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Stating the obvious…

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    Amnesty11

    Am coming into this conversation so late in the game, having just finally watched the film last night…I spent a good part of the afternoon reading all commentary here and now feel a little overwhelmed. So much of what I wanted to say has been noted already; I wish I had been part of this earlier in the month so that my response could tie in a little more.

    Is there room on this forum for a little pedestrian notation? I am not a film scholar, (though after today, I believe I may become one osmotically by regularly reading this site), film maker, film critic, llawyer nor any expert really, of any kind. I just know what works for me in a film on a “heart” level, and almost all of the Kurosawa films I’ve seen to date permeate in that way. (With the exception of Throne of Blood, but I will revisit that in November of this year and see if my reaction is the same…)

    I also want to note that I watched this film for the first time over two years ago, but since I am now studying Japanese and have a much greater sense of Japanese society both historically and contemporarily as a whole (although I don’t pretend to have any true understanding, just skimming the surface at this point) I do understand so much more and appreciate the film in a very different way this time around.

    For instance, on first viewing – (this was the first Japanese film not set in a contemporary time period I had ever seen btw) I thought the costuming ridiculous. What was with the husband’s get up? And what was going on with the wife’s smudgy eyebrows, well atop her real (shaved) eyebrows? Was this some sort of spoof on the time period? And although Mifune was instantly visually edible, his lunatic moments were off-putting.

    In a way, my sense of the film was almost as a child misunderstanding something brand new – and yet I still loved the film in every way.

    Vili something you said beautifully in another thread was very true for me in this regard:

    … The creative process, therefore, becomes a meditative process through which to explore the subject at hand. When writing a story for instance, a section appears out of nowhere whose meaning you do not fully understand, but you simply know that it is right, and that it has to be there, and that it exists in a certain type of a relationship with other sections of the work. In the end, if you are successful, the final product gives you an understanding of and clarity about the subject that you have been contemplating about, but you nevertheless remain unable to put into actual non-ambiguous words what it is that you have uncovered…

    I am also a writer and well understand this process. I think that this is also applicable as the audience of a great work of art (of any medium). Kurosawa’s great gift, at least his gift to me, is that while watching a film like Rashomon the experience itself lights up almost every sense within, “You simply know that it is right, and that it has to be there and that it exists in a certain type of a relationship with the other sections of the work…” So that the story is almost secondary to the experience of the entire film as a whole. Does that make sense? The film as a visual meditation at the same time as being virtual nutrition for the soul…

    The things I love about this film (besides just watching every blessed movement and non-movement and breath and stare that Mifune-sama creates — look, it’s not easy being madly in love with someone who is not only long passed away but who also, if alive, would have been almost 92 years old!) are as follows:

    The wife. Oh how i love that woman! Given the context of Japanese society, even of the 1950’s the scene in which she gets her “Inner Dragon” on, pretty much rocks my world, and I suspect that Japanese women of the time period in which the film was released may also have secretly felt the same way. Her otherworldly cackle (in a moment when both men feel that they have her as dirt beneath their feet) while she throws her head back and laughs at the sky — I think her power is truly amazing here. She turns the tables instantly and explosively. She is the one in control. She is the one who shakes their very being to the core. They must prove their manhood, all that they rely on, all they really have to offer the world and something she clearly scorns, and perhaps detests. When it comes right down to the actual test, their efforts at dueling are clownish, and pathetic…about as unmanly a duel as has ever been created on film.

    Was she raped? Yes. Did she enjoy it? I don’t know. In the thief’s version yes, but that’s just the indication of the type of boastful, egotistical buffoon of a man that he was. If she enjoyed it, it didn’t bother me, for I saw it as a clear path to her own buried strength. Having been in a bit of a farce of a marriage once myself, I can understand how powerful non-farcical sex can be in opening up doors within, once one gets a chance to experience it.

    Please forgive me if this makes it sound like I am condoning rape in any way. My point here is that the section of Rashomon that I personally found powerful, when the wife rises up, seems to have been driven from that encounter. My guess, given the story, is that Tanjomaru was indeed a key to her awakening.

