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Rashomon Rashômon

Akira Kurosawa / Japan / 1950 / 88 min / Japanese

A woman is raped in a forest by a bandit, and her samurai husband murdered. In court the dead warrior, communicating through a medium, his wife, the bandit (Toshirô Mifune) and a spying woodcutter provide contradicting accounts of the crimes that were committed. But whose version can be believed?

Akira Kurosawa's seminal classic Rashomon revolutionized film language with its pioneering use of flashbacks, questioning truth and reality itself through ingenious juxtaposition. Widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, it won the Golden Lion at Venice and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1951, introducing Japanese cinema – and a commanding new star Toshirô Mifune – to Western audiences. 

»Since the advent of the talkies in the 1930s, I felt, we had misplaced and forgotten what was so wonderful about the old silent movies. I was aware of the aesthetic loss as a constant irritation. I sensed a need to go back to the origins of the motion picture to find this peculiar beauty again; I had to go back into the past. In particular, I believed that there was something to be learned from the spirit of the French avant-garde films of the 1920s. Yet in Japan at this time we had no film library. I had to forage for old films, and try to remember the structure of those I had seen as a boy, ruminating over the aesthetics that had made them special. Rashomon would be my testing ground, the place where I could apply the ideas and wishes growing out of my silent-film research. To provide the symbolic background atmosphere, I decided to use the Akutagawa In a Grove story, which goes into the depths of the human heart as if with a surgeon’s scalpel, laying bare its dark complexities and bizarre twists. These strange impulses of the human heart would be expressed through the use of an elaborately fashioned play of light and shadow. In the film, people going astray in the thicket of their hearts would wander into a wider wilderness, so I moved the setting to a large forest.«
- Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography (1982)

»Rashomon /…/ is an example not only of the great Kurosawa at the height of his powers – working with his regular collaborator, the imposing Toshirô Mifune – but of cinematic storytelling at its most daring. With its multiple contradictory flashbacks conspiring to present truth as an amorphous entity, Rashomon has been hugely influential on film structure and vocabulary in the 60 years since it was made. But this formalist significance should not overshadow the picture's visual eloquence, and the extraordinary cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, which uses the intricate woodland setting as a metaphor for the story's tangled emotions.«
- Ryan Gilbey, The Guardian

»Rashomon (1950) struck the world of film like a thunderbolt. Directed by Kurosawa in the early years of his career, before he was hailed as a grandmaster, it was made reluctantly by a minor Japanese studio, and the studio head so disliked it that he removed his name from the credits. Then it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, effectively opening the world of Japanese cinema to the West. It won the Academy Award as best foreign film. It set box office records for a subtitled film. Its very title has entered the English language, because, like Catch-22, it expresses something for which there is no better substitute. /…/ It was the first use of flashbacks that disagreed about the action they were flashing back to. /…/ The genius of Rashomon is that all of the flashbacks are both true and false. True, in that they present an accurate portrait of what each witness thinks happened. False, because as Kurosawa observes in his autobiography, 'Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.'

The wonder of Rashomon is that while the shadowplay of truth and memory is going on, we are absorbed by what we trust is an unfolding story. The film's engine is our faith that we'll get to the bottom of things /…/.«
- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

»I may have had my theories about my subject, but he was not interested in theory. He was interested only in practice – how to make films more convincing, more real, more right. He would have agreed with Picasso’s remark that when critics get together they talk about theory, but when artists get together they talk about turpentine. He was interested in focal lengths, in multiple camera positions, in colour values, just as he was interested in convincing narrative, in consistent characters, and in the moral concern that was his subject. I do not think he even considered himself an artist. He talked about his methods as though he were a carpenter or a mason. And he was old-fashioned enough to believe in the traditional Japanese lack of distinction between the arts and the crafts.«
- Donald Richie, Remembering Kurosawa (The Criterion Collection)

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