Sarah CanoMr. CloverSenior Seminar Period 518 November 2011 Rashomon Rashomon is an award winning film directed by Akira Kurosawa, which examines howhuman perception affects reality and truth. Perception can be defined as the way people interpretthe information gathered from our senses to understand our environment. To illustrate thecomplexity of perception, reality, and truth, Kurosawa centers the movie on the testimonies offour eye-witnesses to the murder of a samurai, and the raping of his wife. The perplexing featurein Rashomon is that all four testimonies given by a woodcutter, a bandit, the samurai’s wife, andthe samurai’s mandate all confess to the murder, and Kurosawa leaves it up to the viewer todecide who the real murderer is. Many critics have given their opinion about the movie, but twoof the most notable are Errol Morris and Roger Ebert. Errol Morris’s overall view is thatperception and reality are objective, and that truth is absolute. Roger Ebert, alternatively,believes that both perception and truth are subjective and relative for each individual. Regardingthe film Rashomon, Ebert’s view on perception and truth reflect the film better than that ofMorris, due to the disparity of the testimonies, and the abundance of murder confessions. As stated earlier, Errol Morris believes reality is objective and truth is absolute. Hementions this in an interview where he says he does “not believe that truth is subjective,”because “just thinking something does not make it so” (Morris). His ideas about truth are similarto Plato’s theory of truth. Like Morris, Plato believed that there may be different perceptions ofthe same situation, but ultimately there is only one truth. Morris continues on the absurdness of
subjective truth by claiming that the “idea that there is no reality, that truth is up for grabs, or thattruth is subjective, I find foolish and unappetizing” (Morris). He further argues that “truth exists,but people have a vested interest of not knowing it” (Morris). This illustrates that in the filmRashomon, all characters use selective perception: they only observed what they chose to see,rather than viewing reality. Ultimately, Morris believes Rashomon is a movie about the differentperceptions people have, all of which do not reflect actual reality. Unlike Morris, Ebert believes that truth is relative, and reality is subjective. He believesthat each individual had their own perception of the world, and although there are multipleperceptions of the world, it does not make one right and one wrong. He states in his moviereview of Rashomon that the “flashbacks disagreed about the action they were flashing back to,”but that “all of the flashbacks are both true and false,” which emphasizes his theory of asubjective reality, and relative truth (Ebert). In the film Rashomon, all of the testimoniescontradict each other. In two stories the bandit is accused of killing the samurai, in another thesamurai confesses to committing suicide, and lastly, the wife believes she also killed herhusband. With such different stories, it is hard to believe that there is only one reality. Moreover,it can be assumed that because each individual has their own perception of the environmentaround them that differ from another person in the same environment, the reality both people areliving in both exist; therefore, there are multiple realities, and reality is subjective. This is Ebert’sargument, and Rashomon clearly demonstrates his theory by having an array of testimonieswhich cannot fit in one reality. However, for Ebert’s theory to work in the film Rashomon, every character must betelling the truth. For if they are not fully explaining the scenario with precise, accurate detail,then perhaps there is only one reality like Morris claims. The one way we know for certain all of
the characters are not lying is because they all confess to the murder. Ebert states that “it isunlike any of the original participants are lying for their own advantage, since each claims to bethe murderer” (Ebert). Since all of the character have no motive to lie, then their recollections ofthe murder of the samurai and rape of his wife must be true. Ultimately, Ebert’s theory ties inwith Rashomon because there are multiple testimonies which appear to be true, and all cannotexist in the same reality, proving that reality can be subjective. Overall, both Morris and Ebert have good arguments relating to truth and reality. Morris’belief that truth is absolute, and reality is objective correlates with the film Rashomon becauseMorris believes that people have the ability to view reality, but they chose to “avoid it” (Morris).This belief can be applied to the characters in the film because it can be assumed that they allchose to view slices of information from actual reality, also known as selective perception.Although this theory is possible, it is unlikely that all of the testimonies would vary this greatly,and selective perception would affect reality that significantly. However, Ebert’s theory of asubjective reality and a relative truth correlates with Rashomon better. Because reality can besubjective, it means the movie is correct in having the stories all differ. Ultimately, Ebert’stheory ties in with Rashomon, more so than Morris; but despite both theories, I believeKurosawa’s main goal when creating the film was to illustrate how each individual has adifferent perception of the world.