Akira Kurosawa weaves a psychological thriller centered around murder. There isn’t any chance of unfair judgment, since all opinions are voiced and all voices heard. A single incident probes into the reality of human nature while making an attempt to assess the realness of the incident. The 1950 release Rashomon challenges concepts of humanity through commoners. The anecdotes of the courthouse experience of the witnesses put the viewer in the position of the judge. The contradictory tales narrated in Rashomon keep the viewer glued to the screen till the very end.
The Murder: Do we know the criminal?
Tajomaru Killed the Samurai. Says who? Says the suspect himself. It’s a confession, but what is the motive? Tajomaru declares he had no intention of killing the Samurai. His aim was only to have the bride for himself. Well, then why does he admit to murdering the Samurai? According to Tajomaru and the woodcutter, the samurai’s bride provoked him to partake in a duel. In the Samurai’s version told through a medium, he kills himself with his wife’s dagger. The wife claims to have passed out when the incident happened.
Killing, here in the discussion taking place at Rashomon is a feat of bravery. Tajomaru takes pride in successfully defeating his opponent, whereas suicide is a more respectable death for the Samurai. Death, violence are intrinsically linked with honor and masculinity. This social construct forces the participants in a play of death. A woman is simply a tool, who unfortunately falls prey to the fancies of the men of the world.
The degrees of crime: horrors of the reality
All versions of the story revolve around the rape and the murder predominantly as a repercussion of the rape. However, the case of the Samurai’s death garners most of our attention. Tajomaru the bandit, wasn’t convicted for rape but charged for murder. In his version, the murder was to seal the secret of their communion to preserve the lady’s honor. It is surprising that despite committing such a heinous crime, Tajomaru earns respect for his violent masculinity. The lady on the other hand faces disgrace. Even in the soldier’s confession, the lady loses her respect and he tries to preserve his by committing suicide.
Death instantly arouses respect which one might not have been worthy of. Life is secondary to being oppressed and apparently provides no means to reclaim one’s honor. The crime is undoubtedly gendered. The murder’s importance is more than rape. It is actually a metaphor referring to the prevalent social conditions. The woman’s voice is subdued by the men or thought of as a part of fiction.
Conflicts of humanity at Rashomon
At Rashomon, the people were bewildered by the contradictory interpretations of reality revealing cunning facets of human nature. The story takes a newer turn when the woodcutter confesses to having witnessed the murder. The woodcutter not only refuses to divulge key information but also steals a dagger which is probably the murder weapon. When their conversation nears its end, the cry of a baby alarms them. The third man robs the baby of a kimono and an amulet. In this act, he expresses that everybody is evil. However, the woodcutter, deeply moved by the crying baby decides to adopt it as his seventh child. This act earns the respect of the priest and restores his faith in humanity.
Identifying the lesser evil at Rashomon
Is the woodcutter evil? Is Tajomaru the evil one or is the couple on the darker side of humanity? The woodcutter’s narrative places humanity in the gray zone. We curse the sun for the scorching summers as we look for shade. On the other hand, the warmth of the same sun comforts us in the dry and cold winter. How should we decide whether the sun is evil or not? Similarly, the context often determines the morality of our actions. Murder on grounds of self-defense is pardonable. It is murder, nonetheless. It is a lesser evil. Although humans identify binaries, they live in the shared gray zones. Our task then is to identify the lesser evil. It is the individual choices that mold our nature. Ergo, the audience must decide for themselves the evil, and the lesser evil in this film and take the lesson home.