Rashomon: The meta-allegory of web-life gate, authority and power, and the harmonious waltz of objectivity and subjectivity 

Rashomon (1950) is a bone-jarring movie that has been still a remarkable masterpiece in the contemporary era. The movie is about the death of a nobleman and the rape of his wife, which were the events recapped by the four discrete points of views, and these four views of witnesses are leaving the audience puzzled about “who is telling the truth” or “whether a single truth really exists?” (Roth & Mehta 2002). This reputable artwork indisputably is woven with the core keywords of political science and the main controversial questionings of social sciences. To dive into these knitted topics, this paper aims to provide an exegesis of this movie through the three segments: the general message supposed to be given by the gate, the concepts of authority and power, and the commentary on the general issue of subjectivity and objectivity. 

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Devastated Rashomon Gate which was flooded in the cinematic scenery, 1950

The scene opens with the overpouring rain adding a dark, gloomy atmosphere to the movie’s contexture, and we see three characters taking shelter under the Rashomon Gate. To begin with, back then, this gate was the flamboyant entrance of the ancient capital city, Kyoto. Still, in the film, it is an ancient edifice where the glorious posture is irreparably decayed. This gate is a mega-allegory for underlying the social cohesion on the Japanese virtues, and Martinez (2019) states that this moral iniquity is seen in the characters: 

From the very opening of the film, we are presented with characters who do not fit their Japanese stereotypes: the priest has lost his faith, the humble woodcutter is probably a thief, the commoner definitely is, the bold bandit is cowardly, the samurai bristling with weapons is easily subdued, and the beautiful wife is not silent (a great virtue for Japanese woman) and she is possibly not virtuous either (p. 38-39).

According to several Rashomon critiques, it is alleged that this film is about the social repercussion flourished by Japan’s catastrophic defeat in Second World War and its entrance to the Occupation era. It is stated that Westerners are exposed to the traditional Japanese attributions, which are brutality, avarice, and savagery, and these qualities are exhibited mostly through the bandit (Davidson, 1954). In the movie, the bandit is thrilled by the noblewoman’s beauty, and he bridles successfully on the samurai to possess his wife through raping. We can also attribute the samurai’s qualifications as a previously-stalwart defender of Japan. This country can be concretized with the woman because both have opulent assets that are attractive for the corrupters. It is stated that the unforeseen invasion of American might in the Second World War was destructive of the Japanese industry, and it again disrupted the cultural disposition of Japans, authority-bound people were forced to accept the democratic values, and they had to accommodate themselves to the “barbarian invaders” (Linden, 1973). According to Davidson (1954), this accommodation is matched through the new-born baby who cries on the rotten gate: 

There is a striking similarity with a final scene in “The Well-Digger’s Daughter” where the unmarried mother, the repentant father, and the grandparents, separated by social barriers, are united around the crib of the baby. Raimu, as the well-digger, has a speech in which he urges that the past be forgotten in love for the child. “For here,” he says, “is our hope. Here is France.” The French in 1946 needed hope in which to sink the bitter divisions of the past. Post-war Japan needs a belief on which to found on duty. (…) The old vision of a hopeful future springing from a glorious past is lost, and the way to its recovery lies through a maze of doubtful thoughts about misfortune, guilt, and shame. Yet there is a new Japan, which demands love and care, like the abandoned child, not because of its auspicious or legitimate beginnings, but because it is alive and will perish without them. (p. 499) 

The people, from left to right, commoner, priest, woodcutter, who take shelter under the Rashomon Gate to be protected from the intensive flood and who gets plunged into an interrogative discussion of unparagoned trial, 1950

Besides the symbolism of the social disruption, it is stated that the name of this gate also means “web-life-gate” (Anderson, 2016). This meaning is vital in underlying the web-alike and complex conversations circuiting around the essence of human nature, setting forth from the four different interpretations of the incident of homicide. It is stated that the realistic perspective is given by the commoner who thinks humanity is self-regarding and inherently thoughtless; simultaneously, the Buddhist monk sticks on an idealistic perspective by assuming that humans are rational beings and they overcome the defiant reality by rationalizing the deception, which is the part of the illusion as a needful material (McDonald, 1982). And the “web-life” term can be accredited to the complex forest surrounding where the threes, ivies, and branches are adjoined together, and this intermixed place is where the insolvably-mingled disputes and discords ensuing about the occurrence of the homicide among the four participants. Finally, this term can be applied to the disastrous period of the political world in Second World War times in which the conflictive and political interests are harshly contested, and it was the period in which each political actor advocated their outlook of ideology as the supreme while they disregarded others as being composed of falsifications, and this links with the concept of subjectivity and objectivity. 