    Sex. I absolutely love the sexual energy in this work. (The benefits of the cyber world is that I might say things that in other, ‘real’ places I would keep to myself. So unless we all end up meeting at that Dublin pub someday [but by then you will all be so used to me, it won’t matter anymore] I feel free to make these observations without too much shyness.) From the first moment (or is it second moment?) we see Tanjomaru he is practically going down on the stream (you did notice that, didn’t you?). It was such a fascinating shot, and something that I found inexplicable in any way but to show his lusty personality.

    I also loved the almost comical moment when, after that damn breeze lifts the wife’s veil and Tanjomaru has not only seen her lovely, tiny white feet, but her lovely porcelain-doll face, he lays back down and the long stick he has next to him slowly rises. In fact this was so obvious to me that I almost think it slightly beneath Kurosawa. He doesn’t usually (to the best of my limited knowledge) use such conventional devises to tell the audience what he wants them to know. But anyway, I still enjoyed the moment.

    Another amazing scene (one of my favorites) happens in the Woodcutter’s version. The two men are fighting and at last Tanjomaru is going to kill the samurai — he is breathing so hard that we are afraid he won’t catch the next breath and the next and the next. In the moment right before the kill, the shot of Tanjomaru’s abdomen breathing in and out so deeply and with such fear, almost blocking our view of the husband with each deep inhalation — in all, quite nakedly sexual. As if he was in the act of procreation, not slaughter. But maybe Akira is telling us something there too…

    Triangle: enjoyable to watch Kurosawa’s use of the triangle in blocking his shots. Since I’m not a film maker, I’m not sure why the triangle is so deeply grounding.

    A few off the top of my head:

    The enormously satisflying shot of the husband tied up in the distance, shown between the muscular legs of Tanjomaru.

    The wife at the apex of the triangle formed by the two men’s swords (twice) as they fight during the woodcutter’s version.

    A scene near the end at the temple when the commoner laughs at the priest and the woodcutter about the kimono and the baby. The architecture forms a triangle around the men (orgive me, reading the site and writing this has taken much of my afternoon – I won’t be able to find the exact moment on the film right now…)

    … so many moments with the triangle as theme. Of course, there are really four stories so unfortunately, that theme doesn’t totally play out in the movie. But I did like that it stayed pretty consistent –even up to the last scene in which even though the commoner has left, the Priest, Woodcutter and Baby make a new trinity…

    Finally, stating the obvious, the visceral feel of the film is what drew me in instantly yet again: running through the woods, rolling in the dirt, scrapping in the leaves etc. I could feel myself in that dusty, leafy, hollow in the woods just as physically as I could feel the couch beneath my thighs while watching the film. Somehow, with magic and genius, Akira makes that happen.

    I know that must be written about in hundreds and hundreds of books/articles/reviews, etc. and on this site as well, because it was pioneering — but I just had to note it here because it is such an intense part of the experience of watching this amazing film.

    I have more to say, but much of it would be repeating all of the theories and queries that have already been explored here. I will get on top of the February movie, The Outrage as soon as possible so I don’t lag so much behind the discussion.

    Vili, thank you for providing this wonderful forum – without character limits no less! And thanks too to all of you for being such deep thinkers and excellent writers. If it wasn’t for this site, who else could I talk to about all of this without boring them absolutely to tears?

    I am now off, ironically, to view My Neighbor Totoro on the big screen as part of my Japanese language class (a good film for beginning Japanese language learners!) A bit of a letdown after Rashomon, though it has its merits…

    Cheers!

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    Ugetsu

    I don’t have time to respond in detail now, but great post Amnesty! I think you express very well the sheer vitality and visual poetry of Rashomon, something that is often forgotten in all the discussion of meaning and symbolism. I think your point about the sensuality of the film is well made – its something I’ve slowly come to appreciate with every viewing. I think I once described Kurosawa as a film maker who wasn’t interested in sensuality, but the more I look at Rashomon the more I see I was wrong about that.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Amnesty, nice post! It’s not too late to throw your two cents in, expecially when those two cents revive the immediacy of pleasure in viewing! Filmmaking is primarily a visual art for me-and the pure visual (thanks Miyagawa!) sensuality of Rashomon is reason enough for it to exist!

