Not logged in  (Log in | Register)
RSS News       RSS Comments       RSS Forums
Currently playing at the AK film club: Kagemusha (Kurosawa 1980)

RSS

Rashomon: The Priest's Problem (13 posts)

Twitter  facebook  Reddit  Digg  delicious  Google  Yahoo

Share the discussion

Current forum section: Akira Kurosawa Forums » Theories & Interpretations

The topic Rashomon: The Priest's Problem was started 6 years ago.

Related keywords:


#1


Vili Maunula



This may well be something that most of you have always noticed, but it is only now that I took a shot-by-shot look at the introductory scene with Jeremy's arguments about the role of the woodcutter in mind that I personally came to notice this.

It always seemed strange to me how utterly horrified the priest is at the beginning of the movie about the murder of the samurai, even saying that he has never heard of anything as horrible as this before. Yet, I never really thought about it all that much until I now realised that he isn't talking about the murder at all, but actually about the woodcutter's actions. Look at the sequence between 5:35-6:01

It's a lie 1
Priest: "Yet... even I have never heard anything as horrible as this before."

Cut to the woodcutter, who now turns to look at the priest. This screenshot does no justice to the brilliance of Shimura's acting, the way his face changes as his head turns to look at the priest. It is a look of surprise that his face forms into.

It's a lie 2

Now we cut back to the priest, who is now looking towards the woodcutter, as if pointing where the real problem lies.

It's a lie 3

This is followed by a great shot of the two looking at each other.

It's a lie 4a

The camera then reframes the shot while the two turn their heads from each other. Again, the still does no justice here -- Shimura's changing face tells more than a little about his sudden guilt.

It's a lie 4b

The camera moves back to a close-up of the priest.

It's a lie 5
Priest: "Horrible - it's horrible."

I think it was Richie who at one point (page 74 actually, now that I checked) wondered whether the priest already knew about the woodcutter's dishonesty at the trial. Looking at this sequence, it would indeed seem like he did.

Considering this, the priest's silent response earlier on when the first line of dialogue is uttered in the film with the woodcutter's "I can't understand it. I just can't understand it at all" -- I think the priest responds to this by inhaling and exhaling slowly while looking at the woodcutter -- is probably another way of him trying to come to grips with his knowledge about what the woodcutter has done.

Later on in the film, after the husband's version, the priest also declares that he doesn't want to hear any more, Richie (74) suggesting that this could be a response to the woodcutter narrating the husband's tale inaccurately, i.e. leaving out details about the dagger. This sounds plausible to me.

What this has started me to think is whether you could argue that even if it is the woodcutter whom the story vindicates at the end, it is really the priest who is "saved". It is actually exactly what also he himself says in the end.

For, from the three characters it is really only the priest who has a problem at the beginning -- the commoner is here only to pass some time, and as Jeremy pointed out the dagger that the woodcutter stole shouldn't really be a big deal at the end of the day: in Jeremy's words, the "woodcutter takes a dagger, that is of no importance to the wife, husband, or Tajomaru. He is no doubt poor and would only be natural to take advantage of his findings in this tragedy."

It is therefore in the end really the priest who comes out as the one most deceiving himself, perhaps in thinking that the world could include only two types of people: those who are corrupted and those who aren't. The woodcutter, as his actions have supposedly shown, knows that this is not so. The commoner also knows this, at one point pointing out that all men lie, even to themselves. Funnily, from the three it is really the priest who is engaged in the worst type of self-deception.

But, not only does the priest seem to deceive himself, but he appears to force the guilt on the woodcutter in the sequence that I discussed above.

It is only at the end of the film that the priest comes to realise that he has been mistaken, that not all corruption is of the same kind. This is indicated by the last lines of the film, with the priest saying: "No, I'm grateful to you. Because, thanks to you, I think I will be able to keep my faith in men."

