Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Usually my postings are brief because the hope is that the reader will see the movie. Hence I do not want to reveal too much of the plot. However, this post is longish. Because it is about Rashomon. The film has so many dimensions that it is impossible to overemphasize its beauty. Also, it is a famous film. So, you have probably seen it. So the purpose of this post is to publicize my take on this film rather than making the viewer aware of the film.

On a rainy day, three men stuck in the rain in a temple, break a conversation about a bizarre story that two of them have seen unfolding for the last three days. There are three characters involved in the real life story. One of them is dead now. We come to know the story from all the three characters involved, including the dead man who appears via a medium. Lo and behold. The three versions are different in crucial places.

It perhaps takes great many years for us to learn that in social happenings - in human interactions - there is often no such thing as the absolute truth. All of us can recall circumstances involving several people where each one perceived the situation differently. This is natural. It is human to do so. Now introduce dishonesty. That is natural too and that is very human too. Now a given situation, if narrated later by one of the characters involved, will be very narrator dependent. There is no way of knowing what actually happened. Sometimes, the question of what actually happened might not make sense. We, the bulk of human beings, are a game playing bunch. We often play games with our own minds, let alone with others'. Thus a happening is not always absolute, we perceive it and narrate it later according to what we would have liked to happen. Often the narration is suited to make some material gain possible. This is very simple. However, often the narration is changed to suit our game playing mind. Then there is no immediate material gain in sight.

A man Takehiro Kanazawa and his wife Masako Kanazawa were travelling throught a forest. The infamous bandit Tajomaru was resting idly under a tree when a sudden cool breeze ruffled him. He decided to have the woman. As simple as that. Straightforward simple desire. Tajomaru is a skilled fighter, a brilliant swordsman and has a matching cunning. Hence he does not see any problem in fulfiling his desire without killing the husband. So he waylays him. Takehiro was stupid enough to fall in Tajomaru's trap. Then, although Takehiro is an agile fighter, Tajomaru effrortlessly ties him with a rope. Tajomaru returns to the wife Masako and tells her that her husband has been bitten by a snake. He sees in the eyes of Masako a concern that makes him at once envious of the husband. He wants the wife to see her husband's humiliation. Very bandit-like, very negative, very gloomy. However, Tajomaru is enjoying himself. So he takes her to the place where her husband is helplessly tied. On reaching there and seeing how Tajomaru has deceived her husband, she gets furious and attacks Tajomaru with her dagger. Tajomaru is amused, plays cat and mouse with her for a while before overpowering her to submission and finally having intercourse with her. This far is undisputed in all three versions.

The final shot of Tajomaru overpowering her shows that she is beginning to enjoy this forced physical interaction! We need to remember that this is shown as narrated by Tajomaru.

The question is who killed the husband. Takehiro was found dead afterwards. And this phenomenon is narrated in three different ways by the three characters concerned. Tajomaru says he killed. But why? To begin with, he wanted "to have the woman even if he had to kill the husband", but he himself declared that it would be all the better if he did not have to kill. Successfully executing his plan, he had the woman anyway, by his cunning. So why kill in the end? Tajomaru blames it on Masako. She is the one, according to him, who coaxed him into killing. She did not want two men to witness her disgrace and continue to live. She says she would go with the man who manages to kill the other. This is Tajomaru's version of events. However, Tajomaru does not seem to be a man to fall for such instigation. He has had many a woman in his life. Nevertheless, he considered Masako special enough so as to kill another man for taking her along. In the end, Masako gives him a slip. So does he repent? No, Tajomaru is not the kind of man who repents. He just concludes that she was like any other woman. Is Tajomaru telling the truth? It is hard to believe that Masako, who was so concerned about Takehiro would pitch the two men against each other knowing fully well about Tajomaru's sword-fighting skills. After all, Tajomaru was about to leave after the act. Did Tajomaru really kill him even though he himself says he did?

Curiously, each of the three characters - Tajomaru, Masako and Takehiro - wants to shoulder the responsibility for the killing as if each of them finds it too demeaning that in his or her presence someone else manages to kill. The killing of a harmless albeit somewhat not-too-smart a man seems to be such a tempting honour that no one is able to let it go. The next person to testify is Masako. She is full of self pity, the exact opposite of Tajomaru. Masako claims that she accidentally killed her husband. And this accident happened because she lost control of herself. And she lost control of herself because her husband hated her for having sex with the bandit. She does not own up anything. Every event is blamed either on fate or on another human being. She had sex because Tajomaru forced her, she felt miserable because her husband Takehiro put the responsibility squarely on her shoulder, she fainted because of Takehiro's neglect. Her dagger killed Takehiro because she fainted. According to her version, nothing was in her control. Why is she painting herself as such an object of play in the hands of destiny?

Takehiro, since he is already dead, gives his version through a medium. His version too starts after the intercourse has taken place. He had to tolerate that in front of his eyes because he was tied up. As if this is not enough, he witnesses the bandit telling his wife to go with him and his wife responding in affirmative with dreamily beautiful eyes. He says that in all their years of togetherness, he has never seen his wife so beautiful. Is this really true? Is this a figment of imagination arising from male insecurity? Whatever it is, that is not all that she said. She implored the bandit to kill Takehiro and according to Takehiro this inhumanity surprised even the coarse bandit. Tajomaru kicks her for this, she somehow manages to get away and Tajomaru just releases Takehiro and leaves. Takehiro is left on his own exactly like the protagonist of a Greek tragedy. He chooses to kill himself with the dagger.

This is not where the movie ends. Surprisingly, there is a fourth version. But then this movie is full of surprises. It is best to stop here so that the few of us who have not seen this movie yet are intrigued.

This is a tale of human virtues and vices. One of the characters that proclaims throughout the movie that such and such people are lying, is himself caught lying in the end for something very mundane. But then he also does something that is supremely humane. That is how we all are. A bit of this and a bit of that. A bit of goodness and a bit of baseness. Some virtues and some vices. A mixed bag. That is how the world is what it is. 

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