Short Thoughts on Kurosawa’s Adaptation of Akutagawa

On the surface of Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Rashomon, it may seem like we are merely presented conflicting accounts of a murder. The film is a loose adaptation of two Ryunosuke Akutagawa short stories: In a Grove and Rashomon. Although the plot comes from In a Grove, the significant contribution of the titular story is the narrative device and the psychological and sociological state of the film’s characters. The woman and the servant merged into one ethically confused character, the woodcutter.  

There are seven simple statements, written as if pleading for the readers to believe their version of the story, with relevant inconsistencies. Akutagawa gave scarce descriptions, giving readers the characters’ absolute versions of the facts. Kurosawa bridges this scarcity with cinematic narration and possible clues to what transpired that afternoon.

© 1951 RKO Radio Pictures Inc.

Egotism and pride fueled the inconsistencies in the narrative which reveal more about their characterization and not the actual events. No one in the film shifts the blame – each one admitting accountability to the murder and trying to put themselves in the best possible light. The wife thinks that killing her husband would preserve her virtue, the husband gave one last attempt to maintain his dignity by suicide, and the bandit maintaining his notriety. But then comes the interruption of the last testimony, the woodcutter’s. I believe he has a pivotal role in the crime or that he has a self-serving agenda like concealing the fact that he stole the dagger. The fact that it is unresolved is the functional core of the film. Viewers could analyze the cues given by Kurosawa such as camera angles, lighting, length of statements, and body language. Kurosawa’s adaptation could either be a homage of a rebellion against Akutagawa’s withholding of a resolution.  I found a valuable academic article about this by Redfern, which I will reference below. Here is my attempt at tabulating the events that transpired.

If we follow the generalization that there is a protagonist in every story, I’m safely assuming that it is whoever killed the husband because everyone wants to be the killer. I’m taking the cynicism from the film as something we should exercise during these trying times. Fake news are everywhere, time to do some research and reading.

Film:

Kurosawa, Akira, director. Rashomon. RKO Radio Pictures, 1951.

Further Reading:

Redfern, Nick. “Film Style and Narration in Rashomon.” Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, vol. 5, no. 1-2, 2013, pp. 21–36., doi:10.1080/17564905.2013.10820070.

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