Rashomon is a story where several people narrate an incident, as part of a testimony, in a court house. The 15-20 minute incident is quite simple, a husband and wife are travelling across the woods. A bandit has sex with the wife and then kills the husband. This is pretty much the only thing you can say for certain. These are the facts of the case. Everything else is open to interpretation. To begin with the aesthetics, rain is used very effectively in this movie. It sets the mood of the movie. And its not just a drizzle. When the movie opens, rain pours in torrents as we are shown two people (a wood cutter and a priest) who are sitting and staring at the rain. They are confused and shocked beyond belief. We want to know why and there is a character introduced on behalf of us, to speak and interpret for us to ask them why. The movie then moves on to a splendid sequence of the wood cutter walking through the woods. There are many firsts in this scene. For the first time in cinema history, the camera focuses directly on the sun. Another first, and this happens throughtout the movie, is the use of mirrors to reflect sun-light on an actors face so that it becomes visble in the darker part of the woods. As the cinematographer later explains, this scene of the wood cutter walking was taken in a single long shot. The trail of the camera is like a S-shaped rail. The wood cutter walks in a straight line from the top-right-most point of the letter 'S' to the bottom left most point. The camera moves along the 'S' shaped trail while continuously focusing on the woodcutter. The beauty is you don't even realize this until somebody explains it to you. This wood cutter, who provides the first testimony, claims that as he was walking, he saw (a) the hat of a woman, (b) a rope - and upon walking a few more yards - (c) the dead body of the husband. A priest is called upon to provide the second testimony. This priest adds nothing more except for the fact that he saw the husband and wife (on a horse top) walk by him.
The movie picks up speed, when the bandit, who is captured, narrates his part of this story. This is the first time you are told what happened in those woods that day. You are told why and exactly how the sex and the murder took place. After the bandit, himself, confesses to this gory crime and owns responsibility for both crimes. You are left wondering, what else remains. He is guilty. And then the wife shows up for her testimony. The way her story contradicts the bandit's story is intriguing and very interesting. However, at the end of her narration, I was left wondering if she would have said what she said, if she had heard the bandit's testimony. In any case after her narration, you know that both the bandit and this lady might probably be lying. But there were just 3 people who saw the incident. The wife and the bandit have already the narrated their versions and the husband is dead. So how do you know for sure what really happened. Kurosawa, the rascal that he is, springs a surprise by letting the dead spirit of the husband narrate the story through a sorcerer. This is an unexpected and a very interesting narration. Of course it contradicts both the bandit's and the wife's story. It contradicts those stories in a way that leaves you suspicious of both the bandit and the wife. So much so that I as a reiewer cant confidently use the word 'rape' and instead choose to replace it with 'sex'. However, at this point you don't really doubt the version of the dead man. After all what does a dead man have to gain by lying? This version has to be the truth.