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Film / Rashomon

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"I don't understand. I just don't understand... I don't understand it at all."
The Woodcutter (first line of the film)

Rashomon is a 1950 Japanese film produced at Daiei, directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune as the bandit and Machiko Kyo as the wife.

A samurai went out for a walk with his wife, encountered a bandit, and was murdered — and that's all anyone knows for sure about the situation. Each eyewitness to the crime — the Bandit, the Wife, and the Dead Samurai (through a medium) — give vastly different accounts of what happened, and each eyewitness portrays themselves as the most sympathetic figure in their story. What's more baffling is that each witness also claims to be directly responsible for the man's death, albeit with reasonable motives.

Which story, if any, is the closest to the truth? That's the question that a woodcutter and a priest mull over as they explain the situation to a third person (and, by extension, the audience) while they wait out the rain under the gatehouse roof of the ruined Rashomon temple. As the stories are explained, a fourth story emerges from the Woodcutter, who eventually admits that he actually saw what happened — but his story contradicts the participant's accounts just as much as their stories contradicted each other's. By the film's end, neither the characters nor the audience are any closer to uncovering the truth, but the concluding events do provide some reassurance that even though humans lie and steal, they're still capable of goodness.

The plot is based not on Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's Rashōmon (from which it takes only the "waiting out the rain in the ruined gatehouse" part) but on a later short story by the same author, In a Grove. The film itself inspired two play adaptations and the naming of a psychological effect. This is the film that introduced Kurosawa and Japanese cinema to the West.

The Trope Namer of "Rashomon"-Style, a plot that mimics the narrative style of this film.


  • Absence of Evidence: One of the final reveals is that the Woodcutter, who at that point is the only person the viewer would be inclined to believe entirely, stole a valuable dagger mentioned by all the other witnesses even though he'd specifically denied seeing it. This is what causes the commoner to suss it all out and mock him.
  • Adaptation Amalgamation: The movie combines elements from two different Ryuonosuke Akutagawa stories. Most of the plot came from "In a Grove", while the framing device (of travelers trapped in a gate because of a rainstorm) and the title came from "Rashomon".
  • Adaptation Distillation: The story significantly trims down on the early, incidental testimonials from "In a Grove" in favour of focusing on the testimonials of three people directly involved in the incident, as well as expanding the Woodcutter and Priest from incidental characters into a central part of the plot.
  • Adapted Out: One of the initial testimonies given in "In A Grove" is from the wife's mother, a character completely omitted from the film. Interestingly, this cut leaves the husband and wife completely nameless, matching with the other characters sans Tajōmaru.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The husband begs for his life but is killed by Tajōmaru in the woodcutter's final testimony.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: invoked In-universe: the characters' personalities vary greatly between the different testimonies, each fitting the moral perception of the narrator:
    • Tajōmaru's story is written like a traditional samurai epic in a way befitting his pride, and the characters are written as such. Consequently, he is portrayed as a cunning and brave Card-Carrying Villain, the wife is a woman who despite being a victim of his possesses Silk Hiding Steel, and the samurai a Worthy Opponent who he slew in a Duel to the Death.
    • The wife filters everything through her own personal despair. As a result, Tajōmaru is just a violent maniac who flees after raping her, and she's a helpless victim silently denounced by her husband, who doesn't even speak or show strong emotion.
    • The deceased samurai is built around making his victimhood and hatred for others most apparent. The result is that Tajōmaru is a violent thug with some ethics who is told by the wife, here a full-blown villain, to kill her husband. He, a noble samurai, is so crushed by the betrayal to where he is Driven to Suicide.
    • The woodcutter, who sees the absolute worst in humanity, portrays the characters as the worst versions of themselves, with Tajōmaru as a perverted, moronic bum, the wife a woman in the midst of a mental breakdown drawn from disillusionment with her husband, and the husband a misogynistic Jerkass who dies begging for his life.
  • Amazon Chaser: Tajōmaru claims in his story that the wife's supposed Silk Hiding Steel personality is what drew him to her.
  • Annoying Arrows: A constable finds Tajōmaru with a bunch of arrows sticking out of his back.
