The first six words uttered in Rashomon summarize my feelings about the film’s universally fervid acclaim: “I don’t understand it at all.”
“A man was murdered,” says the priest, overcome with despair.
“Just one?” replies the commoner. I share his confusion.
In a world the priest describes as full of daily, devastating horrors, the crime at the center of Rashomon seems almost mundane. And yet, more so than even the rape and murder themselves, the characters’ contradictory, self-serving accounts of the events are meant to be a damning portrait of human nature at its bleakest. Really? Are criminal trials usually tidy affairs in which all testimony neatly fits together? I’ll give Rashomon some credit for undertaking an examination of truth’s objective unknowableness, but the result is not especially profound.
I can appreciate that its structure is innovative and influential, and much of the cinematography is exceptional. And I’ll admit I’m often puzzled by Japanese culture. But “one of the greatest films ever made”? The woodcutter says it best, over and over again: “I just don’t understand it.”