Rashomon question and comments

First the question, in the recollection of the guy in the temple the Samurai and the Bandit have a ridiculous, almost 3 stoogies level of silliness, fight, where as in the other recollections they are shown as skilled fighters. Why is that?

Second the comment, I don’t really see this as a film about faulty memory or different perspectives. The common position seems to be:


Marge: But you liked Rashoman!
Homer: That’s not how I remember it


But that doesn’t jive with the movie. The accounts differ on substantial and essentially incontrovertible facts. For example, the death of the Samurai. In the Samurai’s account, he kills himself, and in the others the bandit kills him. It’s ridiculous to contend that the Samurai is mistaken about how he died, or the bandit is mistaken that he killed him. I see it more as an example of how people will lie their ass off to put themselves in a better light.

The thing to remember is that every character in the story is approaching the events of the fight with their own biases and agendas, which color their recollection of the fight. The samurai views himself as an honorable and dedicated warrior, and his recollection is colored by that perception. The bandit sees himself as a dangerous predator and cunning opportunist, and so recalls the encounter in that light. To the peasant, however, they’re just two assholes with swords. There’s never really a “good” time and place to be a peasant, but Japan’s Warring States period was worse than most, and to most peasants of that era, there was little to distinguish between a samurai and a bandit raider. His recollection is colored by his hatred of both sides in the conflict, and so her remembers it as a farce.

Of course, his memory is no more reliable than anyone else’s. He’s an untrained peasant who has never so much as held a weapon before. What might have been, in the actual event, well-considered strikes and tactical maneuvering, he recalls as comical flailing about, because he doesn’t know how to “read” a sword fight the way a trained warrior can, and because he’s predisposed to see any martial figure in a negative light.

That wiki quote jibes pretty well with the movie. There is, of course, an objective truth behind the accounts of the fight. The purpose of the movie is to demonstrate how that objective truth is ultimately unknowable, because it will always be filtered through the flawed and self-serving perceptions of human beings. Humans tend to perceive the world in a way that fits their preconceptions and to report on the world in a way that is flattering to themselves. The accounts in the film are, therefore, both subjective, and factually unreliable - clearly, someone is lying about what happened, but how can an outside observer determine the truth, based solely on eyewitness accounts? And how does one separate the deliberate falsehoods from the false memories?

Incidentally, I’ve always found the samurai’s testimony problematical. I’m never sure how I should regard the medium who relates it. Is he a device to allow the filmmaker to show the dead samurai’s point of view, or are we meant to understand the medium himself as another unreliable narrator? The inclusion of overt fantasy elements seems out of step with the tone of the film overall, but if we take the medium as a fraud, we lose the symmetry of having the fight retold from the POV of each participant. Or is that uncertainty on how to interpret the medium’s role, itself, a part of the overall theme of unreliable testimony and the impossible nature of objective truth?

I wonder, as well, if there’s any historical basis for that character. Was the testimony of the dead, as provided by a priest or shaman type figure, actually a feature of the legal system of the time?

But the facts that change aren’t really things that can change with perception. I need to watch it again to come up with all of the specific ones, but the big one that jumps out is how the Samurai died. You can be prejudiced or self-serving, but no matter how self serving or prejudiced you are, you aren’t going to be mistaken in the manner a man died.

Each story differed in a way that made the teller look better. Which obviously would be consistent with bias and self serving leaking into memory. But the way that these stories differed is not consistent simply with errors in memory. Remembering if the woman consented to sex or was raped is something that could vary from person to person due to a self serving memory. Remembering who killed who and what was the manner of death isn’t.

If the intention was to show that we can’t know an objective truth because everyone has a biased memory, I think it misses the mark. I think everyone just turns out looking like self serving lying bastards.

I think it’s meant to accept her testimony as his.

Whether everybody is lying, self-serving, or biased, it’s still almost impossible for an outside observer to find out what the truth is.

Because they think they’re better than they are, and the woodcutter thinks the whole thing is stupid.

Ever since I saw Rashomon I’ve felt the woodcutter’s version of the swordfight was one of the best, if not THE best, movie fight scenes ever. This has come up before on the SDMB though, and I’ve learned that not everyone remembers it that way. :wink:

Almost anything can change with perception. There have been a number of psychological studies done about the unreliability of eyewitness accounts, or about how people can have detailed memories of things that never happened at all.

Of course you could be. And in this particular case, the samurai’s account comes to the viewer secondhand through the medium – or actually third-hand, if we count the priest who’s telling the story.

I think the point is that we can’t know an objective truth, full stop. Something really happened in that grove, and a man really died. But how can we know exactly what went on? I’d expand Marley23’s statement to say that not only can an outside observer probably never determine the real, complete truth, but that even the witnesses probably do not know the real, complete truth either – although they may each believe that they do.

I actually think memory is malleable enough that people can make precisely that sort of mistake, but the point I was trying to make was that the theme of Rashomon is the impossibility of knowing an objective truth, not just because of faulty perception, but also because of deliberate deception. Both factors that are, I think, covered by the Wiki quote you posted.