    I’m a lover of Mifune, too, and have often felt how very strange it is to love a dead guy so much. Like you said, it’s pretty weird to have a crush on a dead guy…

    You know right, that Kurosawa suggested Mifune visualize a panther in his movements…so the scene drinking from the water really is an animal’s scene, as are so many-and that animal magnetism (huh! cliche’s really do come from someplace real) is potent! He’s so beautiful in this film, the monkey-antic scenes are upsetting. I am always trying to keep intact the illusion of animal perfection and beauty…but Kurosawa had different ideas-so many ideas!…that give us different views of the character.

    I keep thinking about Mifune’s story that a woman in one screening of (<strong>Rashomon? Seven Samurai?) yelled out “look at that ass!” in appreciation. I keep thinking how Kurosawa said that slugs fell from the trees and they had to salt their boots to keep them from falling on them and sucking their blood.

    So many layers of pleasure. Pleasure of having viewed on big and small screen, pleasures of visual intoxication (the mirrors, the bounced light, the branches over the mirror to create moving patterns of shadow, the tracking shots in the forest, the quality of light in the b&w-Mifune’s eyes appearing chestnut-(purely emotional response to light-as-color) pleasure of animal grace, pleasure of structure (at the hearing-nice symmetrical containers of light) and the diffuse, disorganized and visually bewildering world of the forest. So many pleasures!

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    Amnesty11

    Yes, Coco, pure pleasure. Thank you for putting it so beautifully.

    I have to confess that as I was walking this morning with a friend, I stopped mid-step and thought “He wasn’t drinking from the stream to show sexual lust! He was drinking like an animal does! Of course!”

    And like anyone wishing that they could turn back time just 15 hours in order to take back something they said (or wrote), I felt a rush of embarrassment thinking of my post. Best not to post while wearing the smokey glasses of lust! (Maybe I won’t sign up for those dating sites after all! :roll:)

    Panther is perfect, yes I can see it exactly. I am really not up on all the history, though this last year I kept promising myself I’d get some wonderful books about Kurosawa and Mifune. Birthday coming up, I will definitely be looking for those!

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    cocoskyavitch

    But, Amnesty-the thing is, you are right-Mifune is a hottie and all his animal moves (except the monkey bits) make him even more desireable!

    No, you were right about that!!!!

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    Vili Maunula

    I can only agree with everyone else here: great post, Amnesty! Posts like these are exactly the reason why I have not and never want to implement artificial character limits on this forum. 🙂

    What you write about the sensuality or sexuality of the film is very true. It is interesting that so little has actually been written about sexuality in Kurosawa’s works. (Or do I forget something?) Yet, an argument could be made that there in fact is quite a lot of it bubbling underneath, and when it surface as it does in Rashomon (but also at least in Ran and Dodesukaden, maybe The Lower Depths and One Wonderful Sunday), it comes across as quite raw, almost animalistic type of sexuality. There is romantic love too in Kurosawa’s worlds, of course, but there definitely is passion as well.

    In Rashomon, that kind of animalism is of course brilliantly portrayed by Mifune. Not only is he a lion/panther in the film, but in my eyes he also portrays a monkey (just like Coco mentioned), a horse (in his own version of the story, he gallops with the stolen horse as if he were almost one with the animal) and spider (the way he spreads his limbs to drink from the spring always makes me think of a spider). With all his sexiness, charisma, presence and almost overwhelming energy, I think that it is sometimes forgotten how good an actor Mifune actually was, and what range he was able to command, if just given the chance.

    I hope that you enjoyed My Neighbour Totoro, Amnesty. I absolutely love the film!

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    lawless

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Seven Samurai as an example of sensuality in Kurosawa’s movies. There’s the scene of Shino washing her hair before being chased by her father so he can cut her tresses (a kind of Japanese Rape of the Lock?) and the various scenes of Shino and Katsushiro’s encounters, but to my mind, the most sensual scene in the film is the one where the camera pans the bandits’ outpost — all those drooping limbs and people draped over each other.

