AkiraKurosawa was elevated to worldwide fame by the movie , whichwas released in 1950. The movie whose screenwriter was ShinobuHashimoto won the Golden Lyon an Oscar as well as the Best ForeignFilm and was based on two stories" " (1915), andIn a Grove" (1922), but the latter is particularly the mostfeatured. is a form of period films, but the main themes areuniversal as is the norm with most of Kurosawa`s movies. Indeed, is the movie that triggered the Kurosawa`s growing interestsin portraying the intricacies and weaknesses of humanity and thehuman soul.it is also the first film that Kurosawa co-produced withKazuo Miyagawa, who is one of the most celebrated cinematographers inJapan. The film is particularly similar to the silent films of the1920s and, in fact, this was one of the reasons given by the movie`sproducing company Daiei when they first rejected to produce .Diaei had also pointed out that the movie was confusing and that itwas unreasonably expensive especially the cost of the gate scene.
is set up in Japan 11 the century at a time were various plagues,famine, lawlessness and other natural disasters were common. In fact,it is noted that most religious leaders predicted that the world wasfacing the risk of annihilation. It is this issues that Kurosawa`smovie addresses specifically the battle for survival and the lack ofhumanity among the inhabitants in 11th century Japan. The moviesproduction is particularly interesting since it is an almost perfectcombination of an immersive cinematic atmosphere with histrionics andtheatrical staging. The movie comprises of eight characters inseveral settings. The main plot of the movie is the conflictingaccounts given by several witnesses to a murder. The first scene isat the Kyoto`s old city gate, , in the midst of heavyrainfall. The setting around the gate is particularly desolate andgloomy, seemingly to signify the darkness that had overshadowed humannature. It is here that we meet the first characters Minoru Chiaki(a priest) and Takashi Shimura, the woodcutter. The two seem to belost in their thought despite the heavy downfall that suggests thatsomething was bothering them. Kichijirô Ueda, a ready-and-roughcommoner, later joins them, and he immediately enquires if there wasany problem.
Itis here that Kurosawa reveals the first account and entersinto the witnesses, accounts. From the accounts given, firstly thewoodcutter and then the priest it is evident that they are bothtalking about the murder of a samurai. The woodcutter declares hediscovered the body in the forest a few days earlier. The woodcutteralso states that he found the Samurai`s wife at the scene, and shealso offers her account. These first three characters are the onlydirect witnesses the other is Tajômaru a dangerous bandit, who isthe alleged killer and rapist. The Samurai`s testimony is in the forma medium. The witnesses give a similar account, at leaststructure-wise that the samurai and his wife were ambushed by thebandit who kidnapped them and later raped the samurai`s wife.However, the accounts are also contradictory regarding the actualmurder as well as the motivation behind the atrocities committed bythe bandit.
,apart from the gloomy, atmospheric setting, is well staged, inparticular, the bandit`s and the samurai`s wife, Machiko Kyô,theatrics gives the movie the entertaining side. The structure of thenarrative is also well crafted to ensure that the tales told by thewitnesses contradict each other while at the same time beingself-serving. In fact, all the tales portray each character as heroicand principled apart from the woodcutter`s last account that might beinterpreted to show the flaws in the other tales. In this regard, thewoodcutter`s account may be seen to represent the truth behind themurder. In all the tales the notion that the samurai`s wife, perhaps,wanted her husband dead arises. Also, it is seen as though thewoodcutter had something to do with the disappearance of the murderweapon, a dagger. In fact, the evidence from the accounts givensuggests that the woodcutter was trying to conceal this theft. Forinstance when he exclaims on hearing that the Samurai was notmurdered by a sword, (in his second account the woodcutter claimedthat the murder weapon was a sword), the bandit infers that thewoodcutter must have been present at the murder scene and that he hidthe dagger because it had a jewelry coated handle.
