeneous. Tajomaru was set on maintaining his rogue image as an infamous bandit, the samurai wanted it known that he followed the Bushido code up to the very end, the wife wanted to protect her virtue from the relentless standards that Japanese society has imposed on women during those times, and the wood cutter aimed to evade penalty for stealing the dagger. In order to negotiate reality towards their interest, the characters must then create their own construct of reality. This is when constructivism would enter the picture. Whereas rationalists maintain that interests are fixed and that the environment serves as a constraint for the actor’s behaviour, constructivists would add that the environment can aid in constructing the actors identities and interests (Barnett 2005:167). As each character follows his motivation to weave his own version of what really transpired in order to suit his or her self-interest, a struggle for which reality would prevail ensues. It can be seen here that rational choice theory can work well for certain conditions but not in all circumstances and must therefore be used hand-in-hand with other theoretical frameworks in order to be able to transcend its limitations. Kirsten Monroe proposes that a theory of perspective in which how one sees himself in relation to others can define his range of options is a viable alternative theoretical structure (Monroe 2001:151). This theoretical framework makes use of narratives as methods for data gathering which makes it more conducive for interpretive and constructivist works. Monroe maintains that while narratives are more associated with fiction rather than political science, they are also the means by which people piece together incongruent facts in order to attach meanings to their reality (Patterson and Monroe 1998:315). Narratives do not only indicate the actor’s views, it also provides the ways in which the actor interprets his reality according to the options made available to him in his culture. Through the main theme of subjectivity interspersed by the concept of self-interest as portrayed by the actor’s different accounts, Rashomon provides a venue for attempting to reconcile and converge different theoretical frameworks of analysis.

Rosie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosie said...

Part I


In response to the second blog entry, specifically on the treatment of gender in Rashomon.

It is perhaps a testament to the subjectivity of perception underlying Rashomon that I am emphasizing gender in the discourse, when the film can be, and has been, interpreted in so many other ways. From the moment the veiled lady on the horse came into view with a samurai at her side holding the reins, I was seeing the movie in gendered terms. My defense is that one with feminist leanings knows no other way to view art and life. But is easy to be carried away by ideology and speak out of turn. There were a couple of questions that I needed to be answered.

First, were the actions of the Woman (played by Machiko Kyo) necessary as conveyors of context, or were they the director’s and writer’s own prejudice showing through? Second, should she be taken as a victim or as an element perfectly situated in her own time and place? Third, how would my answers affect the way I understand the film? As much as I would like to immediately conclude that there was an inherently misogynistic portrayal of women in Rashomon, the internal debate was too great. Can my twenty-first century values be applied to tenth century feudal Japan? Watching the characters negotiate their realities was forcing me to do the same.

Tajomaru the Bandit (Toshiro Mifune) identified the woman as fierce, cunning, sensual, and decisive. According to him, it was consensual sexual intercourse, and the murder of the Samurai (Masayuki Mori) was the result of her manipulations and his superior sword skills. The Samurai’s story was that the Woman wanted him dead, but that both he and the Bandit understood that the matter was to be settled “among men.” The Woman’s account was of course the most telling with respect to the issue I’m trying to expound. When she told the court and consequently the film’s audience about her husband’s reaction, which was entirely believable in my opinion and might not have been a complete lie, I thought she was justifying why she killed him. In her blind rage with the loathing she saw in his eyes she must have killed him with her dagger – but of course, she plays up her frailty and cannot remember that part. This is a court of law after all and she certainly does not want to go to be punished. We know she is lying because the Samurai was not killed with the dagger, but by this time it doesn’t matter because nothing is falling into place. The Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), whose account seems to be the closest to the truth, showed that in the heat of the confrontation she was actually playing up her role as property, as one to be fought over and won, in order perhaps to turn the direction of the homicidal blows away from her.

Rosie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosie said...

