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Cinema Japan: A Wreath for Madame Kawakita

Sunday, November 2, 2008
3:00 p.m. Rashomon
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1950)

New Print

The film that opened the world’s eyes to the pleasures of Japanese cinema, Rashomon is famous for telling the story of a brutal encounter in the woods outside Kyoto—a samurai and his wife are stopped by a bandit, the wife raped, the husband killed—from the perspectives of all the participants and witnesses. Whose story is “true”? Rashomon both celebrates and annihilates point-of-view—call it late Cubism or early postmodernism, in a twelfth-century postapocalyptic landscape. What is amazing is that this most storytelling of films is a kind of pure cinema: between Kurosawa’s instinctual direction and Kazuo Miyagawa’s virtuoso camera, there is almost no need for words. The camera writes the account of a gesture, enacts the rush of a forest breeze: truth expressed 24 frames per second, a little different each time. Standing out among a stellar cast is Toshiro Mifune’s bug-bitten bandit, his antics a foil for surprising, even confusing, depths.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto. Photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa. With Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo, Takashi Shimura. (88 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, Permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)