- Purchase/rental options available:
This article is concerned with the relationship between Kurosawa Akira’s Rashomon and Konjaku monogatari-shu, an anthology of anecdotes from the Heian period. Kurosawa’s film is adapted from two short stories by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, which are in turn based on three Konjaku tales. This article consists of four parts. In the first part, plot summaries of the three Konjaku tales are provided, and the role of the narrator is examined in each. Special attention is paid to the elements of reflexivity in the commentaries by the Konjaku narrator. The second part of the article investigates the narrative structure of Rashomon and then discusses a striking affinity between the medieval storytelling conventions and the verbal interactions among the three characters in Kurosawa’s frame story. The extensive role of the monk-narrator in Rashomon is analyzed in light of the didactic use of the Konjaku tales in a Buddhist temple in late Heian society. The third section relates Kurosawa’s concern with the enigma of human nature to the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness. The epistemological issues raised in Rashomon are defined as the results of each character’s self-delusion. In cinematizing the interrelated subjects of elusive reality, epistemic crisis, and indeterminacy of meaning, Kurosawa makes brilliant use of his fluid camera. The last section of the article reviews the critical controversy surrounding the foundling sequence and also the problematic association of this episode with Kurosawa’s espousal of Western humanism. Three pieces of evidence are presented to argue that the sequence can be more coherently and meaningfully understood when it is contextualized in the Japanese Buddhist tradition rather than Western humanism.