He is the one who has learnt a lesson here, while the commoner has walked out simply entertained (and a bit of extra cloth for himself), and the woodcutter... well, the woodcutter is given his grand exit as pointed out by Jeremy, "elevated to what humans should strive to be, despite the flaws". He is the living example that you can be both good and flawed, and it is this that the priest (who stays looking at him with a humble look) is so in awe of.

I don't know how (or if) this fits at all with whatever else I have been arguing for earlier on, but I don't think anyone should hold that against me. I'm just going into different directions based on the input that I get from the film and other people's writings.


 

#2


Jeremy



Interesting thinking, but. I do see it like that at all.

To me the looks are nothing more then reflection and bewilderment, as they try to compute what they seen/hear.

I find no indications that the priest knows anything of the woodcutter's involvement with the dagger. The priest shortly after the woodcutter gives his accounts says "if men dont trust each other, this earth might as well be hell". I feel he would say something like that, if he thought no one under around him was truthful. He said that more or less to defend the woodcutter as he was being pressed by the commoner.

This to me is rather clear in the final scene, that the priest had no idea, and the woodcutter largely forgot about his wrong doing(I find them rather minor and hardly anything of concern.)

After the commoner steals the kimono and amulet from the baby(something far worse then the woodman's thief), the woodman goes after him, stating he is make only excuses for his evilness, after the commoner states along the lines of if he didnt take the kimono someone else will; being selfish is important for survival.

The commoner turns on the woodcutter, pointing out his discovery of the woodcutter's thief of the dagger.

Right after the commoner begins to talk about it, the woodman goes into a state of embarrassment/shame and stay that way till he walks with the baby.
This embarrassment is not for the commoner, its for himself and perhaps the fact the priest he befriended has learned what he really is.

What is important is to notice the priest actions in the background during the entire woodcutter/commoner part.

The priest eyes, track only the woodman and never the commoner the entire time.

First he looks uncertain.
1
1b

then a bit of surprise
2
2b
then despair and lost of hope
3
3b

now he is near tears
4

Note as mention never does his eye shift position, even after the commoner is yelling and slapping the woodsman.

Also the priest look is much the same bit of disgust he shows when the commoner steals the kimono.


 

#3


Jeremy



is therefore in the end really the priest who comes out as the one most deceiving himself,

the second half of your post, I agree with for the most part.


 

#4


Jeremy



no matter how many times I proof read my post, I always fail to find the errors.

some of the larger mistakes, that may add confusion, I bold the correction

Interesting thinking, but. I do not see it like that at all.

The priest shortly after the woodcutter gives his accounts says "if men dont trust each other, this earth might as well be hell". I feel he would not say something like that, if he thought no one under around him was truthful.


 

#5


Jon Hooper



"Yet, I never really thought about it all that much until I now realised that he isn't talking about the murder at all, but actually about the woodcutter's actions."
I think this is a novel way of seeing the opening dialogue and the exchange of looks. Watching it through, it does offer a fresh perspective and does seem to lend some weight to Richie's suggestion. But like Jeremy I do not find myself entirely convinced. Does Shimura's reaction shot indicate surprise or his shared feelings of horror at the incident, a mental picture of the terrible deed perhaps being conjured up by the priest's words? I still find the latter the more convincing case, but it did make me think at least of the other interpretation. The woodcutter's opening "I can't understand it" does suggest that, as Jeremy said, he is also bewildered by the facts of the case. But I'm still not satisfied with something...

I, too, have never quite been able to accept that the priest (and the woodcutter?) would find this particular incident so horrific. There is mention of the evil of the times, but we are led to expect something more terrible when the incident comes to be recounted, and I think we do not really see this. One might surmise that the woodcutter lives a relatively isolated life in the forest and thus may not have had first hand experience of heinous deeds before, but the priest certainly has, as he himself says. So what is it that so disturbs them? I've posted it before, but this is the exact question I posed to Stephen Prince on the PBS site some years back. His answer has never really convinced me because it seems to confuse the meaning some people see in Rashomon (subjectivism and the relative nature of truth) with the characters experience of a horrific incident. Here is my question and Prince's response once more:

