“Rashomon” (Criterion) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It took the Golden Lion at Venice. It put Japanese master Akira Kurosawa on the international cinema map. And it remains one of his greatest, most sophisticated, and most powerful films. Shot under a dapple of light filtered through the leaves of a thick forest, this story of a crime told from the contradictory perspectives of the three participants and one onlooker, is one of his most visually splendid films, but under all that beauty is a subtle and captivating look at the changing perspectives of truth as seen through the eyes its storytellers, filtered through one man’s commentary, and finally viewed through the lens of a camera. With the shadowy look and elegant style of a silent masterpiece (wonderfully preserved in this new high-definition transfer, with restored image and sound) shot through a modernist perspective, it shook the film world with its audacity and its ingeniousness.
In his accompanying commentary track, Japanese film historian Donald Ritchie remarks that “the source of the movie is about relative truth but (Kurosawa) wanted to make a film about relative reality, which is an entirely different thing.” Through the course of his smartly observant commentary, Ritchie provides (in his own words) “an explication” of the film, examining the changing styles Kurasawa employs for the different stories and providing insight to the Japanese conventions both embraced and parodied by Kurosawa.
New to this edition is the sixty-eight-minute documentary “A Testimony as an Image” featuring interviews with cast and crew. Carried over from the previous DVD release is a six-minute video introduction by Robert Altman (“It changed my perception about what is possible in film and what is desirable”), a twelve-minute excerpt from the documentary “The World of Kazuo Miyagawa” featuring interviews with Miyagawa and Kurasawa discussing their collaboration on “Rashomon,” and an archival audio interview with actor Takashi Shimura. The accompanying booklets features an essay by film historian Stephen Prince, reprints of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove” and “Rashomon” (the source stories for the script) and an excerpt from Kurosawa’s book “Something Like an Autobiography.”