Ultimately, I think that the sexism in this movie is essential to the retelling. That is not to say that the issue should not be treated as an issue. Discrimination against women will always be wrong, but I believe that there is simply no other way to tell the story. Imagine, for instance, that instead of weeping about her shame she starts talking about her rights? Instead of taunting the men about their honor, imagine she started asking for justice for her rape? Would those words have been in her consciousness in the first place? How she was treated, and more importantly, how she treated herself, were reflective of her time and place. Aren’t we all?

Rashomon in its entirety does not seem to be a treatise on gender. It is about the subjectivity of our memories and how we retell events based on our own interests. That we all lie to get what we want, and if we keep telling them they become our truth. But the blatant sexual discrimination here is important because it helps us understand why the events unfolded the way they did, why eventually the Woman had to play up her circumstantial weaknesses to get herself out of the unfortunate situation. But she is the real casualty here. It’s as if to say that time and time again woman plays by the rules made by men – and loses. The way gender is treated in the film is an educational experience, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one. Thus this Kurosawa classic remains relevant, first for its ability to incite debate over its fundamental premise about human nature, and second for its characterization and narrative that serves to remind us that power is an inescapable fact of human interaction, be it about gender or otherwise.

faysah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
faysah said...

Part 2:

The second issue is on old debates spurred on by the theme of subjectivity. The issues touch on different positions on ontology and philosophy. First, foundationalists, who believe that there is a real world out there to be observed, are challenged by the constructivist leaning of the characters in Rashomon where reality is continuously constructed and negotiated as opposed to something that can be objectively observed. As the film ended with no stipulation of which version is the most accurate, anti-foundationalists emerge triumphant in their assertion that there is no real world. Since even the wood cutter’s account is compromised, anti-foundationalists can reinforce their belief that there is no objective observer since even a third party cannot offer a value-free testimony. In rejecting a foundationlist ontological position, Rashomon can be touted as a viable propaganda material for post-modernists. The film demonstrates the proposition of post-modernists that there are truths rather than a monolithic Truth as the modernists would say. The fact that the film ended without a definitive conclusion as to who the real culprit was allows viewers to unconsciously make use of post-modernism in trying to construct their own version of the resolution.

Finally, the film serves as a reminder of how everyday issues are presented by the media. Several personas and policy positions have been judged prematurely because certain perspectives were favoured over other ones by a mass media that feeds on consumer preferences. Issues are presented in narratives between “good” and “bad.” Thus, those who appear as antagonists in the public eye (i.e. politicians, government officials, capitalists, military men, policemen) are subjected to merciless character assassinations based on mere hypotheses because the accounts of those who are perceived to be the “underdogs” are given more credence by the public. Struggles over whose “reality” would be accepted are common issues as news are filled by competing interests. Rashomon reminds viewers of this common scenario where the public grabs on one presentation of reality at the expense of other accounts.
Based on the three issue areas presented, it can be surmised that it is the very theme of subjectivity that can broaden the interpretations of Rashomon. The three issue areas, along with feminist issues as noted by the other members of the class, are just among the many possible readings of the film that the inherently flexible nature of subjectivity allows.

References:
Michael Barnett. 2005. “Social Constructivism” in John Baylis and Steve Smith (eds.). The Globalization of World Politics: an Introduction to International Relations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Monroe, Kirsten Renwick. 2001. “Paradigm Shift: From Rational Choice to Perspective,” International Political Science Review Vol. 22, No. 2

Patterson, Molly and Monroe, Kirsten Renwick. 1998. “Narrative in Political Science,” Annual Review of Political Science Vol. 1

Abdullah, F.

royalprincerpineda said...

I.

Hearing that the movie is critically acclaimed in the international big screen during its release in the 1950s, I imagined that Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon will let me see what it is to be a “bigtime” Japanese movie during its era. I thought that it would be parallel to the mainstream movies we have today. Though it actually wasn’t that revolutionarily technological (as special effects and modern machinery weren’t available then, and it seemed to me that the film resembled more like the Philippine indie movies we have today), the brilliant use of flashbacks and changing points of view by the characters got me puzzled yet amazed on the Japanese movie.

