While Akira Kurosawa would go on to make fascinating, fantastic samurai films with Yojimbo, Sanjuro and Seven Samurai soon after this, it is hard not to credit Rashomon as an ultimately influential piece. Not just on his craft, but the work that would follow and draw from his style of storytelling. The “Rashomon effect” and its impact on what would soon become the unreliable narrator is a tool now utilised by many of those looking to sprinkle seeds of doubt in their film. Here is the source of all that, and Kurosawa did well to present this now conventional technique as a fresh-faced, innovative experience. He played with the very fabric of narrative and expectation, and the results are superb.
They are not great enough to exceed his other features in the same genre, but they are a display of his consistently good work. Personal preference is what it comes down to when choosing between Rashomon and another of the samurai features Kurosawa would offer. For me, you cannot beat the beast that inspired A Fistful of Dollars. Really, the presentation is the deal-breaker. Four different stories straddle together for one final climax. It is this system that would soon inspire so many, but it does not appeal to me. Innovative, absolutely, but interesting? I’m not too sure about that. These are good characters found within a solid story, but it does not elicit the emotive strengths Kurosawa could be known for in his later films, nor does it offer any extreme level of consistent, agonizingly good action, such as Yojimbo.
Such comparisons do no good though and considering Kurosawa broke through with Rashomon, it can certainly be considered his creative turning point. Heavy with thematics, Kurosawa is free to explore what he wishes. His stories are brutal and unremitting, hiding away within them some beacon of hope and truth. Take his ending, where the sun shines through. It juxtaposes those cloudy moments when we spend our time with cowards and bandits. There is a sense of change, it is clear as day, and there is an unwavering desire to showcase this exchange is not just a metaphorical one, but a literal one for the characters. Toshiro Mifune and Minoru Chiaki in particular as the bandit and priest respectively are tremendous, but outshine themselves later into their careers.
That is the issue with Rashomon. To go back to it after experiencing the finest of Kurosawa’s craft is a difficult ask and a hard task to manage. It is not a bad film, it is filled with symbolism and bold, expressive camerawork. His direction captures performers giving it their all, and that is all we can ask for. Simply put, it comes down to preference. Do you want to see a samurai take on a legion of bandits? Then look elsewhere into the filmography of Kurosawa. As innovative and interesting a piece of history Rashomon is, it does not hold within it the hardest-hitting characteristics of a Kurosawa classic, it merely flirts with the intention of displaying them fully. It never manages to do so.