This month we celebrate the 70th anniversary of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon!
The film is famously known for having an unreliable narrator. The story changes as its is retold when the perspective changes from one person to the next. What is the truth? Is it the bandit? The samurai’s wife? The ghost? The outside witness? Maybe it’s none of the above?
The movie is the origin of a term called “the Rashomon effect,” where eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. The Australian Institute for Progress Ltd vs. The Electoral Commission of Queensland & Ors defines it as such: “The Rashomon effect describes how parties describe an event in different and contradictory manner, which reflects their subjective interpretation and self-interested advocacy, rather than an objective truth.”
The subjectivity of truth is often present in movies as well. Zhang Yimou’s Hero presents a shifting narrative that changes along with the color palette. There is no objective truth, the movie surmises, since no one telling the story can even get the basic color palette right. Vantage Point juggles through different points of view, rewinding time back to the beginning, and filling in elements that didn’t add up upon the first telling. Kill Bill pulls this trick as well. The massacre at the El Paso church is first seen from the perspective of the sheriff, then that of the bride, and finally that of Bill — with the motivations of the other members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad filled in over the course of two movies. Heist films like the Oceans movies are especially good at this, with one party thinking the entire time that they have the upper hand, outsiders being befuddled, and the thieves showing us how the events played out from their point of view.
Today’s bonus prompt: what is your favorite film that visualizes the same event from different perspectives?
Next week’s prompt: movies where the city is a character.