So yesterday, I finally got around to seeing my first Akira Kurosawa film, but not before reading the two short stories it’s based on. I read both stories, “Rashomon” and “In a [Bamboo] Grove” (depending on the translation) in roughly 30 minutes before moving on to the film. I must say that this is one of the closest adaptations to a work of literature (or works, in this case) that I’ve ever seen.
Kurosawa’s Rashomon takes elements from both stories: The location, descriptions, and tonal tidbits from “Rashomon,” and the plot and characters from “In a Grove.” There are only two major differences in the movie: First, the fourth ‘narrative/flashback’ in the movie was added (most likely to add more time to the film), and the baby in the Rashomon at the end was also added, but it was moreso taking the place of an old woman that the Servant finds in the short story of “Rashomon.” Otherwise, everything was almost word-for-word, dialogue and descriptions taken nearly verbatim from the text (even from “Rashomon,” although the plot and characters are from “In a Grove”). The only thing they cut from “In a Grove,” as far as I’m aware, is the woman’s mother’s testimony, which wasn’t really necessary to begin with.
To start with the acting, the only thing I didn’t care for was the immensely over-acting of the actor who played the criminal, Tajomaru. The excessive bouncing and hysterical laughing was even more outlandish than The Monkey King from The Forbidden Kingdom. And the woman who played the wife was good, but her crying quickly got on my nerves (not the fact that she was crying, but the sound of it). But besides the incredible amount of over-the-top laughter and crying, the acting was excellent, even from the previously mentioned characters (when they weren’t doing those things). I just felt that the character of Tajomaru, when reading the story, was more reserved and frightening in a quiet kind of way. The movie version was the exact opposite. I also liked how Kurosawa turned two of the smallest roles in “In a Grove,” the Wood Cutter and the Priest, and made them into central characters. And Kurosawa even went into more detail on who actually took the knife from the chest of the man, which the short story didn’t.
Visually speaking, the movie had some wonderful camera work and shots. I watched an introduction to the movie by Robert Altman, who noted that Kurosawa was the first person to ever point a camera directly at the sun, which I found fascinating. The mood set by the rain was also brilliantly done (even though the rain was taken from the “Rashomon” story).
But one of my favorite moments, both visually and acted, was the Medium channeling the spirit of the man. For an old black and white movie, that scene really creeped me out. It was just so well done with the wind blowing her outfit all around with her hair and covering her face, and the look on the face of the old woman… it was just really unsettling. Not to mention the man’s echoing voice on top of that coming from her mouth. It creeped me out more than The Exorcist ever did (which wasn’t much).
The thing that sets the story and movie off from others that pull this multiple-perspective narrative is that all the movies to come after it tell the exact same story as truth from multiple perspectives. This one, on the other hand, tells the same story in multiple perspectives, but treats them as lies. So by the end of the movie, instead of having something revealed to you, you’re left to think about which one was actually the true occurrence (or as Robert Altman put it, all of them and none of them were true). It’s a story to think about, where not all of the answers are just given up to you. And with a layer underneath that, you have the social commentary of the lies and lives of men and what is needed to be done to survive (this part of the story mostly taken from the “Rashomon” short story).
So while some of the acting could have seemed over-the-top at times, even though it’s most likely a cultural thing, it’s really overshadowed by the basic concept and theme of the film. And on top of that, it really was, as I said, one of the best page-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen. Now I need to check out Seven Samurai…
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