Soon after its international debut at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon became for many American viewers the prototypical foreign film. Ironically, representatives of the Daei Motion Picture Company and the Japanese government wanted one of Ozu's domestic dramas to represent Japan at the festival. Their lack of faith has since been rebuffed by the long life Kurosawa's film has enjoyed as a pillar of art cinema.
Today, Rashomon's justly elevated status may make it appear unimpeachably austere to the uninitiated. Still, after multiple viewing over multiple years, Kurosawa's innovative moral procedural remains as bewitchingly accessible as the first time around. Kurosawa's keen direction, especially enthralling in cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa's graceful and mysterious camerawork, allows his four contradicting narratives to successfully search for a possible murder, a probable rape and the existence of goodness in the human race.
With its by now rote narrative structure of repeated retellings of a single story, Rashomon begs to be put on the couch and picked apart. Its three central characters' stories — victim Masayuki Mori, wife Machiko Kyo and bandit Toshiro Mifune — inject their stories with their own particular inadequacies. The obliteration of their respective illusions by Takashi Shimura's woodcutter revised version of their tales is an eye-opener, confirming the film's sustained complexity and charm.