"14. In RASHOMON, when the woodcutter and the monk discuss the crime, both speak about being unable to comprehend it. What troubles them seems to be either the conflicting testimonies of the witnesses or, more likely, the nature of what happened. The monk particularly seems aware of the terrible times in which they are living, yet to him this crime seems much worse. The woodcutter, of course, witnessed the crime itself, and his version of events, presented last, does not make the crime out to be particularly heinous. What is it they cannot understand? Is it that the participants each presented different accounts of the crime (thus exposing the human tendency to distort the truth and present oneself in a positive light), or is it the crime itself? If the latter, I do not think we are convinced that the crime warrants such a reaction. What is your opinion about this?

Answer: This is an excellent query. If the crime in the forest seems, perhaps, less horrific than the reactions of the witnesses might imply, this may be due to the uncertain nature of the offense. What exactly occurred? A suicide? A murder? The accounts change from one story to the next. Moreover, in other films, such as YOJIMBO or RAN, Kurosawa depicts human cruelty in vivid and graphic terms, in contrast to the suggestiveness by which RASHOMON works. What happens in the forest remains a mystery. One cannot know whose account is true, and that is Kurosawa's point.

What troubles the monk and the woodcutter, then, are not the details that should come to light in a police procedural, i.e., the facts of the case. They are haunted by what all of the disparities in the accounts point towards -- the collapse of human reality itself. The ethical and moral connections among people, which make society possible, require that there be fundamental agreements about the nature of the world and people's behavior in it. In RASHOMON, Kurosawa gives us a dark fable about the inability of people to connect in this way. As a result, the world itself vanishes, as an inter-subjective reality, replaced by the vanity and lies that undermine a knowable existence.

It is this possibility -- that life itself is the basest kind of illusion -- that so horrifies the monk and the woodcutter. At the end of the film, Kurosawa himself backs away from the bleakness of this vision. He tries to cancel it out with a redemptive act -- the woodcutter adopts the baby. But this gesture, meant to transfigure all that we have seen, is perhaps not enough to overcome the disturbing glimpse of nothingness that the crime in the dark labyrinth of the forest has provided. When he made THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN, Kurosawa expressed his pessimism without hesitation. But, like other films of the late 1940s and early 1950s, RASHOMON is more ambivalent. Kurosawa believed that society could change, and in this respect, RASHOMON was meant as a warning -- but a dark voice of doubt had begun to speak in his mind."

To get back to one of Vili's points:

"For, from the three characters it is really only the priest who has a problem at the beginning -- the commoner is here only to pass some time, and as Jeremy pointed out the dagger that the woodcutter stole shouldn't really be a big deal at the end of the day: in Jeremy's words, the "woodcutter takes a dagger, that is of no importance to the wife, husband, or Tajomaru. He is no doubt poor and would only be natural to take advantage of his findings in this tragedy.""

One could certainly argue that the crime is not a serious one given the woodcutter's poverty. But, watching the movie, this is not the way the woodcutter comes across to me. He doesn't seem to take things lightly, and throughout we see him struggling with something, perhaps with his conscience. In one scene at the gate, he is seen to pace back and forth, suggestive that he is dealing with some kind of moral dilemma. The priest has his own problem - that his faith in the goodness of man is being eroded. But the woodcutter appears to be disturbed and fighting his own battle, a moral if not a spiritual one, at least to me.

Now to Jeremy's point about the priest in the last scene:

"What is important is to notice the priest actions in the background during the entire woodcutter/commoner part."
One could certainly argue that this knowledge seems to be a final blow to the priest's hope in mankind, and that the woodcutter's decision to adopt the baby redeems the priest as much as the woodcutter.


 

#6


Jeremy



I pondered the woodcutter when he walks back in forth, as though struggling internally. However I get the feeling his thoughts are purely about the 3 character the events happen to. Appears to me, that is forgot entirely his thief of the dagger, being a rather minor forgettable event in the large picture. Its not till the end, that he remembers what he did, when the commoner points it out.