The opening scene imparted an eerie feeling on me, as the rain poured heavily on the soil with that lingering dark atmosphere. The expectations I had based on our classmates’ introduction that it was a mystery-crime movie hyped up. There went the three people under the Rashomon gate—the priest, the woodcutter, and the passerby. As they dried themselves while waiting for the rain to stop, the passerby insisted on listening to a crime story narrated by four witnesses, all of which are conflicting and do not give clarity to what really happened to the story. The silence during the woodcutter’s walk through the woods somewhat made me tense. I also noticed the black and white and some gray shades of the movie, as Therese mentioned, as well as those other metaphors that the director wanted to convey—contributing to what is now called the “Rashomon effect”: the determination of “truth” through negotiation of various recollections and opinions to promote self-interest.

Bulawi said...
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Victoria Tiangco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bulawi said...

Rashomon essentially is about a tale relayed from four perspectives about a murdered man and a woman who was allegedly violated told by the woodcutter and the priest who heard the three testimonies in the courthouse garden. These four different accounts of what really happened were told by the three individuals who were “involved” in the incident and by one fellow who chanced by the grove. These differing accounts as told in film reflected each of the character’s motivation to preserve themselves; the bandit’s account was told in way that would increase his level of notoriety, the woman’s to preserve what was left of her virtue, the samurai’s was one that would ensure that others knew that he upheld his honor until the bitter end. Lastly, the movie presents the woodcutter’s version which he, like the other three, claimed was the truth.

As Rashomon leaves us hanging on what really happened in the woods, it essentially takes its viewers inside the film as the jury that will decide on the truth based on the facts presented by the four who claim to have seen what happened. The real thing that happened in the woods matters only little to what the viewers will consider the truth as they can only rely upon the stories of the four who have some sort of premium to not tell how the events really transpired. This in turn decomposes the truth into something not decided by not facts alone but also with convention and arbitration. This is also observed in the debate in the end between the woodcutter and the commoner on how the child was abandoned. However, their argument was cut short as the commoner managed to discern who really stole the dagger.

There is also this battle waged between the priest and the commoner which centers primarily on the nature of man as capable of doing both evil and good deeds. The priest’s dwindling faith is constantly attacked by the commoner who berates the nature of humanity, first with his claim that all men do is lie and that this contributes, however indirectly, to the state that they are in; one of plagues, bandits, and fire among others. He almost loses all faith when it was made known that the even the woodcutter did not tell the entire truth in his story as he omitted the fact that he stole the dagger the pearl inlay. He eventually reconciles his faith in man when he saw the willingness of the woodcutter to adopt the abandoned child in the temple as one of his own, and possibly the reason why he stole the dagger.

Also, as in most Japanese films, symbolism runs deep in the film. Take for example in the image of the rain. We see here that the rain can represent the afflictions mentioned by the priest in the opening and his disturbed emotions. The downpour clears in the end which can signify his regained belief in man. Likewise, light can also be likened to the truth as it was obstructed by the forest canopy in a similar way that the truth of what really transpired in the grove was ultimately hidden.

On a totally different and slightly unrelated subject, I was disenchanted with the woodcutter’s version of the duel between the two swordsmen as I was somewhat expecting a contest similar to one in an anime rendition. Then again, this was done back in the 1950s.

References:
http://akirakurosawa.info/forums/topic/rashomon-the-symbolism
http://webs.wofford.edu/sloanjd/Other/Rashomon%20Review.pdf

Manalo, L

Victoria Tiangco said...

