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11 Classic Facts About Rashomon

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More than 60 years ago, a rising star filmmaker put together a small cast, built a giant set, and turned a screenplay almost no one wanted into a landmark feature film. To this day, Rashomon is considered one of the greatest entries in the stellar filmography of Akira Kurosawa. It brought Japan to the world cinema stage, made Kurosawa an icon, and continues to endure both as a work of art and as an example of just how fragile our relationship to the truth can be. To celebrate this iconic film, here are 11 facts about how it got made.

1. STUDIOS WERE RELUCTANT TO MAKE IT.

Akira Kurosawa had the idea and the budget for what would become Rashomon as early as 1948, but for at least two years he couldn’t get a studio to commit to the film. The Toyoko Company, who originally planned to fund the film, backed out in 1948 after determining the film to be too much of a risk. Toho, the studio where Kurosawa made many of his films, said no. Then the Daiei studio signed a one-year contract with Kurosawa and agreed to fund the film after Kurosawa expanded the script to add a more definitive beginning and ending. Even as Daiei backed the film, though, the head of the studio—Masaichi Nagata—wasn’t impressed, walking out of his first screening. Of course, when the film became a darling of international cinema, he was more than happy to take credit.

2. IT’S BASED ON TWO SHORT STORIES.

The script that would become Rashomon began as a slightly short screenplay by Kurosawa’s friend, Shinobu Hashimoto, adapted from the short story “In A Grove” by the Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. The story, like the film, features varying accounts of an incident told by different people.

Kurosawa liked the idea, but felt the script needed expansion, so he used Akutagawa’s story Rashomon, in which characters huddle in the rain under the Rashomon gate, as inspiration. The two merged, and the film was born.

3. ITS VISUAL STYLE WAS INSPIRED BY SILENT FILMS.

While thinking about how Rashomon should look, Kurosawa remembered the days before films had sound, when visuals were the star, and hunted down French avant-garde films of the silent era for research. He saw the film as a “play of light and shadow,” and as a result many of its most famous sequences are built upon the camera, not the dialogue.

“I like silent pictures and I always have,” Kurosawa said. “They are often so much more beautiful than sound pictures are. Perhaps they had to be.”

4. THE MAIN SET WAS SO BIG THEY COULDN’T BUILD THE WHOLE THING.

In researching Rashomon, Kurosawa paid particular attention to how the titular “Rashomon Gate” should look, and did research on other similar gates of the period. In the end, he determined that the gate should be much larger than originally intended. It was so big, in fact, that if they’d built it intact, it would have collapsed on itself.

“It was so immense that a complete roof would have buckled the support pillars," Kurosawa said. "Using the artistic device of dilapidation as an excuse, we constructed only half a roof and were able to get away with our measurements."

5. AN ASSISTANT LEFT THE FILM BECAUSE HE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE STORY.

Rashomon’s now-famous nonlinear storytelling style might seem commonplace to modern viewers, but it wasn’t in 1950. As a result, three of Kurosawa’s assistant directors came to him during production to ask him to explain the script. He explained that the film was about “the impossibility of truly understanding human psychology,” and two of the assistants left to read the script again. A third kept asking for further clarification, to the point that Kurosawa eventually asked for his resignation.

6. THE CAST INVENTED THEIR OWN DISH DURING THE SHOOT.

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Rashomon’s small cast became a tight, energetic group during production, enduring grueling shooting days and then going out drinking together at night. According to Kurosawa, they eventually created a meal together, which they called “Mountain Bandit Broil.”

“It consisted of beef strips sautéed in oil and then dipped in a sauce made of curry powder in melted butter," according to Kurosawa. "But while they held their chopsticks in one hand, in the other they’d hold a raw onion. From time to time they’d put a strip of meat on the onion and take a bite out of it. Thoroughly barbaric.”

7. LEECHES WERE A PROBLEM.

For the iconic forest scenes, Kurosawa chose the pristine Nara forest, and the cast and crew happily headed out into the trees to shoot there. There was just one problem: leeches. They would drop out of the trees, crawl up cast members’ legs, and generally plague the entire production. So, the cast and crew came up with a simple solution: salt.

“Before we left for the location in the morning we would cover our necks, arms and socks with salt," Kurosawa said. "Leeches are like slugs—they avoid salt."

8. THE ICONIC RAIN SCENES WERE CREATED WITH INK.

Anyone who’s ever seen Rashomon remembers the iconic shots of characters crouched under the Rashomon Gate, sheltering themselves from torrential rain. While shooting, though, the production had trouble getting the rain (created by fire hoses) to show up on camera when silhouetted against the sky. So, to make it more visible, black ink was added to the water to create contrast.