TheSamurai, through the medium, also recounts that before he totallylost consciousness he felt someone draw the knife from his body. Ofcourse, this suggests that the second account given by the woodcuttermight not be completely correct. This is also a further twist andcontradiction in Kurosawa`s movie as it is evident that thewoodcutter was also motivated by selfish intentions. Indeed, poses ta larger twist and it is impossible to comprehend the truth.The original story, In the Grove, suggests that this is totallyimpossible, but there are hints in Kurosawa`s movie. In ,Kurosawa leaves the audience is suspense seemingly inviting theviewers to make their own decision regarding the true nature of themurder. Indeed using the simple technique of placing the camera inthe judge`s position. In fact even in the flashbacks the focus issolely on the narrator .another important scene that in the movie isthe when the cinematographer points directly at the sun. This was ataboo at the time, therefore, making the scene infamous yet withdeeply rooted implications. This scene also shows the woodcutterwalking in the forest and at one time the sun becomes almost visible.A critical look into the deep meaning portrayed by Kurosawa mightsuggest that this entrance into the forest was part of the broaderproverb that suggests nothing can be guarantee with the human nature.Essentially Kurosawa paints the idea that humanity and the human soulis easily lost. Moreover, the other technique used by Kurosawa theconstant switch between shadows and light advances the same theme.
Nonetheless,there are some evident themes that the movie by Kurosawa highlights.Firstly, it evident that the movie is a critique of the unwillingnessof the characters to tell the truth typically this was the situationat the time in Japan. The other issue concerns honor on thecharacters` part. In this regard all the tales recounted by thecharacters suggest that the narrators are attempting to emphasizetheir honor, in fact, it seems they are all obsessed with the idea ofoutshining each other. For instance in the bandit`s story he suggeststhat he had the greatest honor and the hero of the story. Indeed, hepaints the others as heroes in their own rights but is greater due tothe fact he overcame them all. The bandit`s story is also fascinatingwhere in the flashback he is seen as less of a human and more like awild animal. Tajômaru is shown hunching down and scratching theground, almost like a dog, at times he laughs like a hyena and hisseslike a snake. Essentially the bandit is portrayed as trying to stamphis authority where he is seen as cunning, fearless warrior, andtrickster. He also brags of his prowess to make even married womenfall for him despite the fact that he was a rapist. Kurosawa`s moviealso tells the fight that ensued between the bandit and the samuraiin favor of the former. In fact in the flashbacks Tajômaru is seenas constantly taunting the seemingly unskilled and weak samurai.
Whenrecounting his tale to the other characters, the bandit also claimsthat no one dared cross his path despite the numerous thefts he hadcommitted. Tajômaru actually goes to the extent of claiming that hiscapture was merely because he was ill after consuming poisonouswater. Regarding the Samurai`s wife, the main concerns that she holdsare humiliation and the shame she underwent at the hands of thebandit. In fact, she states that the idea of living under so muchcontempt was unbearable. In the tale told by the Samurai`s wife, itis clear that she was guilty in her own right. This is guilt is shownby her facial impression as she begs her husband`s medium not to killher for what had happened. The wife even tells the husband not tolook at her with contempt. The Dead Samurai on his part also advancesthe idea of honor indeed his story could be interpreted to show thatthe bandit had a certain degree of honor, and the wife is totallydishonorable. This is also advanced through the tale told by themedium. In real sense, it also serves to advance the idea that theSamurai`s wife was also guilty.
Firstlythe tale is told in the form of a flashback where the settingrepresents a trial proceeding. The emotions of guilt are immediatelymanifested by both the wife, in her facial expression, and the gloomyatmosphere with as well as the howling wind. Besides as the mediumrecounts what was told to him by the dead Samurai the he suggeststhat the deceased was utterly ashamed of his wife`s role in thedeath. In fact, the medium states that according to the Samurai, thewife pleaded with the bandit to kill him. At the last scene at a timewhen all other scenes suggested that humanity could not be savedKurosawa`s movie reaches a climax with a glimpse of optimism that allwas not lost for the human soul. Specifically in a bid to redeemhimself, the woodcutter decides to adopt a baby that he and thepriest found abandoned at the back of the town`s gate. The impressionbeing that he sought to redeem his soul after stealing the murderweapon.
Mifune,Toshirō, Akira Kurosawa, and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. .Los Angeles, CA: Embassy Home Entertainment, 1986.