Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa / Japan, 1950):

A Mark Twain quip ("A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar"), thus Akira Kurosawaís famous cosmic shrug. Murkiness is the inherent state of things, "nothing but disasters," the eponymous gateway is dilapidated and possibly haunted in the midst of a sludgy downpour. The woods by contrast are blindingly sun-dappled, a terrain of enchantment until a corpse is discovered amid its shimmering foliage. Three testimonies in an outdoor court paint the events from clashing angles, a fourth one sets things straight, or perhaps not. The spastic banditís (Toshiro Mifune) version visualizes the story as a string of visceral impulses, the breeze that suddenly parts the beautyís veil and the priapic blade that towers by his side. The violated woman (Machiko Kyo) remembers it as nightmarish melodrama, discarded by her attacker only to be bathed in her husbandís frigid scorn while Ravel pulsates in her ears. The dead nobleman (Masayuki Mori) gets his own turn, too, a distorted rasp emanating from a writhing clairvoyant with a tale of despondent seppuku. A commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) enjoys the dueling narratives but has little use for the priestís (Minoru Chiaki) bewildered contemplation: "If itís a sermon, Iíd rather listen to the rain." The truth is not so much unknowable as it is perpetually at the mercy of manipulative storytellers, and Kurosawa naturally understands that the supreme manipulator is the filmmaker himself. Ferocious changes in composition and tempo contribute to the concentrated sense of pictorialism, the fierce build-up of masculine appetite and honor dissolves humorously in the final retelling. (The wifeís whimpering becomes a witchy cackle, the menís duel is really all panic and clumsiness.) But can even the humble woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) be trusted as a witness? "I donít understand my own soul," he laments at the close, though an abandoned baby reminds all that illumination canít come before a little kindness. Sturgesí fantasy deflation (Unfaithfully Yours) and Hitchcockís lying flashbacks (Stage Fright) are adjacent, Cukorís Les Girls and Oshimaís The Man Who Left His Will on Film are rebukes. Cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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