It introduced Akira Kurosawa to the world and the title into the greater pop consciousness. But is Rashomon a great movie?
Certainly not compared with its creator’s later work; next to ”Seven Samurai,” ”Ikiru,” or ”Throne of Blood,” this Cinema/Philosophy 101 perennial — about a crime in a medieval forest that plays out differently depending upon who’s remembering it — is overly symbolic and fairly stiff, especially in the didactic framing narrative of idealist priest, cynical peasant, and uncommitted woodcutter. There’s a laughably clumsy sword fight, and a rape that’s treated awfully lightly by current standards….
And there’s some of the most gorgeous black-and-white cinematography you’ll ever see; an unforgettably creepy scene in which the dead husband testifies through a writhing female medium; and three central performances that are over-the-top (Toshiro Mifune’s bandit), subtle (Masayuki Mori’s conflicted husband), and heartbreaking (Machiko Kyo’s much-abused wife). The DVD offers a made-for-Japanese-TV featurette on cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, film scholar Donald Richie’s elegant commentary, and a print that just about glows in the dark. Masterpiece or near miss? Depends, perhaps, on who’s watching.