Heavy rain falls down the ruins as a priest, a wood cutter and a passer-by try to piece together what seems to be a murder of a man in the forest. At first glance, Akira Kurosawa shows a negative view on human nature as egoistic and deceitful individuals who are only interested in preserving the image of the self. Tajomaru, the bandit, bragged about killing the Samurai to contribute to the long list of his infamous crimes. However, the Samurai in his account in the afterlife, committed suicide as a way to protect his honor and dignity. This pessimistic view is reflected on the belief of the passer-by, who considers all men to be inherently evil. It is only natural for the passer-by to have a limited and shallow view because he did not involve himself deep enough to understand. For him, the death of the Samurai is part of the vicious life of humans. He was boxed in his preconceived notions that resulted to his shallow understanding of the issue. It is a different case for the Wood cutter, who happened to also pass by the scene of the crime but stole the dagger with the pearl inlay. He concealed what “truly” happened to hide this fact and avoid being pinned down for the crime.

With the underlying motivations of the different characters, we can analyze what brought them to convey their versions of the “truth”. This movie is ground-breaking because it presents an opposing idea to the notion of the absolute and the objective truth. But more than this, it involves the audience to explore the hidden motivations and self-interests of the characters that govern the reconciliation of what really happened and what should have happened. These motivations give the characters their own perspective of looking through the event (the murder of the man) and translating them into their conflicting accounts of reality. Furthermore, these perspectives are shared to the audience as they try to understand one character from the next.

On the issue of women discrimination, it is evident that the society views women as property of men, to be admired and placed in pedestals. Set in the context of the post-war patriarchal Japan, women were valued as an accessory and source of sexual pleasures. Women’s rights and empowerment were a non-issue during the 1950s but it has been a cause that women are fighting for today. I think that by bringing the film out of the context during its inception, into the modern era is what makes it relevant today. The portrayal of Masago as weak and docile, who stumbles and falls when walking, and her own resignation to her helplessness by virtue of being a woman are strong indicators of discrimination against women. However, in the account of the Wood cutter, she is somehow empowered as she made Tajomaru and her husband fight to death for her honour.

The film concluded with an air of redemption on the human condition. When all hope of the priest on humanity was taken by the passer-by, as symbolized by his selfish act of taking the kimono protecting the baby, the Wood cutter comes clean by telling the “real” story. He even volunteered to take care of the baby together with his five children. Amidst the lies and the ruins, there exists a tiny hint of hope for humanity as the rain stopped, as if the truth has been finally delivered.

Juan Carlo Tejano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juan Carlo Tejano said...

PART I


In response to Mr. Quijano’s website main entry:

Before anything, I wish to express my appreciation of the courage to challenge the clear and obvious interpretation of the film as merely and squarely presenting an anecdote of truth relativity. Indeed, this interpretation of the film has gone against the very principles on which such interpretation has been based: To see the film as only presenting the subjectivity of truth is close to objectively declaring that there is only one such truth in the film and that there is only one way of interpreting the film. This is indeed frustrating, especially in light of the fact that the film has been in existence for more than 60 years! Such “postmodernist” interpretation is betrayal to postmodernism itself; I do not and cannot accept that there is no more subjectivity in the message of the film than the message of subjectivity.

Nonetheless, I also wish to disagree that there is no deeper common theme in the film than women discrimination. Although I am convinced and I believe it is clear that, in all four exclusive accounts told in the film, the woman has been discriminated, I also see that the film depicts the beauty of hermeneutic political analysis. Going into the messier depths of hermeneutics and intepretivism, the film presents not only the subjectivity of truth but also the dependence of this subjectivity to the relative real conditions of the sources or “narrators.” Simply stated, if we wish to understand why there are different accounts amongst different narrators, we need to consider the differences in the political, economic, and social realities surrounding the narrators.

I therefore disagree with the message conveyed by the entry that culture or any such social context does not and should not affect the interpretation of the film – as if to say that there is a detached and universal or at least universalizable theme or truth in the film. By the simple claim that the film presents women discrimination, there is already recognition of the fact that discrimination against women is occurring across cultures.

