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DVD Review: RASHOMON (BLU-RAY)



Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1950
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Kichijiro Ueda, Fumiko Honma, Daisuke Kato
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Release Date: November 06, 2012
Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:28m:37s
Genre(s): foreign

“I don’t understand. I just don’t understand.” - The Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura)

RASHOMON (BLU-RAY)

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It took longer than we wanted, but Kurosawa's influential, twisty masterpiece is finally available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. It's also certainly no surprise that this 62-year-old film has never looked or sounded better.

Movie Grade: A+

DVD Grade: A

So many films made in the last 20 years, let alone the 60+ years since Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon burst onto the scene, are modeled almost directly after that masterpiece’s unique storytelling style. What is widely considered Kurosawa’s masterpiece, as well as one of the greatest films ever made, Rashomon is as influential, if not more so, even, than John Carpenter’s Halloween, which many see as the godfather of slasher films. Sure, many directors cite Kurosawa’s twisty tale as an influence, but some films, namely the 2003 John Travolta vehicle, Basic, is essentially a Hollywood remake. Still, nothing can compare to Rashomon, the winner of the top prize at the 1951 Venice Film Festival that finally makes its way to Blu-ray via what is essentially a High Definition upgrade from their 2002 DVD package.

We open upon a trio of Japanese men, taking shelter in Rashomon, a run-down, desolate gatehouse in Kyoto. These men, a priest (Minoru Chiaki), a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), and a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) engage in a heated discussion about a scandal involving a noblewoman (Machiko Kyo) who was raped in a forest. The other two parties involved in this crime were her husband (Masayuki Mori), a samurai who died during the proceedings, and a bandit named Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune), who was arrested for murder. During their discussion, the priest, woodcutter, and commoner tell varying versions of what really happened that day in the forest, but regardless of the details of each version of the tale, the real truth might never be known.

Kurosawa keeps us, the viewer, guessing throughout as he essentially tells us the same tale, only from multiple perspectives. This is the most glaring aspect of Rashomon that has been “borrowed,” and usually in a much less- effective way, in numerous feature films over the last half-century. While during the film, the audience is struggling to determine which story is the “true” one, during the movie’s final 10 minutes, we realize that such a struggle is not what Rashomon is about at all. Regardless of which story is true or not, the film is, at its core, a morality tale about trust amongst men. Adding to the dynamic is the fact that these three men come from extremely different backgrounds, and their idea of right and wrong varies greatly between them. Therein lies the brilliance of this, one of the shortest of Kurosawa’s works, full of indelible imagery, and an endgame that is both unpredictable and wholly fulfilling.

As if the overriding themes of the film weren’t bleak and disturbing enough, Kurosawa takes us to an extremely dark place near the 60-minute mark. This is the third telling of the rape/murder story, and it’s told by the most deceased of the parties involved. Kurosawa doesn’t go easy on us and simply show that person’s ghost outlining what happened…instead he puts the spirit of the deceased inside the body of one of the survivors, and shows us this person, possessed by the spirit and doing their best Regan from The Exorcist impression, long before that film was even a glimmer in director William Friedkin’s eyes. This is truly spooky stuff, blurring the line between, twisty thriller, and all-out horror film, done with such brilliance that only Akira Kurosawa could exude. It’s also a creepiness that’s stuck with me in the 20-some years since I first experienced the film, and I’m sure it will remain an unforgettable feeling for decades to come.

The video features a 1080p transfer that presents the film in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, and is a result of a 2008 restoration by The Academy Film Archive, The National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and Kadokawa Pictures, Inc. Not surprisingly, the film has never looked better, as the restoration has resulted in amazingly clear, detailed images throughout, and excellent rendering of blacks and grays. The LPCM 1.0 audio track is also fantastic, exhibiting exceptional dialogue clarity and a total lack of any hiss or other annoying flaws, all of which are a result of a restoration process that involved the hand-picking of the best source elements from the 1962 print and a fine-grain master positive.

The first of a plethora of outstanding extras is a six-minute interview with late filmmaker Robert Altman, during which he discusses his love for Rashomon. There’s also a great audio commentary track by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie, which is the same discussion that was included on Criterion’s 2002 DVD release of the film. Next, is a 12-minute excerpt from The World of Kazuo Miyagawa, a Japanese television documentary that explores the relationship between Kurosawa and renowned cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, who worked on Rashomon. A Testimony as an Image is a 68-minute documentary that finds script supervisor Teruyo Nogami getting back together with many of Rashomon’s crew members via separate interviews and a roundtable talk. We also get the film’s trailer, along with an audio-only, 16-minute interview with actor Takashi Shimura, who plays the woodcutter in the film.

Posted by: Chuck Aliaga - December 29, 2012, 6:24 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: thriller, truth, justice




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