GUEST POST: Rashômon Review

Joe Pettitt, an amateur screenwriter, has fortunately written a fantastic review on Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) for you all to read.

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© Daiei Film Co., Ltd.

“Well men are only men. That’s why they lie. They can’t tell the truth, even to themselves”

It can be assumed that most film fanatics can recall, with detail, scene’s from their favourite courtroom drama – a sub-genre that transports the viewer through the grand, unshaken walls of a legal house. It is in this transportation that the genre emits its allure and suspense, wherein the viewer must watch on, often through the dramatic irony of knowing the truth, but powerless to affect the verdict. This is perhaps what has made the legal drama such an enjoyed subgenre within hollywood for so many years. Kurosawa’s Rashomon hit the western cinema screen in 1951 a year after its initial release in Japan and it rocked the film industry in a way no one saw coming. Kurosawa neglected to endow his audience with the foresight of knowing what really happened, thus presenting an unsolved mystery about interpretation and the ego’s embellishment of the truth.

Kurosawa’s Rashomon takes place in rural Japan, presumably pre-dating the Second World War by decades. Still mourning the loss of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many enjoyed and took pride in narratives of classical sensibilities, distracting them from the realities of post war Japan. It’s opening shots of a decrepit, pre-war Japanese building is symbolic of the devastation the war inflicted on the nation and nods to this popular nostalgic mindset of the people at the time. The rain helps to reinforce this melancholy but is also used wonderfully by Kurosawa as a device to convey the differing time zones  in which our narratives take place. In one of the most beautiful scene transitions in classic cinema, we come from the heavy rain of the opening shots to see the woodcutter wandering through the forest, as the camera points upward  through the canopy with the sun shining through the leaves, we seemingly enter another realm. Kurosawa uses weather fantastically in this film. 

Through the rain that pours over the building at the beginning we are introduced to three men, who huddle around a fire – the visual equivalent of someone saying ‘You are about to be told a story’ – and the events of our court hearing are disclosed. From here we are told three contradicting stories surrounding the murder of a samurai. One from the point of view of the Bandit Tajomaru, one from wife of the murdered samurai, and one from the samurai himself who communicates through a medium. Each character’s story is portrayed with the same conviction as the next, all seemingly believing what they say. This is what made the this film so difficult for western audiences to grasp. Kurosawa’s narrative arcs contradict and yet are all equally plausible and true, it is as if he is asking us to confront our prejudices. Do we believe the filthy bandit, with his scratchy skin, swatting flies and raping women? Do we believe the wife, who one of the characters describes as a typical woman who will believe her own lies? Or is it the samurai whose story bears the most candour, speaking through the mystical medium? – As the priest says ‘dead men tell no lies’. These are the questions we ask when watching Rashomon with narratives that are truth, lie and neither at the same time, in a film that is courtroom drama, mystery and something entirely it’s own as well.

 

Joe Pettitt

REVIEW: Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami, born in Kyoto 1949, sold the Jazz bar he owned with his wife in 1979 to become a full time writer after his first Japanese publication. His surrealist and fantasist narratives is what makes him an important figure amongst Postmodern literature.

Kafka On The Shore follows the lives of two protagonists, 15 year old runaway, Kafka Tamura, and an elderly man Nakata. It begins with the story of Kafka (whose real name we never actually find out) running away from his famous sculptor fathers home and ends up on a small island in Takamatsu called Shikoku. Here, he meets transgender librarian and its mysterious owner Miss Saeki who provides him with a job and shelter. Nakata’s plot begins with X-File record by American Occupation Force describing the events that took place during the war: a group of war evacuees loosing consciousness after supposedly spotting a UFO. All recovered expect for Nakata who woke up from a coma saying he is “not very bright” but has the power to talk to cats (Murakami’s books often feature cats to act as members from another world, and his Jazz cafe was called Power Cat). One of Nakata’s cat searches leads him to Kafka’s fathers house, Koichi Tamura (who is disguised as Johnnie Walker from the whiskey label), where Nakata is forced to kill him to save the cats souls from being used for flutes. After running away from the scene Nakata manages to hitchhike a truck ending up in Shikoku.

Going back to Kafka’s story, he falls in love with the 15 year old spirit of Miss Saeki (actually 50 years old) and starts a weird affair with her although she may be his real mother. Alongside this, Kafka is being hunted down by the police for the investigation into the killing of his father. To avoid this he flees to Oshima’s hut in the forest mountains where he finds an entrance to a semi-real underworld. In the meantime, Nakata tries to hand himself into the police but just gets passed off as having dementia, which is when he jumps into Hoshino’s truck to drive to Shikoku. This is where the two narratives start to link.

Although there are many plots to keep up with which helps keep everything new and exciting, there are still some loose ends that don’t seem to tie up. Obviously I’m not going to ruin the ending but to UFO X-Files are only talked about once and not so well explained. And we never really find out if Miss Saeki is actually Kafka’s real mother, all she tells him is “you know the answer”. Or Sakura? The young girl he meets early on who may or may not be his sister, but later rapes her in his dream!? However saying this as a Murakami fan the looseness entices me and it makes you dream up your own assumptions and conclusions.

It’s magical realism is what makes Kafka on the Shore so enigmatic and powerful than you would originally think. His extensive use of metaphors helps the audience think outside the box and move away from typical conventions. With reality being so unclear it opens your imagination to an array of ideas and endless possibilities. It’s one of the most captivating Murakami books yet.

I do highly recommend this book. Its surprises, jokes and dreamy illusions will keep you turning pages all night.

Can be purchased here on Amazon for only £6.29! http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kafka-The-Shore-Vintage-Magic/dp/0099458322

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©Kodansha