Here is a movie I had heard of thanks to my wife having watched it for a film class in college. I was really not sure what to expect from it so I’ll dive right in with my thoughts.
Should this film be considered a classic? Yes, and not because I was completely lost and engrossed in the story. The film should be considered a classic because of it’s unique and oft imitated storytelling style. The film takes an event and then tells it to the audience from the different perspectives of the cast. Each story ends up being different and forces the audience to think through the events of the story in a much broader way than only telling one perspective would. I also believe this film is considered a classic because of the austere style of it. The on screen cast is small enough that you can count them on your fingers. The sets are simple, but effective. The sound and soundtrack are used sparingly and are simple. The film has a very claustrophobic feel to it. I was also struck by the camera work in the movie. There are some shots that convey a great deal of motion with the camera smoothly panning as it followed a character through the woods. In other scenes I found the stillness of the camera unnerving as Akira Kurosawa refused to let us look away from a particular angle of a particular scene.
It is also interesting to view this film in light of the historical context it was filmed in. It was released a mere five years after the end of WWII and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. I was keenly aware of this as I watched the priest cry out that he had lost his faith in humanity. If any film had a right to end on a down note, it was this one in this historical context. Kurosawa, however, took a courageous route and refused to revel in the despair of the first 98% of the movie. The final moments of the film renew the priests faith in man’s ability to do good just as the rain, which had dominated the setting, stops and the sun breaks through the dreary clouds.
Would I own this film? Unlikely. One of the reasons I usually buy a film is because I have plans to rewatch it. While I appreciate “Rashomon,” it is simply not a film I see myself needing to watch again. The film is unique enough that once you have seen it the images and the concepts will stick with you. Perhaps that is truly why this film is considered a classic, it will stay with you long after the last images have faded from the screen.