Are you really contending that the Samurai did not remember if he was murdered or committed suicide? That, and a couple other facts, are really my main problems with the film. It changes it from “how can we know the truth based on eyewitnesses” to “people lie to their advantage”. The former is a potentially interesting topic, while the latter is filed under no shit sherlock.

Especially since the outside observer, himself, is lying, self-serving, or biased.

But is the Samurai telling the truth? His testimony is not more reliable than anyone else’s.

No, I’m pretty sure I was saying exactly the opposite: that someone was lying about how the samurai died. :confused:

But they are not mutually exclusive, is my point. In Rashomon, you have both factors working at once to obscure the truth.

Well, I think the fact that he’s dead makes him a less than credible witness. Even if we accept that the samurai is genuinely possessing the medium – and I see no reason to trust the medium, especially in a movie where everyone’s account of their own experiences is depicted as less than fully reliable – then all bets are off when it comes to how well the spirits of the dead remember their last moments. (There’s been more than one movie about ghosts who don’t even realize they’re dead.) A spirit could also simply be lying for reasons of his own.

I’m 99% certain he’s lying about the manner of his death. Which is my point. If the point is to show the difficulty of discovering truth and the subjectiveness of eyewitness, then making the characters lying bastards obscures the point.

No, it doesn’t. It IS the point.

You ask 4 people what happened, you’ll get 4 answers, because you have 4 different agendas, 4 different sets of biases, and many many ways one or more of them could have missed or misinterpreted an important point. It doesn’t matter if any of them are lying, or how many, or why (or why not).

I don’t see how it obscures the point at all. If the point is that we can never be certain what happened in that grove then having characters intentionally lie would be just another reason why that’s the case. We can never know the whole truth because our only information comes from contradictory eyewitness accounts.

ETA: Er, what **Tengu **said. :slight_smile:

No, you don’t get 4 different answers. In the case of the Samurai’s death, you have three stories from 4 people. The bandit and woodcutter said the bandit killed him, the woman said she killed him, and the Samurai said he committed suicide. How could the woodcutter and the bandit come up with essentially the same story unless that is how it actually happened?

I see what you’re saying, and you’ve got a decent point. The fact that one of the characters is almost certainly lying does somewhat distract from the idea that the other characters are telling what they think is the truth, even though they’re contradicting each other. If one of those discrepancies can be shown to be a deliberate lie, then all of the discrepancies can be dismissed as lies, and you’re left with a movie about a bunch of dishonest people lying to make themselves look good. Which is really not as interesting as the idea that honest people can remember objective events in totally subjective ways.

But that’s not, properly speaking, why Rashomon is famous.

The major theme of Rashomon is not, “memory is subjective,” but rather, “truth is unknowable.” The film takes place during a period of particularly brutal civil war, during which much of the structure of society has collapsed, which is represented in the film by the dilapidated prayer gate under which the travelers shelter while they discuss the trial. The gate, in better times, was a symbol of the eternalness of the spirit world. As the symbol decays, it argues that the ideas it represents are equally vulnerable to the passage of time. Concepts that, a few years before, seemed obvious and unquestionable, are thrown into turmoil, and risk being lost or forgotten altogether. The traditional sources of authority and identity - government and religion - are shown to be ineffectual, fraudulent, or at best, as unreliable as the people they claim to govern. Even one’s own recollections are questionable, because clearly not every discrepency between the stories was deliberate. The reason the travelers are so taken by this story, and so frustrated by its outcomes, is because it’s a symbol of all the chaos and uncertainty in their lives. The parallels to post-WWII Japan should be obvious.

But what was considered remarkable in all this was not that people are dishonest or untrustworthy, which obviously was not a revolutionary idea. What was striking about Rashomon was that the film itself did not provide an objective answer to the questions it raised. In most films, the camera is a sort of “eye of God,” showing the audience what “really” happened, even if the characters were deceived. Rashomon is justly famous for pioneering the application of the unreliable narrator to the medium of film. The trick that Kurosawa figured out, the thing that made Rashomon revolutionary, is that in film, the real narrator is always the camera.

No, you’ve got 4 different stories, two of which match up on on particular detail.

The others match on other details.

The bandit and the peasant both have reason to make their claim about the samurai’s death, and their reasons happen to point to the samurai dying at the bandit’s hands.

Whether they have reasons to lie about how the Samurai died is irrelevant. The salient point is that they both told the same facts about his death. There is essentially no possible way for them to have conspired to tell the same lie or independently come up with the same false recollection. The only logical conclusion to make is that the Samurai died in the way the woodcutter and bandit recollected.

I’ve only watched it once, but I’m reasonably certain you could ascertain the truth behind most of the basic facts in this manner.

The bandit has a vested interest in making himself look good. The peasant has a vested interest in making the samurai look bad.

Neither of them has vested interest in telling ‘the truth’.

Just like the samurai and his wife had vested interests in their versions of the story.

You’ve really missed the point of the story if you think two of them having reason to say the same thing makes that thing even likely to be true.

You completely missed the point of my post. Because I said things like:

I sure as heck didn’t say that them having reason to say the same thing makes that thing even likely to be true.

The point is that the only way for the bandit and woodcutter’s story to match on this point is if it actually happened. By what other manner would they come up with the exact same manner of death?