The term of authority is significant in this movie. All characters ratify the privileged status and authority-orientated identity of the noble couple. Police forces opt in the investigation, attesters and defendants are summoned to court for submitting their testimony. These official procedures are specially activated because the corpse belongs to a noteworthy person. The application of the same meticulous process would not be seen as worthful to a casual corpse belonging to someone in a lower position. Anderson (2016) highlights this veracity of authority:  

Ask yourself whether this story would have become legendary if the body in the forest had been the bandit’s body. Cinematically this might have been quite effective, but would either of the other two principals (the samurai his wife) have claimed responsibility for killing him? Would the dead man’s spirit accept responsibility for his own death, as the nobleman does speaking through the spirit medium? Socially we know that the judge listens carefully to testimonies because the nobleman’s body is more important than a bandit’s (…) What if the body had been the lady’s body? How compelling would that have been? (p. 258) 

The bandit giving a testimony under the supervision of the police, 1950

Interestingly, the bandit is also acknowledged the nobleman’s politically-prosperous posture to a slight extent, although he is an aloof drifted away from the social community, and his lifestyle is conjuring up with the so-called state of nature. His separation from the collective course is not an obstacle to resign himself to the gravity of nobleman superiority over the lower class. This is why as an outcast vagrant, he is initially reluctant to murder an elite person whose stance is consolidated in a legally-irreproachable manner, and it is verified by his own account: “At that moment I decided to capture her, even if I had to kill her man. Nevertheless, if I could have her without killing, all the better.” As it is conspicuous, he wants to avoid the corollary of nobleman’s casualty, and he is aware that his solidarity from the collective organism does not exempt him from the socially-accepted codes, enforcement of the law, and non-circumvention.  

However, his personal actions are not indwelled within the total confinement of laws and unquestionable rightfulness attributed to authority holders. To a certain extent, he is relatively free from the onus of socially-accepted provisions, somewhat dictating ruled subjects to bow down on authorized people without resistance. His mindset is generally programmed to the survival of the robust in the physical sense, so in his account of the incident, the authoritative custody of unchallengeable acceptance does not have a binding effect on him to suppress his fervor for skirmish with samurai over his wife. It does not obstruct him from electrifying a “power over” struggle by executing coercion and the naked force for subordinating the samurai to reach his desired outcome, the transgression with the noblewoman.  

The power-demonstrating skirmish involving the bandit, nobleman and noblewoman, 1950

In the intersection point of whole versions of telling, power relations and discords are conspicuously revolving around the two genders. Generally, the female is subjected to the effigy of frailty, she is viewed as a weak person dispersing tears to compensate for her physical impotence over men, and the female is introduced as a seductive person who entices the men. On the other side, all males’ perception is confined to the scope of power verification, they are determined to protect their dignity and honor through the “manly” conflicts, and the woman is one of the assets they fight over stamping their strength, deserving her pulchritude or being the protector of her dignity.  

This movie is fecund on producing vivid discussions on the controversial issue of subjectivity and objectivity and the nature of truth, which are interlinked with the ken of social sciences. The enunciations displayed in the movie have discursiveness that dissociates with each other; no immense coherency and consistency are gluing them all together in the mutual ground. The idiosyncratic elements embedded in their enunciations cause ramification of the ‘’actual’’ incident, and this situation complicates the process of resolution; this contradiction makes it difficult to reach a consensus. The absence of clear evidence contributes to the distortion of “objective,” “value-free” information, and it does not contribute to the detection of whose allegation is more approximate to falsehood or more approximate to righteousness. This is the striking point where the film drags us to grip a slight message; this slight message is an objection to the materialistic view which alleges that our ideas emerge from the source of the sensory world. According to this view, ideas are the concrete perceptions of the physical environment and the spiritual realm is non-effective to formalize the framework of our thoughts. Starting from this point, in likely assumption, this movie criticizes the objective approach that neglects the determinants of social background because they are normative values that cannot be converted to scientific credentials and quantitative data. We can probably remark that this movie uplifts the interpretive approach’s defenders, who underline the importance of these determinants for analyzing the ideas composing an individual mentality through a full-fledged lens. However, in this Rashomon case, these two approaches cannot crack the pressuring point switching between the truth and lie. This case is completely unsolvable to the inadequacy of proofs according to positivist sentiments, while this case is increasingly patterned in knotty form when we dive into the personal acknowledgment of each participant according to anti-positivist sentiments. So, their accounts are all “objectively lies,” yet “subjectively truths” since two of the sentiments fail to discover the real facet of happenings in the movie. Martinez (2009) raises this concern depending on Richie’s translation of Rashomon (1987:86) as it is illustrated in the following passage: 

