What do you know about Rashomon, as filmed by Akira Kurosawa? – That it’s a meditation on the relativity of truth, I should think, an example of a post-modern questioning of objectivity and metanarratives: – four people give an account of the same “event”, but their accounts are inconsistent because a) people see things from different points of view and thus never agree about things; b) people’s memories are selective and they cannot recall “events” consistently.
Here’s a (paraphrased) quote from The Simpsons, to convince you of your cultural assumptions:
Marge (trying to persuade Homer to watch a subtitled film): You watched Rashomon and enjoyed it.
Homer: That’s not how I remember it.
Here’s another random quote, from an otherwise decent article I was reading recently about the Argentine writer Juan José Saer:
the other movement is repetition, at different speeds or from different angles, not to suggest subjective relativism, in the manner of Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, but rather an ecstatic response to the inexhaustible possibilities of reality and the infinite ways to communicate it
and here’s a quote I reference at the bottom of this post from Donald Richie:
[Rashomon is] a vast distorting mirror or a collection of prisms that reflect and refract reality. By showing us its various interpretations, Kurosawa has shown first that human beings are incapable of judging reality, much less truth, and, second, that they must continually deceive themselves if they are to remain true to themselves.
… except, here’s the thing: – Rashomon is not about the relativity of truth; and this is quite obvious if you bother to watch it, as I did again recently. It’s just another example of the lazy thought practised by our favourite cultural movers and shakers.
During the course of the film, it is stated about 50 times that the various narrators are “lying”. There’s no notion that they see matters differently; nor that their memories are deceiving them – you can claim it, if you like; – it’s just it isn’t anywhere stated in the film. (This reminds me very much of the much-loved “hubris” in Oedipus Rex). – In reality, the film is about the degenerate nature of human-beings, their egoism, mendacity and hypocrisy.
A clue to the basis and intent of Rashomon, I feel, is to be found in the title. – An obvious question about the film is, why – if it’s based on Akutagawa’s story In A Grove (which contains something more of this questioning of objective truth we believe is in Kurosawa’s film) – is the film called Rashomon. – Could a reading of Akutagawa’s story Rashomon help us in this regard? – Well, possibly. – The story Rashomon doesn’t necessarily seem to have much to do with the film – apart from the fact that they share the same temple. This is the story in brief: – a man, who has lost his position as a servant, is at his wits’ end and is thinking of turning to theft to support himself, shelters in a temple; – this temple is used as a store for bodies, since a lot of people are starving to death (I can’t remember why now); – the man encounters in the temple an old woman who is engaged in stealing the hair from these corpses in order to sell it; – he is so horrified by this that he steals the woman’s clothes and chases her out of the temple(?). – So yes, the story is about what people will do to survive (i.e. turn to theft etc) – their inherent degeneracy – and their hypocrisy (i.e. finding the theft of others despicable when it was precisely what they were thinking of themselves). – This connects with that part of the film Rashomon where the main (fourth) narrator chides the narratee for stealing the abandoned child’s clothing, only to be rebuked by the narratee for being a thief himself because he stole the dagger which killed the woman’s husband in the story (I don’t need to explain all this of course, since you remember the film so well – and you knew it wasn’t just about a couple of people giving differing accounts of something).
etc. etc. – You can research and decide for yourself, I’m ending this post here.
Just to demonstate how original Obooki’s thought is, here’s another article on the internet I discovered which points out exactly the same thing (and is better argued); and here’s another one which actually references Lyotard’s definition of post-modernism as an “incredulity towards metanarratives” (which is the definition I’ve always preferred), before laughing at the wrong-headedness of lazy theorists and then cutting off very suddenly.