Category Archives: Rashomon

Unfolding the Narrative of Rashomon

It is accurate to say that a vast majority of films contain a narrative form, or a structure through which movies tell stories. Audiences usually have certain expectation pertaining to the narrative of a film. These expectations are usually derived from an original film, a film of the same genre, the trailer, online production, or a book or novel from which the film came. For example, when Harry Potter came out, many people expected the narrative of the film to be exactly like the book. Also, after seeing other previous films, viewers expect there to be characters and action, connected incidents, conflict and resolution, and emotion and meaning. They expect there to be elements that create a story. Narratives are also a series of events usually connected by cause and effect. When something happens in a film, it leads to another. This is what creates the flow of the movie.

Now that we understand narrative form we can see how the narrative structure can vary. Films mostly contain a linear structure meaning that it is an ordered story with a beginning, middle and an end. Some contain non-linear structures meaning many things. For instance, the narrative can show many stories in the course of the film. It can also perhaps jump through time with either flashbacks or time travel. Either way, the story is not a constant flow of an occurrence.

One of my favorite examples of narrative structure is the film, Rashomon. It is actually famous for its inconventional narrative organization. Rashomon reveals several characters’ story or point of view of the same situation. As a man gets killed in the woods and his wife gets raped, many witnessed account for what they saw. All have a different story and the audience sees all flashbacks of the witnesses. The overall story of the four witnesses giving their point of view is also being told to a commoner in a gatehouse. In other words, this film is a story within a story within a story.

The idea of cause and effect is also confused in the film. Neither one of the stories being told effects the other stories, but within each story being told where the characters are giving their accounts of what they say really happened, there is a cause an effect. For instance, in one of the interpretations, the wife kills her husband because he admits that he does not need her. The cause being her husband’s words and the effect being her action of killing him. In general, however, there is no overall cause and effect that add to the flow of the entire story.

Finally, the characters and conclusion are not a commonality in many Hollywood narratives. The characters are less active in the film and tend to use their energy to contemplate the situation. They also seem to be self-serving and unreliable making the audience hard to relate with them. It is also difficult to figure out who really is telling the truth. None of the characters have a justifiable lead over the others. As for the conclusion of the film, it remains open-ended. The truth about what actually happens is unresolved and the audience is left to think about who’s story was the right one. 

Because the narrative in Rashomon is so different than what audiences are used to, audiences are more attracted to it. The style of the film and the way it was organized influenced many other films previously made. This film also used its differences in narrative structure to create a message for the viewers. This message is that it is impossible to comprehend truth. Now many other filmmakers use this tactic of manipulating the narrative structure to show themes of the film and to give audiences something to think about. A more recent example it The Time Traveler’s Wife. This film keeps the viewers thinking as they never know what is about to happen with the continuous jumping in time.