  • Ascended Extra: The Woodcutter in "In a Grove" is an incidental character whose only role is to provide the testimony regarding the discovery of the crime scene. The movie makes him into the closest thing the story has to a central protagonist.
  • Asshole Victim: The husband in the woodcutter's story is a misogynist who cruelly tells his wife to go kill herself after her possible rape by Tajōmaru.
  • Babies Ever After: The movie's sole high-note amongst the lies, cruelty, and confusion rampant in it is the discovery of an orphaned baby and the Woodcutter's pledge to raise it like another one of his children.
  • Badass Boast: Tajōumaru's entire story is this; accepting he'll be executed, he goes all out in his story to not only make himself look good but to portray the Samurai and the Bride as impressively (and honorably) as possible.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Possibly everyone who told a story but lied. The commoner's Breaking Speech makes the Woodcutter realize he did this as the Commoner figured out the Woodcutter did not mention the valuable dagger spoken of by all the other stories and thus reasoned he stole it, giving the Woodcutter a Heroic BSoD as he found he can't even understand and trust his own soul.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The true events of what transpired to kill the Samurai are still in doubt, the case's ruling is never stated and it is unknown if the Woodcutter ever bothered with coming out with what he supposedly saw to the court, but the Woodcutter altruistically takes the abandoned baby to raise as another one of his children, which restores the faith of him and the Priest in humanity.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: When the Wife drops her dagger when the bandit starts kissing her, a close-up shot shows the blade landing pointy end into the ground.
  • Breaking Speech: The commoner decries Woodcutter's assertions that stealing the kimono with the child is evil by pointing out that he has reasoned the Woodcutter stole the valuable pearl inlaid knife that was mentioned by the other testimonies but unaccounted for in the Woodcutter's story.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Tajōumaru portrays himself as an unrepentant murderer and rapist, laughing evilly throughout his testimony. The other testimonies subvert this trope and paint him as a scared, pathetic, only-somewhat-thuggish bum.
  • Central Theme: The whole point of the film is that everybody who witnessed the crime has some motive to distort their account of what happened.
  • Chekhov's Gun: All three of the stories told by the three individuals involved in some way involve the woman's ornate dagger, but none of them explain why the woodcutter didn't find it when he found the body. When the woodcutter explains what he saw of the affair, the dagger doesn't appear at all. Eventually, the Commoner figures out what is going on: the woodcutter stole the dagger after everyone else had died or left.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Tajōumaru, the Bandit. Heck, he doesn't just chew it—he grinds it up, spits it out, wallows in it, and chews it up again!
  • Circular Drive: The famous long dolly shot at the beginning was achieved by having the actor walk in a figure eight pattern that crossed the dolly tracks twice. It looks like the camera is following him through the woods but he is actually walking around it.
  • Crapsack World: One of Kurosawa's first depictions of feudal Japan which strays into this trope. The characters' disillusionment with humanity is as much about the events themselves and how, in a world fraught with so much death and violence, even a simple murder case is something to which people refuse to give a clear answer. Turned into A World Half Full by the end.
  • Death Glare: The Samurai's wife's reason for slaying her husband after her rape. It frightened her so much, the only way to stop it was to take the dagger and kill him.
  • Defiled Forever:
    • Laid out clearly by the husband in the woodcutter's story when he outright refuses to fight for her and notes that his horse is more valuable now that she has been with two men.
    • In her own testimony, the wife mentions how she tried to commit suicide by drowning because of the shame of being a victim of rape.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The woodcutter and especially the priest have suffered such after the trial, as the constant lies of the witnesses have caused them to lose all faith in humanity. The woodcutter's choice to adopt an abandoned child restores it.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: After Tajōumaru sees the wife's face, he sits by the tree in a trance, grasping his tsurugi in a suggestive manner.
  • Doorstop Baby: After the Woodcutter tells his story, an orphaned baby is heard crying and found in the gate.
  • Dream Sue: Tajōumaru's story has him seduce a man's wife with but a kiss, releases the Samurai to let him die honorably, and proceeds to win a duel against him while controlling the fight completely. He also insists he did not fall off the horse he stole which resulted in his arrest, but got a stomachache from what must have been some bad water he drank.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • The Samurai (or medium "channeling" him) claims to have committed Seppuku in his story, after witnessing the unfaithfulness of his wife.
