RaeAnne SmithSenior SeminarClover: Period 618 November 2011 Rashomon Essay Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon is a movie about four different perspectives of amurder and rape that has been committed. A woman with her samurai husband were in thewoods when they encountered a bandit. The end result of the encounter was the murder of thesamurai along with the rape of the woman. The first three perspectives are from the three peoplesupposedly involved in the crime and the fourth perspective is of an outsider witnessing theevents. Interestingly, all the first three perspectives from the people involved are that they werethe one who killed the samurai. The bandit believes that he killed the samurai in a dual over thewoman; the woman believes that she accidentally killed the samurai in an attempt to kill herself,and the samurai claims to have killed himself. The movie relates to the ideas of both Errol Morrisand Rodger Ebert and their beliefs on truth and knowledge. Morris believes that truth isobjective, that there is only one ultimate truth. Although people may not accept this truth andhave their own beliefs, this is independent of the truth. Ebert believes the opposite of Morris,which is that truth is subjective and everyone has their own personal beliefs and ideas of what istrue. Although both Morris and Ebert make a strong argument on the subject of truth, Morris’belief is much more concrete as it is supported by Plato’s theory of knowledge and other ways ofknowing such as perception and emotion. Plato’s theory of knowledge can be defined as “knowledge=justified true belief”(K=JTB). This means that to have knowledge, what one claims to know must be true.Additionally, one must also believe that what they claim to be true is true. According to Plato’sequation, one must be consciously aware of their belief for it to be true. Finally, the belief must
be justified. Justification can be considered “acceptable” if it is reliable. Reliable forms ofjustification can include perception, such as someone seeing something, hearing something,touching something, etc., that supports the true belief that they are claiming. In Rashomon, all ofthe characters are claiming that what they say is the truth. Although all three of the peoplebelieve that they are the murderer, they are all lacking justification, which prevents them fromhaving being able to prove that they are the true murderer. Although the characters believethemselves to be the murderer, they cannot justify this belief, and therefore Plato would not saythat they can claim to be the true murderer. As Morris’ ideas of truth closely correspond to thoseof Plato, he would agree as well that the characters cannot all claim to be the murderer. The way of knowing, perception, gives support for Morris’ view of truth. Morris’absolutist view of truth can be supported through the concept of seeing and believing. Thoughthe concept is “seeing is believing” often it would make more sense to call it “believing isseeing.” This is because when people have expectations, this can affect the way someone seessomething. A person may believe that what they claim is true because they have “seen” it whenreally they only believe they are seeing it because of their expectations. By contrast, people canalso choose to ignore evidence that might disprove what they believe. Morris states this bysaying “people very often confuse the idea that truth is subjective with the fact that truthis perishable. The perishability of truth” (Morris). Morris then continues to use the example ofpeople burning books. Although they attempt to burn evidence, so that people can no longer haveaccess to it, this does not change the fact that the truth is still the truth regardless of whetherevidence for it exists or not. Another concept that supports Morris’ theory is “eye-witnesstestimony.” This is often used in modern-day court cases, but has proven to be less reliable thanoriginally believed. According to this concept, everything that a person sees or hears or
experiences is reconstructed in their mind. Memories can easily be distorted and people can beconvinced that they have seen or experienced something when they have not. Morris supportsthis concept when he states that “[He] [would] like to point out that consciousness, itself, is areenactment. Everything is a reenactment. We are reenacting the world in the mind.” It wouldappear through these concepts of perception that everyone should have their own subjectivetruth, but since everything people experience is distorted, people are prevented from knowing thetruth. However, this does nothing to change the fact that there is still absolute truth that exists,even if in some cases it is unobtainable. The last way of knowing that supports Morris’ idea on truth is emotion. Often people’semotions are so strong that they prevent them from being rational and seeing the truth for what itreally is. Emotions can cause irrational behavior, which can distort a person’s belief. In thesituation of Rashomon, the characters were overcome by strong emotions. For example, thewoman was grief-stricken while the samurai was angry. These emotions could have been thereason for them to believe that they were the one who committed the murder because the truthhas been distorted by their emotions. According to Morris’ beliefs, although their emotions havealtered their knowledge of the truth, the truth still remains unchanged. Both Ebert and Morris make good arguments for their beliefs on the subject of truth, butMorris’ arguments are much more concrete. Ebert would likely agree with the movie Rashomonbecause all of the characters have their own perspective of what happened. Morris on the otherhand would disagree with this and say that the fact that they all believe different things isirrelevant to the truth. Only one of them could be the real killer regardless of what each of thembelieves. In this sense, Morris’ ideas are much more concrete and consistent than those of Ebert.