Sunday, 20 September 2015

Rashomon (1950)

Akira Kurosawa’s revolutionary masterpiece gets a UK Blu-ray release in a restored version courtesy of the BFI. So influential was it that if you’ve never seen it before (and I’ll admit I hadn’t) there’s no way you can be as bowled over by it as 1950 audiences undoubtedly were, but it’s also still possible to appreciate the tremendous influence it had on the cinema that followed.

A woodcutter, a priest and a commoner meet during a downpour beneath the city gate that gives the film its title. The woodcutter and the priest tell the commoner of a murder trial they have had to testify in, in which a bandit encountered a samurai and his wife on a deserted stretch of road. The episode left the samurai dead and the wife in extreme distress. 

Both the bandit (who has subsequently been captured) and the wife testify in court and give very different accounts of what happened. We also hear from the dead samurai through the mouth of a medium and his story is different as well. Eventually it falls to the woodcutter to explain what really happened, which is nothing like what any of the three key participants in the story have claimed.

With its multiple viewpoint unreliable narrator narrative, RASHOMON’s influence has ranged from the Iain Pears novel An Instance of the Fingerpost to Bryan Singer’s film THE USUAL SUSPECTS and there’s even an episode of HAPPY DAYS that uses the device. In 1950, however, it was revolutionary, both as narrative form and in questioning the reliability of what a film-maker chooses to show us when telling a story. 

RASHOMON was remade as THE OUTRAGE with Paul Newman in the US, but the original has such a timelessness and peculiar sense of otherworldliness that it really is the version to see. One can even question if anything you have seen actually took place or whether the three men are simply passing the time telling each other variations of the same story until the rain stops.

The BFI restoration looks excellent, and comes with a new full length audio commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV. Galbraith also narrates a 34 minute documentary looking at the film’s key locations today. John Boorman looks a bit ill at ease in a six minute talking head piece where he describes the dinner he, David Lean and other directors of the period held in Kurosawa’s honour, and there’s the usual BFI booklet filled with excellent essays to top the package off. 

The BFI are releasing Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON on 
Region B Blu-ray on 21st September 2015

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