A brilliant examination of human nature, portrayed through a fascinating structure that highlights the themes of the story wonderfully. We see multiple characters recount how a day transpired, but unlike the many imitators of this structure, there’s no “true” version of the story at the end. There’s only the many subjective recounts. Just like in reality, there are not always clear meanings, and people will tell lies even to themselves.
The film is gorgeous, with its many distinctive shots of the sky (apparently it may have been the first film where the sun was filmed directly). I love how each flashback has subtle indicators of the personality of the character who is telling it – when the bandit recounts the swordfight, both the fight itself and the movements of the camera following it are flashy and chaotic, but when the woodcutter recounts the swordfight, not only is the fight itself more clumsy, but its edited in a less “exciting” way too, reinforcing the woodcutter’s different attitude towards violence.
I strongly personally agree with the emphasis the film puts on the point that reality is often, perhaps always, impossible to grasp and perceive impartially; that truth is always filtered through the lens of the viewer. The way the film presents this idea holistically at multiple levels, from structure (the alternating flashbacks), to cinematography and acting (the differences between the flashbacks), to of course the script itself, is impressive. The film ends in a way suggesting that there may be some human goodness that can transcend our flawed natures, but never in a way so didactic as to necessarily contradict the more cynical view a character suggests earlier. Kurosawa leaves the audience of the film as conflicted as the audience within the film – as within life, there are no clear answers, and perceptions of truth are so heavily coloured by an individual’s values, experiences, and personality, that it’s extraordinarily difficult to grasp truth in an objective sense.
A perfect film. I give it five ornate daggers, and a kimono.