I had lunch today with two old friends from my volunteer days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Barb and Jayne. Among many other things, we talked about memory: how some events that people close to us remember vividly, we remember not at all. Or, alternatively, that common experience of you remembering an event one way, and me remembering it completely differently. (Of course, I'm right.)
That brought to my mind a movie by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa—a famous movie. Its title just wouldn't come. No, not Kagemusha or Yojimbo, the first names to jump into my head (though both those, from 1980 and 1961, respectively, are also by Kurosawa—he was prolific, and not uncommonly his films were masterpieces). I gave Barb and Jayne a brief synopsis of the movie (as I somewhat vaguely remembered it) and shook off my memory lapse, saying, "The name'll come."
On the drive home, I played that game that perhaps you do too, when you want to summon a word or name: I ran through the alphabet. Round about I my mind started to tingle, but no—not I. (Ikiru, another of Kurosawa's films, was not the name I sought.) As I skipped right past L and arrived at M, a small light bulb went off: wait—does the Japanese word for "gate" occur in the title? What's that word? Oh, mon, yes. One word; the title is a single word—something-mon. Onward I skimmed, and then slammed on the brakes at R: of course! Rashomon!
Starring a thirty-year-old Toshiro Mifune and surprise winner of the 1951 Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion Award, Rashomon (1950) falls in the popular category of jidaigeki (時代劇), or period drama, a genre that usually focuses on the Edo period (1603–1868) and tells the stories of samurai, farmers, craftsmen, merchants, and other ordinary people. The Seven Samurai is an infinitely (and internationally) remade example of jidaigeki.
I was happy to be reminded of Rashomon. It is excellent storytelling, with an interesting structure: a framing story in which three men sit out a rainstorm beneath the huge city gate, recounting an incident involving rape and murder that occurred three days previously; scenes from the intervening trial follow, which includes the testimony of the dead man (via a medium). None of the four basic accounts of the incident agrees in its details or the supposed motivations, with ego, honor, and fickle memory obscuring the facts. What is the objective truth? Is it even humanly accessible?
I wonder if I'm ready for a Kurosawa binge via Netflix. I can think of worse uses of my time.