This is an in-class essay I wrote for the midterm exam of my Japanese Film & Literature course. Obviously, this is a bit of a departure from what I normally write about on this blog (video games and anime), but I found the film and pieces of literature I talk about particularly interesting, so I thought I’d share links to these works and perhaps generate a discussion about them by archiving them on my blog.
The main differences between Akutagawa’s “In a Grove” and Kurosawa’s Rashomon are the additions of the Rashomon setting and the woodcutter’s statements at the end of the film. With these changes, Kurosawa accentuates the meaning conveyed in Akutagawa’s original work.
“In a Grove”, with its literary style and structure, presents to the reader a dilemma of ascertaining truth. Akutagawa also indicates that truth and falsehood are not clear-cut — they’re shades of the same spectrum; he accomplishes this message by spreading true, corroborating aspects throughout all of the characters’ testimonies.
The injection of the Rashomon into Kurosawa’s film adds onto Akutagawa’s original message in that the commoner from the short story faced a similar choice to the woodcutter (in the film): the commoner could die in righteousness or survive as a thief, as the woodcutter could risk the lives of his seven children to remain just or ensure their survival through the theft of an expensive dagger. As the Rashomon commoner was stuck between these two results, the woodcutter of the film was stuck with two people representing those ideals the monk (righteousness) and the thief (survival).
Finally, the most significant addition of the woodcutter’s second, “true” testimony allows Kurosawa to convey an additional comment on egotism. The thief, wife, and samurai’s overwhelming desire to preserve their image drove them to the extreme of admitting to the crime of murder. Kurosawa is able to achieve this concept visually when comparing Tajomaru’s description of an epic battle and the woodcutter’s depiction of two exhausted and hesitant men flailing at each other. In the woodcutter’s second testimony, Tajomaru hesitates, the samurai abandons his wife before he is killed, and the woman flees, despite her promise to Tajomaru — all of these details are possible reasons for them to lie and preserve their image.