Indeed, if we closely examine the conditions and contexts in which the narrators of the four accounts have been situated, we will see through clearer lenses why they have different accounts of what happened in the forest amongst the couple and the bandit. From the more arrogant, more macho, and more egoistic bandit, the account of the story has been distorted to portray his victories over the other man whether in violence or in love. The bandit depicted himself to have won against the man in a swordfight, showing his admirable strength over other men, and to have won the heart of the woman, showing his skill in getting women without forcing them. Such an image of an alpha male has been ingrained in various cultures: a strong man getting all the women’s admiration. Indeed, such traits are regularly shown in various media and films such as James Bond.

From the angrier view of the dead man filled with hatred, he saw nothing but betrayal from his wife. His story was distorted to make it appear that he was severely devastated and that his suicide was, ultimately, the woman’s fault and not his. His suicide is also salient in his account; he wished to portray his death with honor which, in Japanese culture, is commonly translated into hara-kiri or suicide. In his world of truths, he was betrayed by his wife and he simply had no choice but to kill himself.

- Juan Carlo P. Tejano

Juan Carlo Tejano said...

PART II


From the account of the Japanese woman who was treated as merely a prize for the stronger man, nothing was portrayed but fear and guilt. The woman, in her world, was clearly afraid of her husband’s judgment against her translated through the husband’s gaze and was, at the same time, guilty of her mistake to have had lascivious intercourse with another man. Imagine the confusion of the woman about how she should have felt: She was afraid but, at the same time, her guilt ate her. She did not know whether or not it was her fault exactly, even as the clear answer was that it was not and that she suffered such fate only because of the machismo of men who dominated her.

From the more detached woodcutter’s point of view, a chance was finally given to the woman to show her strength in the midst of fighting men. This is typical of the detached point of view because such strength and courage of the woman could have been appreciated and told only by a non-involved party. Indeed, even as the bandit recognized the strength of the woman, the bandit saw this as nothing but ferociousness or fierceness – traits commonly attributed only to beasts and not humans. Ergo, it was only the woodcutter who saw the manipulative means through which the woman took control over the situation.

Thus, the film enriches the discourse of truth subjectivity and relativity by attaching subjective truths to narrators according to their real and experienced political, cultural, and social conditions. It presents the deeper meaning of the relativity of narratives according to their narrators.

- Juan Carlo P. Tejano

Ginx Petterson said...

The movie Rashomon is pretty much just like how truth is portrayed in the film: ungraspable. At the film's end, one flounders about a bit, first, trying to assess for oneself what really happened. Some would try at wits end to figure out a solution to the problem of four different testimonies, deconstructing each point of view for loopholes, possibilities and other potentials, while others, those who are more tolerant of uncertainties, would pick up the essentials and cease to worry about the lack of one decided murderer. Still others, would decide not to worry about it at all.

In the same way that there are different reactions to such a phenomenal 1950’s film, there will always be different points of view, different opinions, different truths. So the question arises: what now?

Note the post-war background where Rashomon was coming from. The Japanese did not only lose the physical war to the Allies, they also lost to the ideological struggle, one that said race and power weren’t the only things that mattered. On a grand scale, the World War II was an example of competing truths and how they may be dealt with. Although just because Germany and Japan lost, does not mean that theirs is any less of a “truth” as the one carried by the Allies. But because they lost the war, most then, believe that the Truth (yes, one with a capital T) is found in democracy and the rule of law.

What would the Truth be if the Allies had lost instead?

The relativity of truth is challenged by the one who can wield power or the one with the authority to choose which is considered as Truth or at least closest to the Truth. It is demonstrated in the movie how this lack of agreement (the lack of one who dictates which is most truthful) can lead to unsettlement. This need for agreement is what enables those with power further. But who’s to say who holds such power? Ah, but that has always been a question of politics that even Rashomon does not answer.