    • The wife also claimed to have tried and failed to drown herself after running away from the grove where she was Defiled Forever.
  • Empathic Environment: The immensely heavy rain which symbolizes the woodcutter and priest's despair clears up as the woodcutter makes a decision that restores their faith in humanity.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In the dead man's version of the story, the wife orders Tajōumaru to kill her husband, and Tajōumaru looks shocked and refuses.
  • Every Japanese Sword is a Katana: Averted. Tajoumaru wields a tsurugi, and the Samurai wields a tachi.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The names of the Priest, the Woodcutter, and the Commoner are not revealed.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Tajōumaru deliberately invokes this to make himself look bigger and tougher than he is.
  • Evil Laugh: Tajōumaru, the Bandit, all throughout his testimony. It counts as an Annoying Laugh, too. In the Woodcutter's actual testimony, from the Woman — either she's laughing at the Bandit's failure to kill her husband or she is laughing bitterly about the Bandit's feelings not being true and the fact that her "honorable samurai" is a wimp. Take your pick.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Tajōumaru tries to pull this. He states that he knew that the authorities would have his head sooner or later, so he tries to make himself look better in the flashback while still admitting to the murder.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The court should have been able to deduce whether the man was more likely to have been killed by the sword or the dagger by looking at the size and depth of the entry wound. That would have ruled out at least one of the three / four different stories about what happened and made things a bit more comprehensible to the people in attendance.
  • Fantastic Legal Weirdness: One of the witnesses at a murder trial is a medium speaking on behalf of the victim. It doesn't actually help much; in this case, there was never any question about who killed him and the hearing is more about why and whether there were mitigating circumstances, on which points the victim is just as self-centered and unreliable as all the other witnesses.
  • Foreign Remake: Got one in the form of The Outrage, starring Paul Newman in the Tajomaru role (with the priest in the frame story played by William Shatner).
  • For Want Of A Nail: Tajōumaru admits that if it hadn't been windy that day, he wouldn't have seen the wife's face and the whole situation wouldn't have happened.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: Played with in the scenes from the inquest, where the camera's point of view is that of the officials interrogating the characters. We neither see nor hear the officials themselves, but the characters speak directly into the camera and respond as though they are being questioned.
  • Fridge Logic: This is actually a main point of the film — every testimony contains inconsistencies, like the Woodcutter walking around in a forest obviously not intent on cutting wood when he said otherwise, a trained samurai overpowered by a filthy, obviously untrained bandit, the Bandit not acting like the thug he claimed to be in his testimony, the Samurai acting like a scared civilian in a fight for his life, and so on. invoked
  • Giggling Villain: Tajōmaru laughs constantly.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We never get a view of how either the sword or the dagger kills the husband, or of the corpse thereafter.
  • Heroic BSoD: The Woodcutter and the Priest are not exactly the heroes of the story (although, from a certain viewpoint, they are the closest this movie gets to actual heroes), but they both seem to be suffering this at the beginning of the film. After relating his version of events, the Woodcutter is blasted by the commoner about the pearl inlaid knife, originally wielded by the Samurai's Wife; this results in the Woodcutter experiencing BSOD and leads to the admission "I'm the one who should be ashamed. I don't understand my own soul."
  • Hime Cut: The Samurai's Wife sports this kind of haircut.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Bandit, the Samurai, and the Wife all try to justify themselves by somehow involving honor. Completely absent in the Woodcutter's tale, which makes them all look like dishonorable fools.
  • Horrifying the Horror: The Commoner claims that a demon once haunted the temple but that it was scared away by the ferocity of humankind.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Tajoumaru threatens to kill the samurai's wife if she won't marry him in the Woodcutter's version.
  • Interrogation Flashback: The film has two nested layers of framing devices. The first layer involves a woodcutter and a priest explaining a recent trial to a third man (and by extension, the audience). The second layer is the trial itself, where three witnesses to a crime give very contradictory explanations of what happened.
  • Jerkass: The Commoner, who spends the whole movie berating and mocking the Priest and the Woodcutter and then leaves after literally stealing from a baby.
  • Jidaigeki: The story is set in Heian-era (feudal) Japan.
