The witnesses’ unreliability and subjectivity are a result of situational, social, and cultural differences.
The term “Rashomon Effect” was coined after iconic filmmaker Akira Kurosawa first utilized the storytelling technique in the film Rashomon (1950).
In the film, three characters seek shelter from a driving rainstorm beneath the ruined Rashomon gate that guards the southern entrance to the imperial capital city of Kyoto.
As they wait for the storm to pass, the priest, the woodcutter, and the commoner discuss a recent and scandalous crime – a noblewoman was raped in the forest, her samurai husband killed by either murder or suicide.
The Rashomon technique was originally a work of literature that was later adapted in cinemas or films. The Rashomon effect or technique later found its space in psychology. Usually, a story is delivered to the reader from a single point of view but according to Rashomon’s effect or technique, there are different points of view that are provided by the authors to the readers.
The Rashomon Effect is a term used to describe how a single event can be described in a variety of ways due to the unreliability of multiple witnesses. The witnesses’ unreliability and subjectivity are a result of situational, social, and cultural differences.
When Rashomon won first prize at the prestigious Venice film festival in 1951, the world was introduced to the unconventional and revolutionary storytelling of Akira Kurosawa. At the time, Kurosawa’s use of non-linear storytelling, unreliable narrators, and dynamic cinematography was groundbreaking.
One of the driving forces behind the story is conflict. Conflict in a story drives a plot forward, reveals character, and engages an audience. The Rashomon Effect is based on contradicting reports of the same event. The search for the truth through these reports can be a driving force of conflict for a story.
The use of an unreliable narrator may seem common today, but in 1950, films were presented from a more objective point of view. This allowed audiences to see the characters as they were or how the filmmakers intended.
Movies with multiple perspectives were unorthodox. However, Kurosawa’s use of unreliable narrators in Rashomon did not tell the audience how to feel or what to believe. The audience had to decide that for themself. This is what made Rashomon so engaging.
In theory, the lack of a resolution should leave an audience dissatisfied or even frustrated. However, the Rashomon Effect can do the opposite. It engages an audience even after the credits roll leaving room for discussion and interpretation. It is not ambiguous for the sake of mystery or confusion, but rather to reiterate themes and larger concepts. This is what can make or break an ambiguous ending.