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Rashomon

Year: 1950
Production Co: Dailei Film Corporation
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writer: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune
Films are a life form. They have DNA, they're born of ascendant organisms and they produce offspring who succeed to varying degrees in passing on their own genes. Two examples prove that hypothesis...

In the post-war years of sunny California when Saturday matinees were packing the picture theatres with unruly teenagers, two kids named Lucas and Spielberg revelled in the way those serialised westerns, sci-fi and comic strip heroes were bought to life. Films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars that redefined cinema and coined the term 'blockbuster' were the direct descendants of Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy and The Adventures of Captain Marvel.

During the home video boom of the 1980s, a young buck working in a Venice Beach video store voraciously consumed what's nowadays termed 'cult' cinema; the spaghetti westerns of Leone, the blood-splattered orgies of the Golden Harvest canon that catered to a more liberal audience with none of the PG-13 marketing demands of Hollywood and the virtual snuff movies of the video nasty era, their routine banning giving them an air of irresistible mystique.

As even the casual filmgoer knows, Tarantino is now an adjective, and films once routinely dismissed as cheap trash like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill are the new New Wave, wearing the term 'cheap trash' on their sleeves like a badge of honour.

So it's inevitable in this era of movie-going 'in the know' cool that the influences of wildly popular movies get a new lease on life. How many DVD covers in recent times have proclaimed 'the inspiration for... [insert your favourite cult blockbuster here] !'

And in repeatedly citing his influences as (among others) Akira Kurosawa, Spielberg has spawned an industry, that of the collection of Kurosawa films with the express purpose of saying 'Of course, Spielberg was heavily influenced by The Seven Samurai and I have the Criterion edition'.

As in many movies, we can only suspend disbelief so far. Kurosawa had some classics. Rashomon is not one of them. If you've been guilty of pretending to love this torturous ordeal, you need a slap with an aluminium samurai sword. It's a classic example of a film universally beloved by critics which would (and probably is) treated with anything from indifference to scorn by the casual video shop shelf browser. 'This crap led directly to Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park?' they'd say 'don't pull my Jake the Peg.'

You see, every now and then you have to take off your critics cap and find that child inside, the one whose hairs on the back of your little neck stood up watching the Imperial star destroyer roar overhead after the rebel blockade runner. The child who immediately knew it would be the best film he'd ever see in his life, regardless of the hammy acting and infantile dialogue.

Test Kurosawa's finest for yourself; get a completely uninitiated chin-scratcher (as opposed to a chin stroker), sit them in front of clips from both Rashomon and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ask them which is the undisputed classic that's influenced one of the best directors alive today and which is universally accepted as the worst movie ever made. Be honest with yourself too - in tone and style, they're not that different.

Sure, it's the first time this sort of thing was shown in a movie, and praise be to writers Kurosawa, Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Shinobu Hashimoto for giving us the seeds that would grow into Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects. The film's one triumph is in making us question the nature of truth in what we see. If someone tells you what happened, you know it might not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Why should it be any different if a movie shows you what happened?

We join a perplexed and miserable-looking pair sheltering from the rain at the old, run down Rashomon gate in Kyoto. When a stranger shows up and asks them to tell the story that's got them so down at the mouth, they have four stories to tell - each from a witness to the terrible event and each quite different.

Apparently a psychotic criminal has followed a beautiful woman and her samurai husband through the forest. He's attacked them, raping the woman and killing the husband. Or has he? Through the devices of a dropped scarf, an upturned dagger and a dead body, we hear each account of what transpired and are left questioning both our own certainty and our faith in humanity, more than ever needing to find that abandoned baby to remind us what innocence looks like.

Doesn't sound so bad, does it?

Even the term 'ethnic cleansing' could be describing a communal shower until you see it in action.

The hallmarks of Kurosawa's appeal to the chin strokers (as opposed to the chin-scratchers) are the stuff that'll drive you insane; long, slow, lazy sequences where absolutely nothing happens. See something behind you? Take two full minutes to turn around and look for full dramatic effect.

Even the fight scenes are dull. Kurosawa might not have wanted an epic battle of titans a la Ben Kenobi vs Darth Vader, but surely the technology and technique in 1950 allowed for a little more than what looked like two 12 year olds in a playground scuffle... after ten minutes of circling each other.

That sort of overstyling is the whole problem with the film. Critics claim Kurosawa knew what he was doing - magnifying reality to help tell the story instead of - like Ed Wood - simply not having the talent to do it any better.

Just watch the bandit having his day in court. If Rashomon hadn't single-handedly inspired the Academy Award for best Foreign Film, it would have cleaned up the Oscar for Worst Forced Laughter. If there isn't one of those, how about Dodgiest Sexual Politics, where a rape victim promptly falls in love with her attacker just because she doesn't love her husband?

The chin-strokers are right, there are some good shots and the story is engaging, and those elements alone give Rashomon its credibility. But just like a girl with beautiful breasts and little else is never going to be enough to sustain a long and fulfilling marriage, there's a lot more to a good film. If that girl turns out to be a gold diggin' ho, the relationship will soon turn. With one of the most irritating delivery techniques ever in a movie, Rashomon is all the worst behaviours of a gold diggin' ho who just happens to have beautiful breasts.

So film critics everywhere; who the fuck are you kidding? To the rest of us; just watch the black turtleneck brigade genuflect and try not to snigger. 'Ooooooh,' they'll say, stroking their goatees and clutching their berets to their weedy chests, 'he was the first director to shoot straight into the sun.' Well la-de-bloody-da. John Waters was the first director to get an actor to eat dog shit, and he's not shaping young minds to be the filmmakers who'll own the industry in a generation.

Hang on...

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