Melanie BunkerMarch 7, 2012Senior Sem. P. 7 Rashomon Essay It is no surprise that the film, Rashomon, has won many awards and hasinfluenced the world of film still to this day. Rashomon was filmed in 1950 by AkiraKurosawa and is still shown as a classic film that portrays the complications thatcomes with testimonies of witnesses. This film explores the testimonies of thewitnesses, who were all in the forest on the same day and a crime was committed.They all have their own versions of the events that happened that day and theaudience is taken through a journey to listen to each of the witnesses’ stories anddecide for themselves whose story is the most reliable in order to come to aconclusion to the truth, who murdered the samurai. Each of the characters, thebandit, the wife, the samurai, and the woodcutter each have their own viewpoints ofwhich version, if there is any, is the real truth about what happened on that day inthe forest. Kurosawa invites the audience to make a decision based solemnly onwhat we are told by the characters to choose who is right and who is guilty.Rashomon is relevant to the real world because there are times in our lives wherewe are put in certain situations where we have to base a decision off of what we areonly allowed to perceive, as limited as it may be. The film deals with theindiscrepancies that as human beings, we have tendencies to hide the truth, whetherit is the entire truth or cover it up with white lies. The problem is, like in the movie,
the audience is forced to view the perceptions of four characters, all of which havedifferent complications and uncertainties of the real truth. Well known critiques forRashomon are Errol Morris and Roger Ebert, each of them have opposing views oftruth and reality of the witnesses’ accounts. Morris’ view towards truth is that thereis only one version of the truth and that is ultimately the absolute truth. In applyingMorris’ views to Rashomon, he views that truth can be found in the crimes becauseabsolute truth is independent of individuals’ perceptual experiences. While Morrishas good points in conveying that there is an absolute truth to be found from thefour crimes and can eventually resolve the issue, Ebert’s views on truth is moreapplicable to Rashomon as it encourages the audience to be cautious, as truth can besubjective to everyone’s own perceptual experiences. As Morris critiques Rashomon, he clearly explains that truth for him is notsubjective, it is utmost objective, and therefore there can always be an absolutetruth that can be found. Morris’ views can be compared to Plato’s theories in thesense that there is an absolute truth. There cannot be any factors that couldpotentially have an influence in the equation, K=JTB. Each ingredient of that formulahas to be exact in order for the truth to become knowledge and it has to be exact foreveryone who encounters this ‘truth’ in order to prove it to be knowledge. WithMorris’ view of the truth, it means that as an audience, we all experience the samereality and we are all given the same information and with that we are able to cometo a conclusion about the absolute truth because, “a truth for you, is a truth for me”(“Errol Morris”). According to Morris, justification of truth comes from knowing thattruth and reality are both independent observations of people, whichmake it
absolute. The problem is that with Rashomon, the audience is forced to listen to andconsider all of the accounts of the murder. In Morris’critique, he stated that he knewat the end of the movie exactly who committed the crime (“Errol Morris”). With allof the inconsistencies of the accounts of the crime, it seems that Morris would mostlikely agree with the spirit medium who channels the samurai. Morris would pointout that first; the audience saw that the samurai was killed (whether he wasmurdered by his wife or by the bandit) and the audience also knows that there wasfoul play between his wife and the bandit.Going along the lines of the eye-witnesstestimony theory, Morris would agree with it in the sense that “it is easy to confusethe source of your memories” (Lagemaat 94) and therefore reality cannot be basedoff of the individual. Truth, at least for Morris, has to be a collective agreement onPlato’s equation in achieving knowledge by having the same truth for everyone.Although all the stories in the film contradict each other, Morris believes that it ispossible for that anabsolute truth can be found. The issue with Morris’ claimofabsolute truth and reality can be found, is that it is human nature to perceivesituations differently, as it was investigated in Rashomon. Because humans havelimited views and selective perception, there is always a breaking point wherestories do not match up. There are nearly seven billion people on this earth and itwould seem impossible for everyone to agree with Morris and say that there canonly be the same objective reality of events or else you do not have the truth, andyou do not have knowledge. Therefore, Ebert’s view of truth and reality can be moreuseful, even if it does not help the audience to determine who committed the crime;at least it tells the audience that truth can be justifiedsubjectively through our
