In 1951 – when most western moviegoers didn't even know there was such a thing as Japanese cinema – Rashômon was screened at the Venice Film Festival. It hit like a thunderbolt and scooped the top prize. Audiences were captivated by the lyrical beauty of Kurosawa's direction and the dynamic power of his editing, zipping the narrative along with hard-edged horizontal wipes.
Rashômon catapulted him into the ranks of the world's leading filmmakers. Then there was the revelation of star Toshiro Mifune, whose uncaged performance made all other action heroes seem ploddingly earthbound.
A further fascination was Rashômon's theme of 'subjective truth'. Adapted from two stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, it tells of a nobleman and his wife travelling through a forest and set upon by a bandit (Mifune). Rape and murder ensue – or do they? We hear four accounts: from the bandit, the wife, the dead nobleman (via a medium) and a woodcutter who witnessed the events. They all differ – so where does the truth lie?
It's a device that's influenced filmmakers ever since, including The Usual Suspects. Optimum's special edition uses a similarly sharp, but faintly scratched, print as the 2001 BFI release. It scores on extras – where the BFI has just on-screen biogs, Optimum offer an intro from John Boorman, the reminiscences (albeit none too riveting) of elderly crew members and a substantial booklet including Akutagawa's original stories.