27 January, 2015

684 Words About Rashomon

I watched Rashomon for the first time since college last night, and I noticed somerthing about it that I never ntoiced before. Back then I probably wasn't looking for it. But seeing it now, wit h a college degree under my built and maybe a more open mind about movies and maybe even a more refined palette, I saw it differently. I mean, it's also a great film, which helps. It's a lot harder to muse about a feature when it's trash, you know?

You know, a date movie.
For me Kurosawa was my gateway into world cinema. After him came Herzog, Bergman, Godard, and Renoir and all of these other greats (and Godard). He also came along with me discovering indie directors like Jarmusch and Smith and Tarantino. They showed me that there was more to foreign films than anime and kung fu, and that there was more to movies than Schwarzenegger action flicks (though, those are pretty great too). But, it all started with Kurosawa.

Rashomon is probably one of the well criticized movies in history. It has the distinction of being the first big Japanese film to hit the west (winning a Golden Lion the Venice Film Festival, as well as an Academy Award), as well as being Kurosawa's breakout film outside of Japan. It's well trod ground and I won't waste too much of your time telling you why you should see one of the best films ever made from a man that is maybe the best director of all time.

Now, with that said. . .

Even his sweat is a better actor than everyone else!
There is one aspect of Rashomon that is close to my heart. Watching it again, the film's structure stands out to me the most. I don't mean the multi-layered narrative or the conflicting realities, what I noticed is something that nobody ever seems to bring up. What I noticed was this: It's 88 minutes long. Correction: Rashomon is only 88 minutes long.

The film doesn't feel like it. It feels, at once this incredibly fast paced film, yet it can also be dissected, broken apart, and endlessly gone over again and again. It is a movie full of a vast richness of ideas, that like any great work of art, can be looked from any angle to discover something new. It is also searingly paced. Even its flab is there with a distinct purpose. It's this dictomy that is indicative of Kurosawa's mastery of the camera.

In Rashomon, Kurosawa manages to tell four seperate stories, each with varying levels of truth and obfuscation built into them, and still manages to make the entire package entertaining and accessible. It isn't showy. It isn't pretentious. It doesn't revel in its modernism or its form. It's just a story. A really, really good story.

Takashi Shimura upon hearing Tarantino's next film
will be 187 minutes long.
As much as we need the David Leans and the Paul Thomas Andersons of the world, cinema also needs its Clint Eastwoods and its John Hustons. It needs people that can tell concise stories with skill as much as it needs guys who know how to use an elephant in a scene (Peter Jackson used to be both of these people, now he's some kind of a dwarf-fixated sexual deviant). Bigger doesn't always mean better, though, in Kurosawa's case, sometimes it does. I mean, Rashomon is a masterpiece at 88 minutes and Seven Samurai is one at 207. So, I don't know, maybe even that isn't so cut and dry.

I'm a Kurosawa fan. While others have their Hitchcocks or their Truffauts or their Scorceses, I have my Kurosawa. As much as I associate him with a certain rose colored part of my history, it's films like Rashomon that remind me why that is. He sticks with me because he's a great artist and he's a great artist in so many different ways. As skilled as he was with the three-hour spectacular, he was also capable of paring down his films into these perfect, 90 minute packages. It's like finding out that your favorite painter was as good at panoramas as he was at portraiture. Rashomon being 90 minutes long also dovetails nicely into my belief that 90 minutes tends to be the perfect length of a film, but let's just ignore that for the time being, shall we?

James Kislingbury writes, podcasts, and does not live by the sword, but might just die by it. You can also partially fund his creative endeavors by going to his Patreon.