Kurosawa’s film, though is usually reviewed to be pessimistic, may have actually been very uplifting for the Japanese audience who feel that their truths have been crushed to be a lie. It is disconcerting for most to put up with uncertainty, but for others, it is such an uncertainty that brings comfort.

References:
Ebert, Roger. (2002, May 26). Rashomon (1950). Retrieved from: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020526/REVIEWS08/205260301/1023

Fiona Arevalo said...

PART 1

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is with no doubt brilliant and can be considered as Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece. Having won first prize at the prestigious 1951 Venice Film Festival, Rashomon did not just pronounce Kurosawa’s talent, but also introduced Japanese cinema to the world at large. The plot basically revolved on the investigation of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife. Four differing accounts of the crime had been presented all of which are mutually contradictory.
What impressed me the most was Rashomon’s deviation from the usual linear narrative. Kurosawa used multiple flashbacks of a key event that fails to match one another, a striking device which is now adopted by many television programs. This multiple-perspective concept in Rashomon made me realize how one physical occurrence can be perceived in radically different ways. This explains one of the themes that was obviously captured by the film—the relativity of the truth. What is true for the woodcutter may not be true for the woman or the bandit or the murdered man. In this case, each of them provided their own understanding of what had really happened or what they wished had happened. As a result, they all produced self serving myths which perhaps, made them end up believing in themselves. The narratives they tell are the transformed versions of the reality. They recall only what they choose to recall; they report only what they choose to report. This boils down to what I consider as another theme of the film—the inevitable subjectivity of the memory. “Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are.” (Kurosawa in Boc’s translation, 1982).
As we can observe, the magistrate was never shown throughout the film. I suppose this was Kurosawa’s technique of placing the jurisdiction upon the viewers. However, how the characters were packaged and presented to us may contribute to our interpretation of the reality. For example, if it weren’t for the murdered man’s clothes and the emphasis on his liking towards swords (he was easily swayed by the bandit who claimed that he can sell him swords at a cheap rate), we could have never assumed that he was a samurai who followed the way of the bushido and would have never considered his death as suicide. Tajomaru was depicted as the notorious bandit. He strives to maintain his image of capricious and terrible power. With this background, we could be convinced that Tajomaru may in fact be the murderer. The wife who was portrayed as the dutiful wife wronged by the bandit claimed that she’d rather die than be considered as dishonour by her husband. These and other possible motives of the characters involved in the crime to alter the truth and narrate self-serving myths were wisely presented to us by Kurosawa. That’s why most of us, after viewing the film, thought that the woodcutter must be the one telling the almost true testimony. Why? For he has the least incentive to tell a lie. Kurosawa’s multi-perspective technique may have submerged the viewer in the differing worlds each of his protagonists inhabits, making them feel the emotions of each character, but I for one believe that he still has the strongest influence on how the audience would receive and give meaning to the film’s message.

Fiona Arevalo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fiona Arevalo said...

PART II

Now with regard to the more technical aspects of the films, I was particularly impressed with Rashomon’s long, fluid shots in the scene of the woodcutter’s long walk in the forest before he found the samurai’s remains. This was what first captured my attention (as a viewer with a very short attention span), and further immersed me into the film. At the same time, it can be associated with the course taken on the quest for justice—extensive, prolonged and bewildering.
Rashomon had only three settings: the Rashomon gate, a ruined gate to an old palace and capitol of Japan in Kyoto, the courtyard where the characters testified to an unseen and unheard magistrate and the forest where the events of the crime took place. The forest successfully mirrors the mood of the crime—dark, gloomy and shrouded in mystery. The Rashomon gate was not just any gate in Japan, it was a symbol of power and in some ways of Japan itself. It could be deemed as the symbol of moral decline in the Japanese society at the time the piece was written. Furthermore, it could illustrate the state in which Japanese society found itself during the post-war years. Apart from the gate, moral decline was also reflected by the beliefs and acts of the commoner. According to him, the world is a competitive place in which everyone is out for oneself. He does not believe in the existence of a good and just society. When the priest and the woodcutter were so distressed and bothered about the samurai’s murder, he contested their reaction by highlighting that it is just one man, several bodies are found in the gate daily and such crime is no longer extraordinary. His views also translates to how he behaved—he tore down fragments of what’s left of the gate to warm himself and stole the few left possessions of the abandoned baby. In contrast, the woodcutter, who was shamed guilty of stealing the expensive dagger and telling a fabricated testimony, had provided a hope for social recovery and had even restored the priest’s faith in humanity in his act of adopting the abandoned child.

