May 17, 2012

On Akira Kurosawa, or "No man can hide his lack of relationship to truth"

The film "Rashomon" is a great example of the astonishing velocity by which humans distance themselves from consciousness of truth.  Human falsity is demonstrated by the film's content, the director's own character (for it is he who chose to represent human falsity in a false way), and, how the film is commonly and ongoingly received.  This latter is confirmed by the cinematography device called the 'Rashomon effect', but any number of film reviews or film buffs' opinions will redemonstrate what I mean. For instance,

"In a Grove" is an early modernist short story, as well as a blending of the modernist search for identity with themes from historic Japanese literature, and as such is perhaps the iconic work of Akutagawa's career. It presents seven varying accounts of the murder of a samurai, Kanazawa no Takehiro, whose corpse has been found in a bamboo forest near Kyoto. Each section simultaneously clarifies and obfuscates what the reader knows about the murder, eventually creating a complex and contradictory vision of events that brings into question humanity's ability or willingness to perceive and transmit objective truth.
- Wikipedia snippet about "In a Grove", the storyline on which Rashomon is based.

No, no.  The film is only superficially about contradictory perspectives offered by eye-witnesses in a murder trial, but this is partly the fault of the director, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa has focussed on the confusion of two idiotic narrators, whose sorrow and confoundment about the event create a sense of mystery.  Like a child with innocent-face, trying to hide its crime, saying, "How did the chocolate get into my mouth!?  It's a mystery!",  this film 'Rashomon' is cringingly trying to hide how humans bury their consciences by saying "It's a mystery!"  and this is the real 'Rashomon effect'.

A demonic temptation took hold of me.  Oh, the breeze blew, or I wouldn't have killed him.  Evil is not a human tendency, but a disembodied force, and we are all hapless victims of circumstance.  Oh, the world is a confusing place.  We're not responsible!  Oh, we're truly not responsible!  None of us know the truth, what is really happening.  We are just dupes, victims of a greater force out there; we are mere empty-headed idiots caught up in the mystery --- we are mere morons.

Well, I can agree with the latter.

Kurosawa's choice to use the two moronic narrators - rather, the storyline is by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, but Kurosawa was a dupe for swallowing his tale 'In a Grove', hook, line, bait, and gob-choking sinker - not only falsifies the real story ("How did the chocolate get into my mouth?!  It's a mystery to me!"), but shows his own character.  Their confusion and bewonderment emphasises the notion that truthfulness is impossible, because each person's perspective of events differ.  It's the post-modernist gaffe, everyone has their own truth, or its corollary, there  is no truth.

And thus, following Kurosawa's "authority on truthfulness", the scene is now set for all his viewers for many years to come.  How innocently they rapidly distance themselves from truthfulness, taking his cowardly example. And now the film buffs talk of his skillful cinematographic devices, the notion that truth cannot be grasped by any mind ......  Ah, it's sickening.

The two moronic narrators are a wood-cutter, chosen for being a simple honest John, a family man, just like you and me, and therefore a reliable man; and a youngish Zen priest, chosen for being a contemplative and personally virtuous authority on morality.   The self-deceit in chosing these two is laughable. It shows that Kurosawa believes the ordinary human being - himself, namely, or, at a pinch, his viewers - is not evil, but are reliable presenters of the human relationship to truth; moreover,  it shows his gullibility, by choosing as an authority of virtue an imposter Zen priest: a sleepy, incorrigible fool, like the dopey monks Hakuin Ekaku likened to useless sacks of rice decked out in black robes, with no insight on Zen whatsoever.  So this is his second gaffe, ordinary, simple-minded, gullible people are truthful and innocent.

Kurosawa's weakness of character and lack of insight into the nature of evil (humans' willingness to deceive themselves about their lack of truthfulness) is evident in the shallowness of his characters.  He has no human beings, but only shallow, one-sided cartoon people.  They are puppets, victims of circumstance, empty-headed and moral mediums who soullessly receive their decisions from agents outside their skulls.  That the key players in the murder drama are all depicted variously as variously helllish also showns Kurosawa believes evil is reserved only for the worst personalities, rather than something he himself, and all human beings, are prone to. His bandit is a stereotype barbarian, one of those idiotic, hefty, big-muscled, greatly agitated and loud-mouthed fghting demons, has a maniac barking laughter used to punctuate things he is afraid about but seeks to dominate by his barking, and evidently chosen to show that evil is reserved for only professional killers with base, coarse, hellish personalities.  Similarly, he paints the virtuous goddess-like beauty as having fits of amoral hysteria, with the same desperate barking laugh, when she tries to taunt two male rivals to kill each other, and refuses to consider suicide, (for the sole reason that she doesn't want it to be widely known that she has had sex with more than one male).  Lastly, the same demonic hatred and hellishness is given to the samurai husband, as depicted by the imaginative medium called in to represent the dead man's soul at the murder trial.  Basically, Kurosawa's characters are used to make the cowardly argument that the average human being is a decent, honest, truthful, and good person.  In consequence, he demonstrates that he doesn't know what evil is, and doesn't want to know.

With the scene set for a grand goose chase, the murder trial is recounted by these two narrators, mostly by the awed and demoralised wood-cutter, with intermittent, shallow psychological commentary by the worried and paranoid priest.

No, no, no.  Rashomon is not about the impossibility of anyone's knowing the truth.  This is more of the old commonplace self-deception.  If it were about that, about the post-modernist trope that no one knows the truth, and that everyone perceives differently, then the tale would not centred on --- blatantly --- murderers and lying!

Rather, it is about the propensity of human beings to lie, covering up their ugliness and their cowardice, and pretend all the while it is not happening.  It is so obvious.

And the commonplace old self-deception continues with how the film is received.  Oh, it is about how everyone sees events differently, and how no one can know what really happens.  The Rashomon effect --- the main legacy of the film in the cinematographic world --- is multiple narrators offering conflicting accounts.  More lies.

In fact, if film reviews focus on aesthetics and artistic or cunning cinematographic devices, you can be sure it's the same old propensity to race for your life --- as far away from truth-consciousness as possible.

Truth is not such a mystical, otherworldly, impossible thing.  It is just the courage to face up to who and what you are.  Not details, like an autist trying to describe absolutely all the things consciousness flings at him.  Reality.  The fundamentals: the nature of all things.  The truth about how things really exist.


Kelly Jones

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