A Year: Day to Day Men: 20th of August, Solar Year 2018

Wild, Wild West

On August 20, 1951 Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” wion the Golden Lion at the 12th Venice Film Festival.

“Rashomon” is a 1950 Japanese period film directed by Akira Kurosawa, working in collaboration with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. It was based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story “In a Grove” which provided the characters and plot for the film. The plot device of the film involves various characters providing subjective, alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the murder of a samurai.

Akira Kurosawa, long a fan of silent films, wanted to simplify “Rashomon” in terms of sound and settings. Accordingly, there are only three settings in the film: the Rashomon Gate, the woods, and the courtyard. The gate and the courtyard are very simply constructed and the woodland is real. The film was scored by Fumio Hayasaka, who was among the most respected of Japanese composers. Hayasaka had already scored two of Kurosawa’s films, “Drunken Angel”  and “Stray Dog”, and had developed an artistic relationship with Kurosawa, contributing many ideas to the visual part of the films.

The cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa contributed numerous ideas, technical skill and expertise in support for what would be an experimental and influential approach to cinematography. For example, in one sequence, there is a series of single close-ups of the bandit, then the wife, and then the husband, which then repeats to emphasize the triangular relationship between them. “Rashomon” also had camera shots that were directly into the sun. The strong sunlight hitting the actors as if through tree branches was actually done by using mirrors to reflect the sun rays onto the actors.

Kurosawa often shot a scene with several cameras at the same time, so that he could cut the film freely and splice together the pieces which had caught the action more forcefully. He also used short shots edited together that trick the audience into seeing one shot. There are 407 individual shots in the body of the film, more than twice as usual films; however, these were edited so carefully that transitions never catch your attention.

The film appeared at the 1951 Venice Film Festival after being recommended to Italian film promotion agency Unitalia Film seeking a Japanese film to screen at the festival. However, the Japanese production company and the Japanese government had disagreed with the choice of Kurosawa’s work on the grounds that it was not representative enough of the Japanese movie industry. Despite these reservations, the film was screened at the festival and won both the Italian Critics Award and the Golden Lion award—introducing western audiences, including western directors, to both Kurosawa’s films and his techniques.

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