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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 74

[74th of 100]. It's difficult to put new spin to iconic world cinema -- so I'll opt for the old take instead; after all this contains the very reasons why I've come to consider this 1950 film, based on two short stories by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, an eternal favorite. I can imagine how Akira Kurosawa captured the attention of the film world with its release: it must have struck people as a film of the most audacious sort, looking like one thing and then in the glorious unfolding turns out to be another thing altogether. It was, for instance, a Jidaigeki film like no other: it uses the expected elements of its genre -- period setting during the Edo period of Japanese history, from 1603 to 1868 -- but then infuses it with an unexpected, whirlwind psychological thriller/crime blend. And then there is the audacity of its structure, not just bookending the story as fraught gossip by a bunch of men trapped in the shed of the Rashomon gate during a fierce rainstorm, but also fragmenting the main narrative itself as a court procedural. Here, the principals give individual testimony -- with their requisite, and vastly differing dramatisations -- to a judge over the murder of a samurai journeying through the forest with his wife in the aftermath of being accosted by a bandit, with the whole melee witnessed by a passing woodcutter. They all tell wildly contrasting stories. And then the most audacious narrative twist of all: each of the principals -- the bandit, the wife, and even the dead man himself speaking through a Shinto psychic -- claiming sole responsibility for the death! This was heady storytelling, and the Japanese famously hated it, baffled by the ecstatic reception of the film in the West. It appeared at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, and cemented Kurosawa's reputation in the decades to come, with the years justly admiring all the juggling Kurosawa had to do in this film. It leaves us with this insight, that there is no such thing as the neatness of objectivity, only human truth. I saw this move in film class in college -- much to be expected, given its outsized reputation in world cinema. Unlike many acclaimed films of the time which took several more screenings to fully justify their reputation for genius, Kurosawa's classic makes it patently obvious, and I've loved and cherished this film at first sight. It proved to be my gateway to Japanese film -- not just Kurosawa's own formidable output, but also other filmmakers of that period including Yasujiro Ozu [Floating Weeds], Hiroshi Teshigahara [Woman in the Dunes], Masaki Kobayashi [Kwaidan], Nagisa Oshima [In the Realm of the Senses], Susumu Hani [Bad Boys], Koreyoshi Kurahara [I Am Waiting], Yasuzo Masumura [Blind Beast], Masahiro Shinoda [Double Suicide], Yoshishige Yoshida [Eros + Massacre], Shohei Imamura [The Ballad of Narayama], and Shūji Terayama [Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets] -- most of them members of the so-called Japanese New Wave, which rejected the conventions of traditional Japanese cinema, seeking more challenging fare in terms of theme and form, reflecting the undertow of post-war social turbulence, change, and unrest that defined Japanese society then, and dealing with taboo subjects including rape, radicalism, and delinquency. Kurosawa certainly was not a member of this group, his films quite "chaste" in comparison to the radical works his younger contemporaries were churning out -- but he was not a traditional Japanese filmmaker either, his works barely passable for what could be considered "classical." He was truly a filmmaker of his own reckoning, belonging nowhere except firmly his own place in Japanese and world cinema. And his body of work after this 1950 film, which signalled a definite turn, breaking from his earlier films, contains so many titles I've come to admire over the years. My favorites include Ikiru [1952], Seven Samurai [1954], Throne of Blood [1957], The Hidden Fortress [1958], The Bad Sleep Well [1960], Yojimbo [1961], and Kagemusha [1980]. I have a soft spot for High and Low [1963], his morality tale of contemporary mores in modern Tokyo which feels the closest to the themes of the Japanese New Wave, and Ran [1985], his gorgeous, technically breathtaking epic epilogue to his extended swan song that would span Dreams [1990], Rhapsody in August [1991], and Madadayo [1993]. But there's no forgetting, or denying, this film as the one that more or less started it all.

For the introduction to this meme, read here.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich