Rashomon

Social class structure is depicted in Akira Kurosawa’s film, Rashomon (1950), through the use of costumes, dialogue, corporal language and the character’s attempts to remain acceptable to their respective social classes. In order to differentiate between the different classes, Kurosawa dresses each character in the clothing inherent to each social class they represent. Kurosawa also draws the lines between them by the different lines each character says and the moral and social standards they follow. The film tells the story of a murder from four different perspectives where one contradicts and cancels out the possibility of the next. The reason why each character lies in each of their individual stories also originates from their social class and their standing.

The samurai in the film represents the highest social class from all of the other characters. He is better dressed than the rest of them. When he first appears on screen, he is walking honorably and elegantly. In this scene, his body language sets him apart from all of the characters previously seen in the film. He and his wife represent the highest class of them all. When the bandit, who represents the lowest class (socioeconomically and morally), encounters them in the forest, there is a sharp contrast between his appearance and behavior and theirs.

The bandit’s clothing is very old. Kurosawa uses one scene to show him is lying down on the floor against a tree and places him on the bottom of the social class structure. The bandit is shown sweaty, dirty, and wearing draggy clothes. Kurosawa presents him in an animalistic way, as well. He is hunched over and clearly affected by his surrounding environment—the heat and the mosquitos. The bandit’s character is shown in closer connection to nature because is in a lower level. The couple, on the other hand, is walking in the woods apparently unaffected by the heat and mosquitos. Instead of eing presented in an animalistic way, they are riding on a horse.They both walk with much poise. The samurai is walking the horse on which his wife is riding, the way a gentleman should. This scene shows the impact they make on the screen as they contrast what the audience has seen in the movie.

The wife is wearing a very expensive-looking dress. She has a hat that appears to be very expensive. Her hat has a veil that is covering her face, further separating her from the natural environment and placing her in a higher class. The veil also represents purity and elegance, both of which she loses by the end of the film. She also loses the hat. After the murder and rape take place, she is not shown in the same way again. The hat is left behind at the scene of the crime, and she is represented more like a ruined woman than a classy higher class lady toward the end. The samurai is wearing fancy samurai clothes that are heavier and cover more skin than what the bandit is wearing, but he is not represented as hot and sweaty as the bandit.  He also has a bag where he carries his sword and supplies, while the bandit does not appear to have any possessions.
On another social level, the Buddhist monk is wearing shoes that appear to be very old, while the other men are barefoot. At the gate, the three men do not seem to be too far apart in social standing, although their morals and values highly vary. At the gate, the commoner, who represents the lowest social class as, well is wearing clothes that are all torn up and are similar to the bandits. His dialogue also resembles the bandit’s dialogue.
Maria P. Uribe
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