CT&D #61. Rashoman’s Impact

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The famous Japanese film Rashomon pioneered a new method of storytelling in film through use of multiple POV.

Why tell a story in this way? How do multiple points of view change the way we interpret “the real story”? Have you seen any contemporary instances of this type of storytelling?

My thoughts on Rashomon is that given the amount of layered storytelling we are told about the same event (but told in various perspectives/accounts), I think the film laid groundwork (for similar films to follow) and revolutionized the story- telling process in cinema.

As for the reason why to tell a story this way, I suspect it is done to one, flush out the characters in association with the way they tell their story and two, to create interest from the audience in having them see if they can deduce a reasonable outcome given which facts contradict from each similar story. I certainly experienced both while watching, something that many mainstream films today do not allow me to feel.

To elaborate on “flushing out characters,” upon watching the bandit’s/wife’s/ woodcutter’s stories unfold, I noted the way they were each told to make them look innocent (which is obvious). However, to analyze closely, each story was constructed in a way where the actions of each character lined up with their archetype (i.e., the wife being the fragile damsel or the bandit “owing” up to his actions that led up to the duel but still claiming that he did not kill out of “dishonor”).

Multiple POV is tricky, especially from someone like myself who isn’t experienced in watching films or even reading books that offer this kind of storytelling (unless you expect it). Even so, I often find myself interpreting a story given by one account to be “the right one” only to be later persuaded by another account. Sometimes, I end up rejecting certain elements per account only to suspect that each of those “truths” lead to a bigger one. With this film, I fell into that trap, thinking that the truth would come out in the court, where I dismissed the action happening outside as being integral to the story (that of which was a POV I didn’t think of).

One example I remember using Rashomon-type storytelling was an animated film I saw 11 years ago, a somewhat adaption of Little Red Riding Hood, Hoodwinked. Unlike the classic fairytale, the accounts of the side characters involved in the story (some of whom encounter Red at some point) are given, thereby showing details that have been omitted by others. It is up to the viewer to decide which story fits the crime or if any are hiding a true account not otherwise given. The ending is not exactly like Rashomon’s but the storytelling approach is taken from it (where like the film, this one heavily centers on the accounts before transitioning to the climax in the third act).

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