 

#7


Vili Maunula



Thanks for reposting that Prince quote, Sanjuro! I had totally forgotten about it.

I by the way totally agree with your response to it. Prince indeed appears to be confusing the characters' reactions with those of an interpretation that the movie as a whole can receive.

I don't actually know if it would even be in-character for the priest to be in any special way horrified about the relative nature of truth, considering the concept of Reality in Buddhism. Now, I am far from being an expert in Buddhism, and I know that there are various schools and we don't know what school our priest here represents, but I would imagine that the idea of a subjective reality would not be foreign to a Buddhist priest like him.

Jeremy makes a good point about the final scene and the way that the priest reacts when the commoner accuses the woodcutter. His surprise and despair at this point, however, doesn't necessarily invalidate my original argument.

We must remember that at this point the priest has raised the stakes, for he has only a moment before declared that he trusts men because he doesn't want to believe that we live in hell, as the commoner has suggested.

As this has been a direct response to the woodcutter's story, I would argue that the priest, having not believed the woodcutter's first account and suspecting him of having stolen the dagger, has in hearing the woodcutter's second account (which he initially didn't want to hear) given the woodcutter another chance. Since the woodcutter again pleads for his innocence and still doesn't mention anything about a dagger, perhaps the priest now believes in him, or at least very much wants to believe in him. When he therefore says that he trusts men because he doesn't want to believe that this world is a hell, he is basically putting that trust on the woodcutter.

This trust is, of course, broken very soon, and I think that it is because of this that we get the reaction that Jeremy wrote about.

Sanjuro writes:

One could certainly argue that the crime is not a serious one given the woodcutter's poverty. But, watching the movie, this is not the way the woodcutter comes across to me.

My argument was that the woodcutter himself doesn't originally consider his act a serious crime but that it is the priest's remark at the beginning of the film (which I discuss in the first post here) that makes him uneasy about it. This of course completely depends on whether my reading of that particular scene is in your eyes valid.

But if at least for the sake of an argument you accept that it is, then I would say that it is also this guilt that ultimately triggers his need to narrate the second account with which he thinks he can convince the priest about his innocence.

Basically, my point then was that the only one of the three at the Rashomon gate who at the beginning of the film has a problem is the priest, and that his problem is very much a self-imposed one. He then imposes that problem on the woodcutter, who struggles with it throughout the film. And finally, like you say, "the woodcutter's decision to adopt the baby redeems the priest as much as the woodcutter."


 

#8


Ugetsu



One point I would make about this scene is that it is implied near the end that up until the Woodcutter tells his version, the Priest actually thinks that the third version of the story (the Samurai's) is the truth. When the Commoner challenges that story, it is the Priest who says that a dead man cannot possibly lie. So to some extent, the Priest may be most disturbed by the notion that a wife could betray her husband so deeply that he ends up in hell. The notion that none of the versions may represent the 'truth' only really becomes clear to the Priest at the end, when the Commoner points out that even the Woodcutters version has a lie at its heart. I don't think this is the explanation, but it is a 'literal' interpretation of the conversation leading up to the Woodcutters version. Since the inconsistencies of all the stories is only revealed to the Priest near the end, then their conversation at the beginning must be about the specifics of what they saw in the court garden, not the metaphysical problem posed by the apparent loss of any 'truth'.

Having said all this, my interpretation of the Woodcutters look in the original conversation with the Priest is that he is hiding his guilt over the stolen knife. In some respects he is afraid that the Priest will, in his agonizing over what everyone has heard, will stumble over the truth in the way the Commoner later did.

I suspect that the apparent inconsistencies in timeline probably have more to do with an attempt to keep the audience guessing over what is happening until the final revelations.


 

#9


cocoskyavitch



I miss Jeremy! Where is he?


