Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon was released in 1950, and was an early critical success for the director, quickly garnering international acclaim. The film won first prize at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, an honorary Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film as well as an Academy Award for Best Art Direction - Set Decoration. The film features several actors who would go on to work with Kurosawa in multiple projects, including Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, and Minoru Chiaki.
The story of Rashomon is deceptively simple. A murder and rape of a samurai and his bride, respectively, have taken place in the woods. But stories conflict on details of the murder, as several witnesses to some of the events share their testimony. A woodsman who was passing by, a notorious thief who raped the bride, the bride herself, and the spirit of the dead man speaking through a medium all offer differing accounts of what took place. As the story goes along we learn that all of them are, at least to some degree, lying, and the truth of the crime becomes more and more difficult to piece together.
The story is told in three arenas. The first involves flashbacks to the events that took place in the woods, as each person shares his/her account. Secondly, we see the witnesses on trial before an unseen judge, where before and after their flashbacks they answer further inquiries about the crimes. Finally, we have the woodsman, a priest, and an unspecified commoner trying to make sense of everything in the aftermath of the event, while seeking cover from a torrential downpour in a crumbling city gate.
Rashomon is the most unique of murder mysteries, because in amongst all its setup about murder, rape, and theft... it's not really about any of those. It's a mystery about lies; those we tell ourselves, those we tell others, and often how both are somehow ingrained into who we are, becoming completely unconscious acts. In fact, the story is just as likely to devolve into philosophical rumination on the nature of truth as it is to provide the next clue. The implication is that not only do we all view an event through our own lenses of experience and personal bias, but we do it so well that we're incapable of being able to ascertain objective truth at all. We re-imagine history according to our wishes, project our desires onto the past in place of actual events, and conjure motives in others that would have clouded our reasoning at the time. And these characters act as our proxy. Each witness mixes truth, self-denial, and speculation so fluidly that their faulty perception of the events probably becomes fractured truth in their own mind.