senses and it proves Ebert’s theory that everyone can find truth for himself orherself. The idea of subjectivity of truth that Roger Ebert has presented allows eachof us to form our own reality based on the individual’s experiences as well as thetheory of phenomenalism. Ebert expresses that every character from Rashomon istelling the truth in the way that they perceived what happened. It is possible thateach of the characters are lying to an extent, but at the same time Ebert would arguethat there is truth found behind all of the exaggeration. Ebert makes a good point insaying that the characters’ perceptions are true “because we see the events inflashbacks, we assume they reflect the truth but all they reflect is a point of view,sometimes lied about” (Ebert). Ebert is open to all the possibilities of who couldhave committed the murder and he applauds Kurosawa for his genius work increating a film that has no solution, which makes the audience interpret anddistinguish the truth as far as the audience perceives it in their eyes. Everyone whowatches this film will have a different connection with each character, they will feelsympathy, hatred, and disgust for different characters all because we base ourowninterpretations of what happened with an experience we have seen, watched orheard of before viewing the film. Something from each of the viewers’ mental maps‘click’ with a certain character as they try to find the truth. Everyone’s mental mapsare different depending on the environment that they were raised in. Ebertemphasizes that one must be critical of what we think since we each build our ownreality of the world and truth is relative. Ebert would agree with the statement, “wecan only know the world form our distinctively human perspective” ( Lagemaat
100). As it is apparent in Rashomon, each of the characters express their experienceof the crime with different viewpoints but they all have truth according to Ebert’stheory, even as limited as their perception was. Other theories that support Ebert’s idea that truth is subjective and open tohuman interpretationare the theory of common-sense realism and confirmationthrough one’s senses. Being able to confirm through our senses and with theoriesallows us to create a foundation of an independent reality. In Rashomon, theaudience is only given the testimonies of all of the characters. The accounts of thewife, the bandit and the samurai are especially hard to select who is telling the truthand who is guilty. Because each character had their own interpretation of whathappened, they were able to confirm what they saw, heard, tasted, and felt withtheir senses as they told the court (the audience) what happened. Ebert would agreein saying that there is an element of truth in each of the accounts because truth issubjective, however, he also says “humans are unable to be honest with themselvesabout themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing” (Ebert).That quote can be applied to the film as well as the real world. It is by default thathumans exaggerate in scenarios everyday. In the film, the bandit is proud of histhief-life and does not want to be read as a coward, thus he tells his account as aheroic villain. Ebert would continue, agreeing with common-sense realism and howit can shape our truth and reality. Again, using sense organs, we are able to confirmthe truth about the existence of objects and experiences. Things appear the way theyare because it makes sense not to trust it otherwise. Applying common-senserealism is harder to determine the criminal in Rashomon, but individually we can
eliminate the stories that do not pertain to what would agree with your own view ofcommon sense. Perception can give individuals valuable information in determiningthe reality of truth. With the theories of perception, it enables everyone to becautious and to question if things are the truth and are reality. If you did notquestion what is truth versus what could be then you would not be able to justifythe existence of that truth. The only way to make sense of Rashomon is to agree withEbert’s view that truth and reality are subjective and we have to consider that eachof the witnesses made up their own truth-whether it makes sense to the audience ornot- it still is their truth from their own experiences. After viewing the film, Rashomon, it is impossible to come to a solidconclusion about the ultimate truth, therefore by using Ebert’s view that truth issubjective and is open to human interpretation allows the audience to accept thatthere is an element of truth hidden in all of the accounts but it only matters to thecharacters what really happened since it is their truth of reality. Ebert makes a pointin saying that realities differ from person to person because as humans are notclones. Although having different versions of the truth vary from person to person,there is still an element of truth hidden that is the same behind it. As humans, weselectively choose what we want to perceive: it could be subconscious or not- westill limit our range of perception. It is better to accept that truth and reality is opento interpretation than to have a set truth for everyone in the world.
Works CitedEbert, Roger. "Rashomon (1950)." Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Rogerebert.com, 26 May 2002. Web. 11 Mar. 2012."Errol Morris." Interview by Believer. Believermag.com. The Believer, Apr. 2004. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.Lagemaat, Richard Van De. Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.