And the main question becomes not "whodunnit" but "how can literally everyone be lying about it"? The effect is that everyone remains a suspect, all are culpable, and the very heart of man becomes that much darker as some of the characters reflect on whether we are even capable of true honesty. And it's in this angle that the story reveals a couple of structural flaws. First the actors spend a lot of time being incredulous at the idea of people lying - even themselves - instead of grasping the simple self-realization of their own bias and then working back from there. It's a thematic melodrama that becomes more of a zen rabbit trail than a completely plausible scenario. Secondly, and relatedly, the actors often dramatize this with overacting. Although part of it is intentional and relates back to these skewed flashback dramatizations, part of it isn't and is simply an over-the-top style that frequently pops up.
But even with its imperfections, Rashomon is deeply affecting and somehow burrows its way into your subconscious and keeps popping up for days afterwards, relating itself to a myriad of circumstances. I revisited this film during the time of the recent presidential election, and its themes of conflicting realities were far too easily transferred over to the political arena. As well as the news arena. And to religious tensions, racial divides, generational differences, and class warfare, not to mention actual warfare. In the context of a court trial, these philosophical rumblings could have been a melodramatic stumbling block. But yet they still speak to something much deeper, and much more serious.
At the beginning of the film, one of the first utterances we hear is "I just don't understand." Kurosawa uses it first as a story device, a springboard to begin explaining events to the audience, so that we can quickly move from a place of not understanding what's going on to being involved with the story. But it's a recurring theme, and each time invokes meaning that's a little darker. We never fully understand the true details of the story's world, of exactly what happened, and the implication is that our own dark hearts and self-deception may keep us separated from some of the truth in our world as well.
Video / Audio
Rashomon has never looked better than in this new restoration, offering obvious visual upgrades to even the previous Criterion release. The overall image feels much less soft, with impressive detail in everything from the forest concourse to sweat dripping from the characters faces. The image is also much less prone to flicker, and artifacts and debris are considerably reduced. There is some faint scratch/stress marks evident on the print - mostly in lighter scenes against a white background - but it's slight and might have cut into the natural filmic look if scrubbed away. Still, in all this is a very impressive visual presentation and easily the best the film has looked.