Overall, Rashomon stands worthy of all the recognition and awards it had been receiving. Its cinematic brilliance transcends through generations and is still very much appreciated today. I was never a fan of old, black and white films, but Rashomon truly made me reconsider. I hope this would serve as a good enough foundation for my pursuit to become a better and more mature consumer of films.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon_(film)
http://ablakemediareviews.blogspot.com/2011/03/rashomon-1950-dir-akira-kurosawa.html
Bock, Audie. (1982). Something like an Autobiography, trans.

Franco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Franco said...

“Meaning is both individually construed and socially constructed.”
-P.T.P Wong, 1998.

The film was specifically handpicked to be the opener of a semester-long series of films that would deal with integrity. This is aside from the fact that the opener should also acquaint us PolSci 167 students with the basics of interpreting, appreciating and knowing the political significance of films. And the catchphrase for the film was “subjectivity in interpretation,” – subjectivity in a lot of manifestations.

Capturing the world of the silver screen “by storm” in the early ‘50s, the fim impressed Western critics through its signature “sun through the leaves of the trees” as if to show the light of obscured truth and other simplistic film breakthroughs. Talking about subjectivity, the film itself appears to be a “victim” of the word. Despite the praises from the western world, the Japanese critics reacted otherwise. Put simply, praised by the west, critiqued by their very own. The Japanese claimed that it only stood out because it was exotic for the Westerners. When nominated to participate in the Venice film festival, the then Japanese government had disagreed in choosing Rashomon for the claim that it doesn’t represent the Japanese film industry that much.

Arguably being the sentinel of a new style in crime mystery films and story-telling through various perspectives, the asset of the film is the four-version story of a rape and a murder. This device blur the boundaries between what is true and what is a lie, and, instead, focusing on how human existence becomes naturally hopeless and pointless. It is also notable that as the storytelling progresses, the Rashomon gate, the “home location” for the storytelling acts as one of the major symbols in the film; while the gate being torn and burned depicts that various versions of truth are being shed.

Franco said...

The Gate, we must remember, is not just any gate but the capital city's mighty Rashomon, a symbol in some ways of Japan itself. The gate being long-rotten and broken represents Japan’s moral decline, especially that it was written in the post WW II period.

On a historical note, Graham Allison, a political scientist, was said to have used Rashomon as a starting point for Essence of Decision, a case study where he told the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The crisis started when the US tried to invade Cuba, thus leading the latter to cooperate with the Soviet Union to help dispel the former’s forces. The crisis is generally regarded as the moment in which the Cold War came closest to turning into a nuclear conflict. It also marks the first documented instance of the threat of mutual assured destruction (MAD) being discussed as a determining factor in a major international arms agreement. Allison’s case study recounted the crisis in three different theoretical viewpoints. These are through the following models: Rational Actor, Organizational Process, and Governmental Politics. Thus, the historical event was told in three entirely different ways, with no one being able to tell which viewpoint is more accurate than the other.

Since films’ relevance can arguably be judged through the impact that they produce in the present time, let’s just say that Rashomon gets a check on this requirement. Rashomon is set in 12th century feudal Japan, a classic Samurai-movie setting, a time when the island was divided into many warlord states with complex inter-related power relationships. This is a time when no one can trust anyone. Though they – or we – may not be wearing kimonos nor having our afternoon strolls in the jungle, today’s political landscape is still a lot like this!

