Extracting Truth From Pure Fiction

NYHW Topic: Analyze the conception of truth within the movie Rashomon.

What elements make for a truly great murder mystery? By today’s standards you might say that the story must have a character who is seeking to find the truth, another who’s trying to mask it, and exciting events that lead to a conclusion that ties it all together. Director Akira Kurosawa’s film, Rashomon, lacks the first element entirely, yet has numerous characters with reason to embellish and hide the truth. In such a way Kurosawa embodies the psychological dilemma that we all inevitable must face when dealing with multiple witnesses. Through a slew of articulated stories being drawn into one, Rashomon transcends mere storytelling and instead leaves the viewer with a choice as to what they deem to be truth. In such a way the film does not necessarily explain “truth” as much as it simply explores its ambiguity. If we attempt to discern the most objective pieces from each character’s tale we can formulate speculations at best, yet are inevitably left with only questionable accounts and little concrete proof.

As the woodcutter sets the stage, we are told of the supposed murder in the backwoods of a Samurai, Kanazawa-no-Takehiro.

The bandit, Tajōmaru, then presents his side. Within it he admits to tying up the Samurai and planning to rape his wife. Yet when he arrives he finds her willing to partake only to then beg for the two men to fight to the death. He abides and frees the samurai in order that they can indulge in an honorable duel in which he himself is victorious. This story is quite obviously embellished however, and is further compromised by the fact that the man is a thief and not to be trusted.

Next to forge a defense is Masago, the wife of Tajōmaru. Her dramatized claim is that, following the rape, she begged her husband to kill her. Instead he looks at her coldly, and she becomes so upset that she passes out, possibly plunging her dagger into her husband on accident. She too seems to present an irrational account, too consumed with grief to be a reliable source.

Surprisingly, our third suspect is also the victim, the samurai Kanazawa-no-Takehiro. While it seems that the casualty of the crime would be most likely to give the facts, his account comes across as the most crazed because the woman priestess whom he is represented through is raging mad. Even if we examine the content rather than the medium we see that he is overtly angry with his wife, and claims to have killed himself out of shame when she chose to run away with the bandit. His account also comes into question when he claims that the bandit turned against Masago upon hearing that she wanted him to kill her husband. The segment begs the question, why would the bandit believe rape to be justifiable, yet not murder? Also, the whereabouts of the dagger becomes a key element to justifying the story, he says it was stolen from his corpse, but does not reveal who exactly did it. Presumably the thief would be the prime suspect, yet he’d already claimed to have wanted the dagger, yet had not actually stolen it. At this point the woodcutter becomes a fourth suspect as he appears nervous at the mention of the missing dagger.

We then see the woodcutter once more, who presents us with yet another story in which he’s actually witnessed the escapade, which further hurts his integrity. He claims that the wife actually freed her husband and would marry whoever won the duel. The samurai tells her that he is ashamed and starts to walk away, and is only enticed into fighting after being called a coward. The woodcutter claims that the fight ensues in a style quite opposite from that which the bandit claimed happened, yet it is questionable that someone as skilled as a samurai would do so.

In the investigation of such a story, there really needs to be at least some conclusive evidence found at the scene of the crime that would convict the culprit. Within Roshomon we don’t know who ended up with the dagger, and even whether it was the actual murder weapon. Hence the truth behind the samurai’s death is completely subjective and entirely unknown.