  • Laughing Mad: During the Woodcutter's real testimony, the Samurai's wife breaks out in hysterics, at one point. One possible interpretation of the Wife's laughter within the Woodcutter's telling, as both Tajōumaru and her husband outright rejected her or that they're both too cowardly to win her affection.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The deceased samurai's testimony hinges on whether or not you accept that his spirit really was channeled into the spirit medium. On one hand, his account was quite detailed; on the other, in a story about liars, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the spirit medium is also lying.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Tajoumaru is not as big a fighter as he appears to be.
  • Minimalism: Only eight actors, two only seen briefly, and three locations, four counting a shot of the police finding an injured Tajomaru. The temple set is rather expensive, but that's about it.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are only eight actors in this film.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Tajōumaru is an arguably inadvertent example. Wearing rags to show how animalistic he was. However, he's still played by muscular, handsome Toshiro Mifune and shows a lot of skin.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Set up by the Wife in the Woodcutter's story, who says the decision is not hers in response to Tajōumaru's begging for her to marry him and frees her husband from his bonds, but does not outright turn Tajōumaru down. They both flat-out disagree with starting such a thing over her, but they later do fight when she mocks them both as not being men by the samurai's unwillingness to avenge his wife's virtue and Tajōumaru's refusal to fight for his desires.
  • Nameless Narrative: No one besides Tajōumaru is given a name. Oddly, in In a Grove, the man and his wife did have names: Takehiro and Masago Kanazawa.
  • The Place: A sign above the ruins reads "Rashōmon".
  • Posthumous Narration: The samurai gives his story through a medium.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: The scene cuts from the wife dropping the knife and giving in to the bandit's kiss to him at court explaining that he scored with her and then back to the flashback where he is about to leave the scene.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier, as Tajōmaru, the wife, the samurai, and the woodcutter all have different recollections of the samurai's murder. Most of the variants that have followed don't bring the dead guy to the party.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: During the bandit Tajōumaru's testimony, he boasts that he crossed blades over twenty times with the samurai in the course of their duel. This is all movie fighting; in a real sword fight they would cross far fewer times. A very realistic example of such is performed by Kyūzō early on in Seven Samurai - and shown in the Woodcutter's testimony - the two men spend more time trying to desperately dodge and read each other's motions, and when they swing, they hit empty air.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Samurai's wife to both Tajōumaru and her husband in the Woodcutter's real testimony after both refuse to fight over her. Who saw that coming?
  • Restored My Faith in Humanity: The Priest by the Woodcutter's offering to take and care for the orphaned baby like another child of his own; he names this trope almost word for word.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Once the victim's spirit mentions the dagger, the woodcutter becomes visibly unnerved...
  • Rule of Three: There are three characters for the sign above the Rashōmon gate saying Rashōmon, there are three settings in the movie (the forest, the courtyard, and Rashōmon gate), three people delivered testimony in the courtyard, there are three people at Rashōmon gate discussing the stories of the samurai's death.
  • Sand In My Eyes: The samurai's story has him say he heard someone crying after his wife had disappeared from his midst, when the visuals clearly show him crying.
  • Seppuku: According to the medium, the husband committed honorable suicide this way with the wife's dagger.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Tajōumaru's telling has him tell of the Wife trying to fight him off with a dagger and says he was attracted by this fierce spirit before he rapes her. While the Wife's telling has her not fit this much bolder character Tajōumaru stated of her, none of the other stories explicitly contradict that she tried to fight him off, as they take place after the rape.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Idealism is represented by the priest and the woodcutter, who believe they've lost all faith in human nature from the conflicting stories they've heard (indicating some very bold lies somewhere), and the commoner represents cynicism by laughing off the supposed badness and selfishness of every human at the end before suiting words to deeds by stealing the clothes around a baby abandoned in the ruins of the shrine. The Woodcutter's willingness to take the child in and raise it despite his own poverty — "I already have six children, what's one more?" — restores both men's faith.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Tajoumaru's story largely has him say how totally cool he is... assuming he was lying. The other stories, and The Woodcutter's true story paint him as extraordinarily pathetic, and scared.
  • Spiteful Spit: In the woodcutter's account, the wife spits into the bandit's face when he refuses to fight for her.
