Features and Columns · Movies

‘Rashomon’ and the Thematic Power of Unreliable Narrators

The Woodcutter be like: Nah, it was dumber than that.
Rashomon Unreliable Narrators
RKO Radio Pictures
By  · Published on August 12th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at why films employ unreliable narrators by looking at Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Rashomon.

It’s hard to understate Rashomon‘s impact. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, the 1950 film is often credited as being the reason that the “Best Foreign Film” category exists at the Oscars. The film’s structure was unconventional for its time ⁠— and remains radical to this day even in the face of admirable imitators.

Based on two stories by Kurosawa’s frequent influence Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Rashomon tells the story (well, four stories) of a murder. Three strangers take shelter from a raging rain storm in the shadow of the decrepit Rashomon gate. To pass the time, the three men recall a recent scandal: after a noblewoman (Machiko Kyo) was raped, her husband (Masayuki Mori) turns up dead, and a thief (Toshiro Mifune) is accused of the crime. During the ensuing trial, each party (including the husband, whose ghost testifies through a medium), tells a different version of events. After each testimony, the woodcutter confesses that he saw the whole thing, recounting yet another different story about what actually happened.

The truth is in there somewhere. But no witness is reliable. Not even the woodcutter, who we later learn is less honorable than he seems. This phenomenon has since been named the “Rashomon effect.” Different people remember the same events differently, a fact that would have been keenly felt by Kurasawa in post-war, American-occupied Japan.

For a deeper look at Rashomon‘s radical story structure, check out the following video essay:

Watch “Why Movies Lie to You”:

Who made this?

This video essay on why Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, and films like it, blur objective truth is by Adam Tinius, who runs the YouTube channel Entertain the Elk. They are based in Pasadena, California. You can follow them on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

More videos like this

Related Topics: , ,

Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).