-Franco Oliva

HP said...

Part I

"I just don't understand."

This line merely acts as a simple introduction to a simple testament of a puzzled woodcutter who has witnessed an incomprehensible scenario involving "rape" and murder that entailed a trial to which he has also been part of. The scenario which boggles the mind of the woodcutter alongside a monk, as they are stranded by the Rashomon gate during a heavy downpour, bears the narrative of the film's central theme that would closely observe the natural human condition, or if I may say, the un-natural thing about it.

In Akira Kurosawa's 1950 highly-acclaimed renowned masterpiece Rashomon, we are presented with a very simple set-up. A samurai is murdered in the depths of a forest grove. This heinous crime leads to a set of interrogations of the involved individuals that would rattle anyone who would hear their own sides as they tell of four incompatible testimonies. The series of testimonies is presented in a way that the film's audience are themselves the witnesses' given jury. The experience of watching Rashomon, then, invites us to be an immediate involved individual to the varied accounts of the bandit, the wife, the medium, and the woodcutter. Who is telling the truth? On what basis do we compromise our judgment, if each character's distorted telling of the incident is our only guide?

Truly enough, the idea of the subjectivity and the relativity of truth presented throughout the entirety of the film's multi-narrative structure superimposes the observation and rediscovery of the (un)natural human condition. It is once said that art tries -- or even, fully aims -- to imitate or reflect life as it is. Through the art of cinema, Kurosawa engendered the intrinsic propensity of humans to safeguard their own self-interests and motivations. If you, then, as an immediate involved viewer of Rashomon deconstruct the idea presented in its entirety, does Kurosawa only signify the pessimistic nature of human beings as to who they truly are? Yet, towards the end, we are presented with a somewhat redeeming (or is it, really?) light in an open-ended final sequence of the film. The woodcutter, who we later find to also have fabricated the truth, decides to take responsibility of a found child even claiming that he already has "a six of his own". Does, then, one act of goodness accounts in parallel understanding to an act of selfishness?

HP said...

Part II

The blind morality is more than ever palpable. We are left to ponder on what truly is Kurosawa trying to communicate to his audience. Yet the basic premise, once again, is simple. The interrogations are mere accessories that we should not delve into in depth. The stunning visuals are metaphorical embedding of statements that would strengthen the multi-narrative scope of the film, telling for example, the mystical entrancing of the woodcutter to the forest where the murder takes place is as enchanting to the viewer as it is to the fictional character himself. We are taken to a landscape of a distorted reality (who is to believe that the medium truly is voicing out the sentiments of the dead samurai?), then how exactly should this mirror the realism of the natural human condition? If, even from the very beginning, the woodcutter introduces to us a situation he has bore witness to and yet he doesn't entirely still comprehend -- why should we decide to try to understand it, too?

Simple. Because we are forcibly involved from the moment we are seated as viewers of this film. Because the constant politicization and depoliticization that goes on in our own perspectives -- why did others evidently procure a separate perspective on Rashomon's mysoginistic features? why did others settle only to Rashomon's perception subjectivity element? -- is proof that we are trying to understand the 'incomprehensible', that we are trying to give light to the ambiguous. And in the end, it truly isn't an incomprehensible and ambiguous scenario, is it?

We do understand, as a truly involved audience, that the flashbacks aren't truly depictions of the real and the truth. We do understand that each testimony is tied up with a certain motivation of character, whether that be dignity, pride, honor, escapism, or a sense of self-worth. We do understand that no matter how morality and the truth is relatively perceived -- as it is, in fact, a part of the (un)natural human condition -- we can only say so much, do so much, as we are all but just humans whose imperfections and flaws are what make us us.

-- Petersen Vargas