What is the Rashomon Effect? – Definition and Examples

Everyone is quite familiar with the famous Rashomon Effect and those who are not, the term refers to the real world situations in which there are versions and testimonies of various eye-witnesses.

These eye-witnesses can be in your head what is described in the actual movie is what happens to us every single day.

Directed by Akira Kurosawa and released in 1950, Rashomon has won numerous international awards and introducing the world to the Japanese film scene.

Kurosawa was forty years old when he made this movie and was at the initial stages of his career which was to last for five decades giving some greatly produced movies to be ever made in the Japanese film industry. And also to leave a lasting impression on film production. Rashomon surfaced at that time of his career journey when he left Toho for some time where the studio was located which was to be the home of his many more films to come.

Apart from being incredibly directed, Rashomon became renowned for grasping the difficulties which humans come across regarding experiences and memory.

The plot of the movie is focused on a grove where an accident took place. A dead body of a samurai is found who was stabbed to death by a woodcutter. With reference to this crime a bandit is captured but the twist lies in the fact that his testament in court as well as those of the samurai’s wife and the woodcutter who came across the samurai’s body all happen to present outspokenly different realities or versions of the truth.

The various perspectives are portrayed in the movie but the most vivid and clear concept is that the stories happen to be self-serving. The bandit’s narrative shows him as a braver and a bolder character as compared to the other accounts.

The woodcutter on the other hand, leaves out a very significant detail which could have raised fingers at him and get him into jeopardy. Whereas the samurai’s wife is either a very helpless victim or rather a scheming and sinister woman.

The viewer is left in speculation though and may be even those who are telling the stories and not too sure what the truth actually is which will make them face the reality.

During the years from 1949 to 1951 Kurosawa made movies for Shintono, Shochiku and Daiei. Albeit Daiei was somewhat hesitant and showed reluctance to fund Rashomon because he was of the view that the movie was quite unconventional and exceptional from the traditional movies that are generally made. According to Daiei, the film was quite eccentric and will be difficult for the audiences to understand.

All of those fears doubts and proved to be groundless when Rashomon became one of the most worthwhile and profitable films of 1950. Daiei’s view that the film is unconventional was not all wrong, it was and even quite deep-seated in design as well and all of these added into its originality and aided in making it go sky high with international cinema at such a time when art cinema was surfacing with very strong and powerful potency on the film circuit.

With immense averseness, the film was allowed to be submitted for an overseas festival competition. Rashomon won the first prize in the prestigious 1951 Venice Film Festival. It was through Rashomon that world got to know about the expertise and talents of Kurosawa as well as the assets of Japanese cinema.

Rashomon Effect is not only about the variations in the perspective but is occurs specifically where these differences arise combined with the lack of evidence to heighten or disqualify any version of the truth including the social pressure for the closure of such situation.


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Rashomon Effect: Kurosawa’s Other Films

Similar to a number of movies by Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon is two-story based film and set during a time period when the society was going through a social crisis. And in this instance, Japan’s 11th century period is revealed which is chosen by Kurosawa to shed light on the farthest points and extremities of the human behaviour.

As the film is opened, the screen shows three characters who are seeking shelter from a raging rainstorm underneath the ruined gate of Rashomon. This gate is used to guard the southern entrance of the imperial capital city of Kyoto.

As this group waits for the storm to pass, the priest (Minoru Chiaki), the commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) and the woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) dicuss a scandalous crime of a noblewoman (Machiko Kyo) who was raped in the forest and her husband the dead Samurai, (Masayuki Mori) was killed by someone or himself and a thief Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune) who was arrested in this regard.

Rashomon Effect on the World

Rashomon has surpassed its own status as a film and effected the culture at large too. It symbolized the general notions about the truth and the unreliability of memory. The Rashomon Effect is usually spoken of in the legal industry by judges and lawyers when the first hand witnesses come up with conflicting testimony.

Kurosawa came to rank amongst the leading international figures of cinema with Rashomon and following movies by him. It was more than just a commercial entertainment film. It had ideas of a serious artist possessing aesthetic design.

The modernist narrative not only impressed the audience making it a classic but the massive visual skill and power which was brought to the screen with amazing shots of forest, the sun directly. It was incredibly a sensual film. Nobody has ever filmed forest like this.

The film was a conscious attempt to recreate and recover the marvel of silent filmmaking. The cinematography by the Kazuo and editing are marvellous. Many sequences of the film were purely silent in which the imagery seems to speak and carries the action.

One such sequence which was the best in the series of moving camera shots was of following of the woodcutter in the forest before he happens to find the evidence of the crime.

The brilliant designs of Kurosawa’s films which are motivated with precision makes him a great filmmaker. Like the rest of his outstanding films, Kurosawa responds and reacts to his world as a moralist as well as an artist.

Japan was devastated after the Second World War and that is why Kurosawa’s embarked on a journey with immense artistic ambition as well as moral urgency to make a series of films. Seeking via his art, to produce a legacy of hope and faith for a ruined nation.

The desire for restoration which these stories clearly exemplified had to deal with a struggle with an entirely opposite and dark too. Rooted in the cynical and distrustful reflections of human nature, Kurosawa’s films tend to have a tragic dimension.

With the aid of the common human propensity to cheat and to lie, he manifested a tale in which the ego, disloyalty and conceit of the characters make the search of truth such a tough thing to find making it too difficult. The question arises that whose account is to be believed? Whose testimony of the crime is to be relied on? Who is correct? It is a question which one cannot seem to find the answer to as all versions of the truths are distorted in such ways that only benefit their narrators.

The world faces a dark moment as the ego takes over everything. Portraying a quite dark scenario, at the last moment with utter simplicity and beauty, Kurosawa pulls back from the darkness he exposed. The woodcutter makes the decision of adopting the abandoned baby and as he walks away with the child in his arms, the rainstorm lifts.

No matter what one decides regarding the conclusion of Rashomon, it is as genuine and real as it comes making it truly a classic. The greatness that emanates from this movie is both undeniable and palpable.

The nonlinear narrative and the sensual style which formed this film and in turn reformed the face of cinema is outstanding because to expect this from someone who was still a young filmmaker is astonishing.




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