…Moreover, a case brought before the court has failed to find the truth. Everyone has lied. But what is the nature of these lies? Each of the defendants says they did it. Only Richie, in this discussion of the film, notes the important fact that everyone is telling the truth — as far as their subjective view of the events is honest, they each believe they have killed. The shock for the priest and the woodcutter is that everyone thinks they did it. The possibility that they are all lying is repeatedly raised by the commoner, who gets the woodcutter to admit that he saw all the events and then hints that it could have been the woodcutter who murdered the husband. If, as Richie playfully argues, this is true, what does this mean? Why do the three main characters lie and say, “I did it”? Would it not be more obvious to say, as does the woodcutter, a possible suspect, “I didn’t do it?” Why does the priest say that “If men do not tell the truth… then the earth becomes a kind of hell”? Men, and woman, have told their version of the truth, so is the earth not a kind of hell? (p. 39) 

A scenery displaying the interlinked dance of light and shadows on objects, 1950

As highlighted in this passage, each account interestingly does not claim that they are not the committer of murder, although it would be more plausible to denounce each other for being exempted from the punishment. It is because that their actual aim is to garble the shared reality with their own illusionary manner of the telling; they aim to cajole the audience and themselves with deceptive euphemism, concealing their blind spots of immorality, impotence, wickedness, and desperateness. All of the participants confess their trepidations and their own interpretation with the attitude of open-heartedness and candor; this is something we should glorify and postulate the whole of the accounts despite the misleading statements. If we convert this scene into a metaphorical allegory, absolute truth would be the resemblance of the light, while our peculiar perceptions would be the resemblance of the shadows. It is an indisputable fact that the light’s entity would not be separated from the presence of the shadow; every shadow tracks every light. The form of shadows is mutable regarding the angle of the light reflecting on them; some of them are thin and long, some of them are large and short, or some of them are like a dot. As it is seen crystal clear in the movie, the sunbeams bump to numerous objects such as people, gate, trees, and leaves; these bumpings are filtered differently through these objects and these objects generates their own peculiar fainted shades. Similarly to this, our outside-world perceptions are the shadows produced from the source of light, and these perceptions are filtered in accordance with our inner characteristics and mentality, which are the “angles,” and they create their own fainted shades as a consequence. Even in this troublesome movie, there is a combination of objective and subjective elements, the shadows are the given accounts, and the “factual” lights are the dead body of the nobleman, the power struggle in the forest, the incident of rape, the woman’s hat, the sword, and the dagger. The precisive reality of light and the relativity of shadows walk hands in hands; in other words, objectivity and subjectivity are merged into one entity. Therefore, the argument of “no objective truth is in non-existence” and the argument of “one should invest in the subjective truth” have deficient spots; even in the utter darkness of night, the sun is shining in disguise, so wouldn’t be false to focus solely on the search for objectivity or subjectivity? 

To recapitulate, the rusty and devastated gate stands for social deprivation and the struggle against the penetration of foreign influence. The name of the gate stands for the complex ramifications seen in the intellectual discussions about human nature. The ramifications seen in the totally-different conveyance of the single event occurred in the forest, which is equated with the discords occurring in World politics. Authority is preserving the overall significance throughout the movie to a certain extent, and power struggles are mainly based on the cross-sex ground. The movie sheds light on the problematic features of subjective and objective means through the lack of superior proof and versatile accounts. It is argued that subjectivity and objectivity are inseparable like light and shadow, so it objects to the sole investment in subjectivity and the absolute non-existence of the truth. 

References 

Anderson, R. (2016). The Rashomon effect and communication. Canadian Journal of  

Communication, 41(2). 

Davidson, J. F. (1954). Memory of Defeat in Japan: A Reappraisal of” Rashomon”.  

The Antioch Review, 14(4), 492-501. 

Linden, G. (1973). Five views of ‘’Rashomon’’. Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 56(4),  

393-411, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41177896 

Martinez, D. P. (2009). Rashomon: The Problem of Subjectivity. In Remaking Kurosawa (pp.  

31-42) Palgrave Macmillan, New York. 

McDonald, K. I. (1982). Light and Darkness in Rashomon. Literature/Film Quarterly, 10(2),  

120. 

Roth, W. D., & Mehta, J. D. (2002). The Rashomon effect: Combining positivist and  

interpretivist approaches in the analysis of contested events. Sociological methods & research, 31(2), 131-173. 

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