9. IT BROKE THE RULES OF CONTEMPORARY CINEMATOGRAPHY.

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To further emphasize his “light and shadow” metaphors, Kurosawa wanted his camera to sometimes point directly at the sun, creating a lens flare effect. At the time, this technique was so frowned upon that some believed it would literally burn the film, rendering it useless. Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa was willing to take the risk, though, and the result is iconic.

10. IT IS CREDITED WITH INTRODUCING JAPANESE CINEMA TO THE WORLD.

After making Rashomon, Kurosawa went on to direct an adaptation of one of his most beloved novels, Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. The film was greeted with very poor reviews, and he was crestfallen. Then, at the peak of his despair, he got a call informing him that Rashomon had won the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, a festival he didn’t even know the film was screening at. It would then go on to win an honorary Academy Award for Outstanding Foreign Language Film. To this day, Rashomon is credited with bringing Japanese cinema onto the global stage.

11. ITS NAME IS SYNONYMOUS WITH UNRELIABLE NARRATION.

Since its rise as a global pop culture phenomenon, Rashomon’s narrative has inspired a particular phrase used everywhere from TV shows to courtrooms: “The Rashomon Effect.” This describes a situation in which different people have different accounts of the same incident, perhaps in part because they lie to make themselves look favorable.

Additional Sources:
The Films of Akira Kurosawa, by Donald Richie

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
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Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary that touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights—should be your new obsession. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. FLINT TOWN (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA (2013)

Narrated by Meryl Streep, this three-part series covers a half-century of American experience from the earliest days of second-wave feminism through Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in the 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and more are featured, and the series got six more episodes in a second season.

Where to watch it: Makers.com

4. THE JINX (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. One was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO

5. MAKING A MURDERER (2015)

The second major true crime phenom of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. WORMWOOD (2017)

Speaking of good conspiracies: documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. FIVE CAME BACK (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011)

If you can’t afford film school, and your local college won’t let you audit any more courses, Mark Cousins’s 915-minute history is the next best thing. Unrivaled in its scope, watching it is like having a charming encyclopedia discuss its favorite movies. Yes, at 15-episodes it’s sprawling, so, yes, you should watch it all in one go. Carve out a weekend and be ready to take notes on all the movies you want to watch afterward.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

9. UGLY DELICIOUS (2018)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people through the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. JAZZ (2000)

A legend of nonfiction, Ken Burns has more than a few docuseries available to stream, including long-form explorations of the Civil War and baseball. His 10-episode series on jazz exhaustively tracks nearly a century of the formation and evolution of the musical style across the United States. You’ll wanna mark off a big section of the calendar and crank up the volume.

Where to watch it: Amazon

11. THE STAIRCASE (2004)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. (Netflix just announced that it will be releasing three new episodes of the series this summer.)

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

12. PLANET EARTH II (2016)

The sequel to the 2006 original is a real stunner. Narrated (naturally) by Sir David Attenborough, featuring music from Hans Zimmer, and boasting gorgeous photography of our immeasurably fascinating planet, this follow-up takes us through different terrains to see the life contained within. There are snow leopards in the mountains, a swimming sloth in the islands, and even langurs in our own urban jungle. Open your eyes wide to learn a lot or put it on in the background to zen out.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. CONFLICT (2015)

Experience the too-often-untold stories of conflict zones through the lenses of world class photographers like Nicole Tung, Donna Ferraro, and João Silva. This heart-testing, bias-obliterating series is unique in its views into dark places and eye toward hope.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. LAST CHANCE U (2016)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. There are two full seasons to binge and a third on the way.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. VICE (2013)

Currently in its sixth season, the series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens.

Where to watch it: HBO

17. CHEF’S TABLE (2015)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. No shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. NOBU’S JAPAN (2014)

For those looking to learn more about culture while chowing down, world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa guides guest chefs to different regions of Japan to ingest the sights, sounds, and spirits of the area before crafting a dish inspired by the journey. History is the main course, with a healthy dash of culinary invention that honors tradition.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

19. THE SYSTEM (2014)

Should a jury decide if a child is sentenced to life in jail without parole? How can you go to jail for 20 years for shooting your gun inside your own home to deter thieves? These are just two of the questions examined by this knockout series about the conflicts, outdated methods, and biases lurking in America’s criminal justice system. Insightful and infuriating, it makes a strong companion to Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

Where to watch it: Al Jazeera and Sundance Now

20. BOBBY KENNEDY FOR PRESIDENT (2018)

It won’t be available until April 27 (so close!), but it’s well worth adding to your queue. This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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