CT&D #61. Rashoman’s Impact

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 or personal accounts), I think the film really laid groundwork for similar films to follow and revolutionized the storytelling process in cinema as a creative yet unorthodox form for cinema goers to digest.

As for the reason why to tell a story in this manner, 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 one another in every story brought forth. I certainly experienced both while watching, something that many mainstream films today do not allow me to feel and think in those terms, if anything because a multiple point of view (POV) format is what dominantly structures this film, whereas most films use POV with a central protagonist or antagonist with side POVs from supporting characters.

Anyway, to elaborate on “flushing out characters,” upon watching the bandit’s, wife’s, and woodcutter’s stories unfold, I noted the way they were each told to make them look innocent, which was 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 damsel in distress and 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 coming from someone like myself who isn’t experienced in watching films or even reading books that offer this kind of layered storytelling – a close example being framed narratives that offer narration and flashbacks are stories I am more familiar with. Even so, with multiple POV narratives, 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 loose adaption of Little Red Riding Hood called 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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