If there’s such a thing as "canon classics" for cinema, then "Rashomon" certainly qualifies. The 1950 yarn, from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa ("Seven Samurai",) tells the story of a rape and a death from four different perspectives. Questions like "what is truth?" and "what is the nature of perception?" are presented; and among film critics, its profoundity is rarely questioned. It’s been ripped off countless times, and even remade as a musical (with the marvelous "Les Girls.") When it comes to classic movies, they don’t get much more definitive than "Rashomon".
But unfortunately, I’ve always felt a bit ambivalent towards it - at least when compared to the manic praise it normally earns. If you ask me, the profundity is overstated - the film’s views on truth are a bit antiquated; seemingly suggesting (at least on the surface) something resembling a "noble savage" philosophy. Kurosawa has made cutting studies of class, honesty, and responsibility elsewhere - his "High and Low" is a true, unheralded masterpiece - and those films leave "Rashomon" looking fairly simplistic.
Still, Criterion has packed the disc with extras befitting the term "masterpiece." In addition to critical essays, you get printed copies of the two short stories upon which the film was based - an absolutely integral part of the experience for fans. You also get a lovely interview with Robert Altman, one of history’s greatest directors, and an hour-plus documentary on the film’s influence and themes. You even get archival interviews with a member of the cast, and an audio commentary by an expert on Japanese cinema - and this is all in addition to the stunning High Definition transfer, sourced from a brand new (and much needed, compared to the old DVD) restoration. The most obvious truth when it comes to "Rashomon" is that this Criterion disc is a must-own.