    It’s clear that while Rikichi’s wife is “privileged” to be associated with the bandit chief — she has her own quarters and wears a beautiful (and expensive) kimono — she’s not the only woman the bandits have captured or, like her, have been offered by villagers hoping to placate them. It’s also clear that this is an opportune moment to attack, as the bandits’ minds are likely hazy with satiated lust.

    The whole thing ends in tragedy, as Rikichi and his wife recognize each other and she chooses to commit suicide rather than face everyone’s knowledge of what happened to her. This also leads to the first samurai death, for which Rikichi feels responsible. But it shows that in some ways, the bandits are living higher on the hog than the samurai opposing them are. Kikuchiyo complains about the lack of female companionship; the bandits look to have all of it they want.

    BTW, Coco, I suspect that it was Mifune’s appearance in Seven Samurai that elicited the comment about his ass, as it’s on display more in that movie than any of the other Kurosawa movies he starred in. I still chortle at the scene of him fishing,as the fish he “finds” was hidden in his loincloth. I wonder where he had room to hide it. And of course Kurosawa uses it to put a sad coda to the final battle, in which Kikuchiyo proves his valor at the cost of his life and dignity; he winds up face down in the mud, ass prominently on display. What an undignified final image of him. But it’s all of a piece with his character, who’s been the point of view of the common person (kind of like the commoner in Rashomon, actually) as opposed to the highfalutin’ samurai. Despite his screwups throughout the movie — alerting the scouts to the presence of the samurai, going off on his own — he earns a place alongside the other samurai in the cemetery by killing the bandit leader.

    AmnestyHeian-period costume and grooming is most certainly an odd and wondrous thing. Some of that carries through to, say, Noh masks such as the one that influenced some of the character design in Throne of Blood. And I have to say that for me, Rashomon serves a similar function as Throne of Blood does for you. Of all the Kurosawa movies I’ve seen, Rashomon engages my heart the least.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    It’s clear that while Rikichi’s wife is “privileged” to be associated with the bandit chief — she has her own quarters and wears a beautiful (and expensive) kimono — she’s not the only woman the bandits have captured or, like her, have been offered by villagers hoping to placate them. It’s also clear that this is an opportune moment to attack, as the bandits’ minds are likely hazy with satiated lust.

    The whole thing ends in tragedy, as Rikichi and his wife recognize each other and she chooses to commit suicide rather than face everyone’s knowledge of what happened to her. This also leads to the first samurai death, for which Rikichi feels responsible. But it shows that in some ways, the bandits are living higher on the hog than the samurai opposing them are. Kikuchiyo complains about the lack of female companionship; the bandits look to have all of it they want.

    Slightly off topic I know, but I think this is an excellent point, one I don’t think has been commented upon in any thing I’ve read about Seven Samurai. It hadn’t occurred to me before that she was in some way privileged above the other women there, but I think you are right about it, and this is significant. I know its something you mentioned before, I was thinking of it the last time I watched it, and I think you are absolutely right about Rikichi’s wife – she was almost certainly given up by the villagers, not kidnapped by the bandits. Its a very important plot point which I think non-Japanese writers (I don’t know about Japanese commentators) seem to have missed entirely.

    I wonder though if we are meant to think that the Samurai didn’t realise this either (in other words, the audience was expected to grasp this, indicating that the Samurai had too rosy a view of the villagers), or we are expected to admire the Samurai’s tolerance in overlooking this evidence of the villagers treacherous and cowardly behavior.

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    cocoskyavitch

    lawless, I need to be sure about that quote-I think it was in the Prince book-but, I think you are right.

    7 Samurai-I really enjoy your insight, lawless, into the “priveledged” status of Rickichi’s wife as she is seen in the bandit fort. I suppose I wiped away as convention her separateness-and as necessary to the plot-she needed to detect the smoke without being detected…she needs to be aware of the threat of burning and death-and to embrace it, and we watch her turn from shock and horror to acceptance. We have to understand this in her character to “forgive” her-to hold her blameless in her own rape. Isn’t this again a typical turn that mostly is elided in commentaries?

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