In Which I Ruin Rashomon For Everybody, Forever

I love a mystery.

And I acknowledge, right off the bat, that this is possibly the worst possible way to approach one of Kurosawa's classics, and one of the best films of all time, Rashomon.

But I'm a pedant, and a bit of a jerk, and Rashomon gave me an itch that, over the next few days, I found myself compelled to scratch. I just can't abide the idea that there is no story, or some sort of fluid story, behind the events of the film.

I need closure. It's a flaw. I'm okay with it.

So, with all that in mind, and retaining at the forefront that this is not the point of the film, here's a ton of rambling bullcrap about what might have been going on in the movie.

To keep things simple, I'm going to use archetypes rather than proper names: Bandit for the Toshiro Mifune character Tajômaru, Wife for Machiko Kyô's Masako Kanazawa, Husband for Masayuki Mori's character Takehiro Kanazawa, and from there they're actually called Woodcutter, Priest (Monk in my subtitles) and Policeman, so my bases are pretty much set.

On to business.

First and foremost, the question is that of the murder. Whether the Bandit rapes the Wife, or whether she reciprocates his affections and has sex with him willingly, informs the motivations for the murder, but doesn't change the fact of the murder itself.

And, once honed in on the murder, we have three possibilities:

1. Bandit kills Husband (Bandit, Woodcutter)
2. Wife [presumably] kills Husband (Wife)
3. Husband commits suicide (Husband)

Among the three perpetrators, there's a tidy knot: each admits to the crime (mostly; the Wife leaves some room for doubt, but not much). But, presuming that Japan was not chock-a-block with compulsive liars, they must have had some reason for making these stories up.

The simplest reason is love: each of our three murderers is trying to cover for another person, and the best reason to do that is that they are trying to shield them from the consequences of the murder.

From there, we can eliminate probabilities until we arrive at a satisfying reason for one story being more plausible than the others.

Let's see how this works if we map it out. Click on the image for a full version (1500x1500 px):


Pretty. If you have Adobe Illustrator and want to mess around with my RashoGraph, this is the source file.
Now let's talk motivations.

1. Why would the Bandit lie and assume blame? Assuming he is telling the truth about having fallen in love on sight with the Wife, as occurs in an uncontested segment of the movie, he would lie to protect the Wife. Would he lie to protect the Husband? Perhaps, were he gripped with remorse or empathy over the event, but that doesn't seem likely. So, of the two parties he would lie to protect (the Wife and himself), he protects the Wife and assumes blame himself. This would suggest that the Wife is the murderer; were the Husband to have committed suicide, there's no reason for the Bandit to cover that up. There's one opening for doubt in his love for the Wife -- the Wife's story -- but she may have a compelling reason to lie on this front. And, if the bandit has left early -- as he does in the Wife's version of events -- he may lie in order to protect the Wife because he assumes it was her that killed him.

2. Why would the Wife lie and assume blame? That answer depends on the truth about her allegiances: if she has fallen in love with the Bandit, she would lie to protect the Bandit. If she continues to love the Husband, she would lie to protect the Husband. If she loves both, she would lie to protect both. She has potential motivation to protect all three players -- the Husband, the Bandit and herself.

3. Why would the Husband lie and assume blame? The Monk expresses concern over the very possibility; he says that considering the dead lying would shatter his belief in the human soul. But the Monk assumes that the Husband would lie out of malice; I think the possibility of the Husband lying out of love might give him some wiggle room to retain belief in human decency, and since that seems to be the ultimate message of the film, let's give the Husband the benefit of the doubt, and assume a spirit can lie for good reasons.
Would the Husband lie to protect the Wife? While the Bandit's love seems to be unconditional, there are different accounts of the Husband's reaction to the rape: in the Bandit's tale, he is a victim, and may still love her; in the Wife's tale, he loathes her; in his tale, he is shocked by her but there is still room for love (were he to truly loathe her, why kill himself in despair over her betrayal?); in the Woodcutter's final tale, he rejects her. If the Wife's account is true, then the Husband may also lie to protect the Bandit, who has earned his respect.
The Bandit, however, has no reason to protect the Husband. His story is more self-aggrandizing, yes, but he still acquits himself well and nobly in the Husband's story, and there isn't much of a reason for a cunning Bandit to throw his head on the chopping block just for the sake of a better-told tale. If we assume the Bandit is not lying to protect the husband (or is telling the truth), we can discount the Husband's account of the murder as an utter lie.

The Husband did not kill himself.

4. But why would the Woodcutter lie? This is the trickiest part of the tale, and makes us lean overwhelmingly towards the Woodcutter's interpretation of the story: unlike the three possible murderers, he doesn't have an overt stake in which one takes the blame. There are, though, motivations in play:

Obviously, the "fear the Bandit" scenario doesn't seem likely, as he blames the bandit. The other reasons, though, dovetail nicely together, again towards the WIfe being the murderer and the others covering for her.

EDIT: There's a further problem with the Woodcutter's stories, too: the timeline. Piecing both his narratives together, it's clear that the Woodsman finds the Wife's hat and still arrives at the scene in time to witness all the action. He doesn't find the horse, which means it is gone by the time he finds the hat, and yet he still arrives at the rape/murder scene in time to see how it all goes down. But if he was close enough behind the Bandit/Wife (yet not quite close enough to hear them running through the woods ahead of them) to not miss any of the crucial events, how could he have found the hat after the Bandit has stolen the horse?

Solution One: The Wife Told The Truth Theory
The Wife's story is true, and both the Bandit and the Husband are lying to cover for her.


This makes sense for a number of reasons:

But -- as asked by modern poet/philosophers The Black-Eyed Peas -- where is the love? If we move to a simple Wife True, All Else False theory, it holds up except that the story itself removes the motivation to lie from the other two players. The Brigand leaves her in the dirt following non-consensual rape, the Husband loathes her and drives her to insanity with his cold indifference. So why -- if the Wife's story is true -- would the other two lie to cover up for her, to say nothing of the Woodcutter?

Something stinks here. Let's move on to another possible solution.

Solution Two: The Bandit/Woodcutter POV Theory
The Bandit's story is mainly true, partially exaggerated by him and partially misinterpreted by the Woodcutter.

This works on a few levels as well: