A review of rashoman

1248 words (5 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this

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In the first story, “How a Thief Climbed to the Upper Story of Rasho Gate and Saw a Corpse” which was rewritten by Akutagawa Ryunosuke into a short story “Rashomon”, the two characters was modified to create psychological tension. The tales based on Konjaku Monogatarishu explicitly calls the young man a thief. Contrary to the older tale, Akutagawa’s version portrays the man as one who is faced with a psychological dilemma of whether starving to death or becoming a thief after being discharged from his samurai master.

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The Rashomon gate and the ruined city were described by Akutagawa as a setting damaged by war and the servant’s refuge for his inner psychological struggle. In wanting to survive, he must choose between the two options: atrocity or virtue. Akutagawa used the theme of characterization to the story from the circumstances of the samurai’s servant. The former option is a desperate fate he could hardly justify as he musters enough courage in order to survive while the latter option is a samuraic belief of choosing to die rather than act dishonorably. The pouring rain was used by Akutagawa to symbolize the unknown future of the destitute servant as his bleak thoughts travelled then halted to conclude that he has no choice but to become a thief. This decision is forgotten later at the despicable sight of an old woman stealing hair from a dead corpse. He confounds an urge to rather die than to concede to such an evil act.

The servant’s approach to evil is reversed after hearing the hag’s argument as excuses for her vile acts. In the original tale, the old woman’s explanation is agonizing rather than self-benefitting. The woman decided to make a wig out of the the hair of her dead mistress since she does not have a decent burial. The story of Akutagawa is brought from another perspective through the revelation of the old woman’s true intentions. Reluctantly, she tells the servant that she sustains herself by selling wigs then alleviates by claiming that the dead woman used to make a living out of cheating others. This self-serving justification reverses the servant’s initial assertion. The story ends with a devastating final blow that is used against her reasoning. The young servant brutally robs the old woman of her clothes, kicks her roughly into the pile of corpses, and disappears into the night. This illustrates the ironic morality of the servant having a dispassionate treatment to another human while having a greater respect for the dead and the hag’s fallible reasoning to save herself. Overall, it depicts post-war survival resulting to a scathed and abandoned morality for the sake of self-preservation while responding to the animalistic side of one’s nature.

In the second story, “How a Man who was Accompanying His Wife to Tanba Province Got Trussed Up at Oeyama,” which contributed to the recount of Akutagawa’s “In a Grove”, the wife is depicted with partiality being the helpless woman obeying the stranger’s command. In contrast, the woman in Akutagawa’s story is narrated as a cunning character until vulnerably overpowered by the bandit’s vehemence. The weakness of the wife is portrayed in her ambiguity as Bodhisattva and transformed to her passionate response to the bandit after the rape. Her reputation seems to be more incapacitating than her betrayal to her husband.

The husband in the old tale is criticized as greedy contrary to Akutagawa’s tale which describes him as a samurai eschewing his wife’s disgraceful response to the bandit. The husband is also a powerless samurai filled with rage and jealousy in a torturous situation of seeing his wife raped and eventually leads to his fatal death.

In the old tale, the rapist disguises himself with gallantry than the samurai. Akutagawa uses this as a central theme of this dark tale. The story begins with the murder of the samurai in a grove in the forest. The readers are compelled to analyze the question: “Who murdered the samurai and why?” Akutagawa did not present the plot in a chronological narrative form like the Konjaku’s but through a non-linear witness account of the incident. Also evident are the addition of the witness statements of other four characters – the woodcutter, the monk, the old woman and the policeman. The appalling confession comes from the dead man who told his side of the story through a mythical medium. For Akutagawa, all truths are relative and thus there are no truths at all.

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The evident changes in two of Akutagawa’s stories are: the use of characterization to create a psychological complexity, the paradoxical exposure of the dark side of the characters to attain enlightenment for the readers, the moral, philosophical and psychological discord of the Japanese socio-religious culture under dire circumstances and the misogynistic perspective because of the immorality and deception of female characters to save themselves.

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon based his plot from Akutagawa. In his adaptation, the woodcutter becomes an eyewitness to the crime by giving a second account. He combined the two unrelated stories by keeping the thematic material of “In a Grove” replete (except for the testimony of the mother of the wife) and rewriting the “Rashomon”. It retains the story’s setting, the dilapidated gate, the attitude of the commoner towards survival through self-preservation and the conversation about chaos and devastation in Kyoto. The film emphasizes the egotistic nature of man which results to social chaos whereas the text identifies the events as natural disasters. Kurosawa based the character of the commoner from the servant. The discussion of the testimonies are framed within the general story at the Rashomon as told by the woodcutter, interpreted by the priest and actively responded by the commoner. A further incident added by Kurosawa that aimed to unify the meta-narrative of the film is the discovery of the orphaned infant. While Akutagawa emphasized the importance of moral values and finding the truth, Kurosawa is more concerned about an ending with a possibility of hope. Though the woodcutter’s version seemed to be the most reliable, the scene of the infant leaves us to question his second account.

The central theme of Rashomon is the conflicting variations of truth. The relativity of the truth, or its non-existence, is caused by an intricate doubt of the characters’ motivations. The self-serving nature of man and the subjectivity of moral values are responsible for its inconsistencies. From Rashomon, Kurosawa argues that the dissonant interpretations to the pure truth lead to fallibility when trust is fragmented.

Since the truth is relative, it is impossible to determine who says the truth. The culpability of memory, egotistic motivation, the ambiguity of intent and biased perception forces us to rely on presumption and subjective truth. The inconsistencies of the eyewitness accounts are a hindrance to the truth. Rashomon’s point of argument is that it lets the viewers to assign credibility to the characters and make their own ending. Truly, as articulated by the commoner, it is human nature to forget unpleasant things so they have their own version of the story.

