DVD Note:
The Gatehouse
September 2019

ΒΆ It seems that Kathleen had never seen Rashomon. Every couple of days, we talked about watching it, but we were caught up in after-dinner reading. Last night, though, Kathleen thought that she’d like to take a break, so I pulled it out and put it on. 

I don’t know when we last watched a movie. We’re all too content to quote blizzards of lines from The Awful Truth and from Fawlty Towers episodes. Not to mention Anna Russell and Ruth Draper. (“People are so queer.”)

I’ll be honest: Rashomon is one of those tremendously important movies β€” it may even be the most tremendously important movie β€” that I would never watch a second time if I weren’t worried about slipping into philistinism. Last night’s was, for me, the third or fourth viewing. The only interesting thing, I thought, was Masayuki Mori’s stony, sardonic glare. I couldn’t overcome the sensation that the film had been shot in California β€” that the whole thing was a silent movie in which Lillian Gish might appear at any moment. (Or ZaSu Pitts!) 

Not once but twice there are moments when, while Machiko Kyo trembles in the background, the samurai and the bandit approach each other in combat, and what you see of them first is their swords, both raised at about thirty degrees above the horizon. I can’t tell you how unpleasant and confusing it was to be made to dwell, the second time, upon this phallic symbolism, for what on earth could it symbolize, exactly? With a lady present and all. 

What I didn’t know until I looked things up afterward is that the parts of Rashomon that aren’t set in the California woodlands take place in the ruins of a gatehouse, not a temple, as I had previously thought. (A gatehouse in Heian Kyoto, in fact.) This made me feel much better about the so-called commoner’s pulling it apart for firewood. 

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