  • Straw Nihilist: The commoner is a belittling Jerkass who shares the woodcutter and priest's view of humanity, but embraces it as a view of never valuing other people.
    Woodcutter: You selfish...
    Commoner: What's wrong with that? Dogs are better off in this world. If you're not selfish, you can't survive.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: The woman tries to paint herself as one, driven past the despair horizon by the Death Glare her husband gave her after being raped, and claiming not to remember killing him in the heat of passion.
  • Third-Person Person: Tajōumaru speaks a little like this.
    "Tajōumaru fell off?"
  • Title Drop: The name of the gate where the movie takes place is Rashōmon and written in Chinese characters on a sign at the top of it as a shot shows. Rashōmon gate is explicitly stated by the characters later in the story, but averts this trope as the dialogue gives it little fanfare. The closest thing to a traditional title drop is the Commoner alluding to the myth of how the demon that once lived at the gate fled from fear of the ferocity of man while convincing the Woodcutter to tell his real story.
  • Tone Shift: Tone changes with the testimonies. In the Bandit's story, he is dirty and the scene resembles a botched crime film; contrast this style with the Woman's story and the Woodcutter's second testimony.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film actually deconstructs many aspects of the oft-imitated plot structure that it lends its name to. Instead of using its famous "Three contradictory flashbacks" format as a simple plot gimmick (like most of its imitators do), it's a deeply philosophical character study that uses the format as a vehicle for discussing human beings' inherent inability to tell the truth, examining the moral implications of this idea in full. At one point, one character even concludes that almost all of mankind's evils arise from their attempts to avoid confronting the truth by lying to themselves. By the end, the story has ceased to be about a murder trial at all, and become the story of said character's struggle to regain his faith in humanity. Notably, the traditional "final true flashback" (which has grown into a common conclusion for Rashomon Plots) is also strongly hinted to be another lie. We're initially led to believe that the Woodcutter (a neutral witness to the murder) is the only one reluctantly telling the truth...until it turns out that he may have stolen the murder weapon.
  • Unreliable Narrator: One of the most famous examples of this trope in film. All of the eyewitnesses are unreliable due to personal biases and ulterior motives, even the Woodcutter, as they tend to portray themselves in a better light and the other eyewitnesses as villains when recounting the events, resulting in four contradictory stories. The film even spawned a term called the Rashōmon Effect, which acknowledges how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: The film never reveals who actually killed the samurai. Similarly, it is ambiguous whose version of events was the closest to the truth.
  • Unusual Eyebrows:
    • The Wife seems to lack eyebrows (logically shaved off) and instead has makeup on representing them. This was a staple of Japanese standards of beauty at the time - higher eyebrows were seen as desirable.
    • The medium also has very unusual eyebrows.
  • Wham Line: The commoner at the end of the story.
    Commoner: So what did you do with the dagger? The valuable one with the pearl inlay that Tajoumaru was talking about?
  • What Does She See in Him?: The Bandit claims that the man's wife submitted to him after he forced himself on her, and begged for him to take her away from her husband. Not surprisingly, the Wife's own account completely avoids this.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The official ruling of the inquest, if there was one, is never revealed.
  • Wimp Fight: In the Woodcutter's version of the duel between the Samurai and the Bandit, they run around swinging desperately at each other with their weapons. It's often taken as one of the hints that his testimony isn't exactly truthful - a trained Samurai wouldn't have done such a thing - but this was how Kurosawa commonly depicted fights. This may also be explained by the men's mutual unwillingness to fight- and apparent mutual respect for each other- until the Wife goaded them into it.
  • World Half Full: Despite the bleakness of the setting, the despair of the priest and the woodcutter, and the nihilist ramblings of the commoner, the woodcutter's ability to do good, despite having done evil, restores the two men's hope. This is shown beautifully in the film's final shot of the temple, showing both the side of it as a burnt-out wreck on one side, and the other a still proud place of spiritual worship.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Mentioned by the cynical commoner as a common ploy by women, used by the Wife and/or the samurai's telling of themselves within their stories if they lied, accused of toward the samurai's wife by the samurai and Tajōumaru within the woodcutter's story, leading both of them to reject her.