 

#10


Vili Maunula



Ugetsu: When the Commoner challenges that story, it is the Priest who says that a dead man cannot possibly lie. So to some extent, the Priest may be most disturbed by the notion that a wife could betray her husband so deeply that he ends up in hell.

While this is indeed the literal interpretation, you could also argue that the priest is playing a role to coax out the truth from the woodcutter, who he suspects knows more about the situation (and the missing dagger) than he is ready to admit. Minoru Chiaki's acting at the gate is interesting to follow in this regard: it is as if the priest was forcing himself to dig deeper, while at the same time quite scared about the possibility of what he is about to find about the human nature.

The woodcutter, meanwhile, appears to be wrestling with his conscience, as Jon pointed out a few years back. The woodcutter has, probably in the spur of the moment, decided to pick up the dagger for himself, thinking that no one will be missing it. Unfortunately for him, this leads into him having to lie when questioned, and as so often in fiction, that one tiny little lie which isn't even relevant to what really happened in the forest, ends up necessitating a complete rewrite of history, and spawns more lies.

Ugetsu: the inconsistencies of all the stories is only revealed to the Priest near the end

This is a potentially interesting observation, but one that I don't quite follow. Could you elaborate on why you assume that the priest thinks, until the very end, that one of the accounts must be the truth?

Coco: I miss Jeremy! Where is he?

I miss him, too. He's on quite an interesting adventure at the moment, and probably won't be back in "real world" for the next couple of years or so. I won't tell more, as it's not my place to do so on a public forum. Not that there is anything wrong or worrisome about his adventure, but since he hasn't mentioned it here himself, I'll respect his privacy and won't do so either.

I can tell, however, that I'm in periodic contact with Jeremy, and last heard from him a couple of weeks ago. He seems to be doing great, and is very much his old brilliant self.


 

#11


Ugetsu



Vili

This is a potentially interesting observation, but one that I don't quite follow. Could you elaborate on why you assume that the priest thinks, until the very end, that one of the accounts must be the truth?

I'm basing this on the scene (00.50.01), just before the medium's story. The continuity script (in Richies book on Rashomon pp.68-69) says as follows:

Commoner: I see. But the more I listen the more mixed up I get (he sits down). Women lead you on with their tears; they even fool themselves. Now if I believed what she said I'd really be mixed up.

Priest: But according to the husbands story....

Commoner: But he's dead. How could a dead man talk?

Priest: He spoke through a medium.

Woodcutter: Lies. (He rises and comes towards the camera.). His story was all lies.

Priest: Dead men tell no lies.

257. MCU of the common, in the foreground, and the priest.

Commoner: All right, priest - why is that?

Priest: They must not. I must not believe that men are so sinful.

It seems to me to be a statement by the Priest to the effect that it is the Samurai's story he believes, on the basis that people cannot be so sinful that they could continue lying after death. Perhaps on this interpretation, his distress in the beginning of the film is his difficulty in reconciling the Samurai's 'truthful' statement with what he suspects may have actually happened. Or that he is simply shocked at the depravity of the wife. (I don't actually think this is the case, but it is a literal interpretation of the scene I think).


 

#12


cocoskyavitch



Dear Vili,
When you speak with Jeremy, do tell him hello and that he is missed, here. It is good to know that he is on an adventure!

Commoner: All right, priest - why is that?

Priest: They must not. I must not believe that men are so sinful.

I confess this scene leaves me a bit perplexed. "I must not believe that men are so sinful" is not he same as "I do not believe that men are so sinful". The words "must not" imply a catechism of sorts, no?

The priest indicates that his faith is being tried by the rape/murder and aftermath incident, and that "must" indicates this to me....if the subtitles are to be trusted.


 

#13


Vili Maunula



Thanks for clearing that for me, Ugetsu. Somehow I never took the priest's words there literally.

Coco raised a very interesting point about the actual wording used there. I wonder how faithful the subtitles are. I'll try to take a look this weekend.


 

Reply

You must log in to post.