In the first story, “How a Thief Climbed to the Upper Story of Rasho Gate and Saw a Corpse” which was rewritten by Akutagawa Ryunosuke into a short story “Rashomon”, the two characters was modified to create psychological tension. The tales based on Konjaku Monogatarishu explicitly calls the young man a thief. Contrary to the older tale, Akutagawa’s version portrays the man as one who is faced with a psychological dilemma of whether starving to death or becoming a thief after being discharged from his samurai master.

The Rashomon gate and the ruined city were described by Akutagawa as a setting damaged by war and the servant’s refuge for his inner psychological struggle. In wanting to survive, he must choose between the two options: atrocity or virtue. Akutagawa used the theme of characterization to the story from the circumstances of the samurai’s servant. The former option is a desperate fate he could hardly justify as he musters enough courage in order to survive while the latter option is a samuraic belief of choosing to die rather than act dishonorably. The pouring rain was used by Akutagawa to symbolize the unknown future of the destitute servant as his bleak thoughts travelled then halted to conclude that he has no choice but to become a thief. This decision is forgotten later at the despicable sight of an old woman stealing hair from a dead corpse. He confounds an urge to rather die than to concede to such an evil act.

The servant’s approach to evil is reversed after hearing the hag’s argument as excuses for her vile acts. In the original tale, the old woman’s explanation is agonizing rather than self-benefitting. The woman decided to make a wig out of the the hair of her dead mistress since she does not have a decent burial. The story of Akutagawa is brought from another perspective through the revelation of the old woman’s true intentions. Reluctantly, she tells the servant that she sustains herself by selling wigs then alleviates by claiming that the dead woman used to make a living out of cheating others. This self-serving justification reverses the servant’s initial assertion. The story ends with a devastating final blow that is used against her reasoning. The young servant brutally robs the old woman of her clothes, kicks her roughly into the pile of corpses, and disappears into the night. This illustrates the ironic morality of the servant having a dispassionate treatment to another human while having a greater respect for the dead and the hag’s fallible reasoning to save herself. Overall, it depicts post-war survival resulting to a scathed and abandoned morality for the sake of self-preservation while responding to the animalistic side of one’s nature.

In the second story, “How a Man who was Accompanying His Wife to Tanba Province Got Trussed Up at Oeyama,” which contributed to the recount of Akutagawa’s “In a Grove”, the wife is depicted with partiality being the helpless woman obeying the stranger’s command. In contrast, the woman in Akutagawa’s story is narrated as a cunning character until vulnerably overpowered by the bandit’s vehemence. The weakness of the wife is portrayed in her ambiguity as Bodhisattva and transformed to her passionate response to the bandit after the rape. Her reputation seems to be more incapacitating than her betrayal to her husband.

The husband in the old tale is criticized as greedy contrary to Akutagawa’s tale which describes him as a samurai eschewing his wife’s disgraceful response to the bandit. The husband is also a powerless samurai filled with rage and jealousy in a torturous situation of seeing his wife raped and eventually leads to his fatal death.

In the old tale, the rapist disguises himself with gallantry than the samurai. Akutagawa uses this as a central theme of this dark tale. The story begins with the murder of the samurai in a grove in the forest. The readers are compelled to analyze the question: “Who murdered the samurai and why?” Akutagawa did not present the plot in a chronological narrative form like the Konjaku’s but through a non-linear witness account of the incident. Also evident are the addition of the witness statements of other four characters – the woodcutter, the monk, the old woman and the policeman. The appalling confession comes from the dead man who told his side of the story through a mythical medium. For Akutagawa, all truths are relative and thus there are no truths at all.

The evident changes in two of Akutagawa’s stories are: the use of characterization to create a psychological complexity, the paradoxical exposure of the dark side of the characters to attain enlightenment for the readers, the moral, philosophical and psychological discord of the Japanese socio-religious culture under dire circumstances and the misogynistic perspective because of the immorality and deception of female characters to save themselves.

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon based his plot from Akutagawa. In his adaptation, the woodcutter becomes an eyewitness to the crime by giving a second account. He combined the two unrelated stories by keeping the thematic material of “In a Grove” replete (except for the testimony of the mother of the wife) and rewriting the “Rashomon”. It retains the story’s setting, the dilapidated gate, the attitude of the commoner towards survival through self-preservation and the conversation about chaos and devastation in Kyoto. The film emphasizes the egotistic nature of man which results to social chaos whereas the text identifies the events as natural disasters. Kurosawa based the character of the commoner from the servant. The discussion of the testimonies are framed within the general story at the Rashomon as told by the woodcutter, interpreted by the priest and actively responded by the commoner. A further incident added by Kurosawa that aimed to unify the meta-narrative of the film is the discovery of the orphaned infant. While Akutagawa emphasized the importance of moral values and finding the truth, Kurosawa is more concerned about an ending with a possibility of hope. Though the woodcutter’s version seemed to be the most reliable, the scene of the infant leaves us to question his second account.

The central theme of Rashomon is the conflicting variations of truth. The relativity of the truth, or its non-existence, is caused by an intricate doubt of the characters’ motivations. The self-serving nature of man and the subjectivity of moral values are responsible for its inconsistencies. From Rashomon, Kurosawa argues that the dissonant interpretations to the pure truth lead to fallibility when trust is fragmented.

Since the truth is relative, it is impossible to determine who says the truth. The culpability of memory, egotistic motivation, the ambiguity of intent and biased perception forces us to rely on presumption and subjective truth. The inconsistencies of the eyewitness accounts are a hindrance to the truth. Rashomon’s point of argument is that it lets the viewers to assign credibility to the characters and make their own ending. Truly, as articulated by the commoner, it is human nature to forget unpleasant things so they have their own version of the story.

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