The Rashomon Effect

Ever heard multiple sides to a story from eye witnesses and had a tough time deciding which one is true or which to believe? Such a conundrum is brought about by subjective views, observer bias, perspective and memory of the observer. All these parameters can be summed into a single word known as The Rashomon. The Rashomon effect refers to an instance when the same event is described in significantly different (often contradictory) ways by different people who were involved.

This phenomenon first came to be observed in a book called “in a grove “by Japanese author, Reyonosuke Akutagawa written in the early 1920’s. This was later adapted and made into a movie, by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who directed the 1950 film Rashomon, giving the effect its name. The plot revolves around which four different people provide contradictory accounts of a samurai’s murder, despite all having witnessed the crime. Each witness tale is varied from another, yet so very plausible, that a definite conclusion cannot be drawn, embroiling all of them.

The film explored the issues of the unreliability when depending on witness testimony explores a situation using a similar literary device, wherein the story is told through the viewpoints of different characters who supply conflicting stories. Whether the people’s competing explanations are different because of the fallacy of memory or because of self-serving interests varies. This film became revolutionary with how one understands the human mind, justice and the truth. It since then has become a cultural metaphor and is synonymous with happenings of everyday events as it’s not a sci-fi or an abnormal event, but a very natural course of nature that seems very striking .

Conditions and characteristics.

Not every story will have The Rashomon effect. It mostly occurs when there is no gripping and final evidence but a lot of eyewitnesses and when there is a pressure to achieve closure and coercion to find the truth. In both the movie and the book, no side of a person’s view is given more emphasis and all are shown in an equal scale, each testimony bearing its own truth and plausibility. The script and story writing does tell the audience how to feel or what to believe. The audience had to decide that for themselves making it engaging and deceiving at the same time. Such a premise has conflict as a driving. 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 and search for the truth through these reports can be a driving force of conflict for a story. The use of an unreliable narrator is another feature, opposed to the presentation from a more objective point of view. This allowed audiences to see the characters as they were and value neutral. To top it off, an ambiguous ending after such a mind boggling series of events, looks like the right justice to this type of storytelling. Our realization that none of the witnesses are reliable leaves us with more questions than answers. While most films at the time had a clear ending, the ending of Rashomon has no clear resolution. This unconventional decision left audiences baffled.  It can be frustrating to some as it subverts from its unorthodox counterparts but , it is not ambiguous for the sake of mystery or confusion, but rather to reiterate themes and larger concepts like the intricacy of the human brain.


Research studies have found that when people form a memory, a visual experience is often influenced by external cues, internal prejudice and past experiences. While a few are completely individualistic, most are universal. An example of this is egocentrism, i.e., having a positive view on their actions but disregard to the other person . it is a subconscious act , most of the times, and these psychological phenomenon means that the rashomon effect can  pop up anywhere.

The Rashomon effect finally boils down to the minutiae and can range from studies of anthropology and biology to the general public analyzing a historic world event. In conclusion this broke a psychobiological barrier of having the right answer to every crisis and rather shifted the focus to versions of the same event that can tell us about the time, place and people involved, how to go about different mind-sets, backgrounds and biases. It emphasized on the fact that sometimes, the objective truth cannot always be obtained and that it is normal to have an obscure, vague ending, which should be embraced and valued in certain circumstances.

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