DVD review: Kurosawa classic 'Rashomon' brushed up for Blu-ray

It's not just that Akira Kurosawa's 1950 “Rashomon” brought Japanese film to the west; or that it introduced to us the young, rising Toshiro Mifune; or that its title has become the universal shorthand for the uncertainty of the truth, as seen through different eyes. It's also that it's a great movie that suggests new possibilities each time you watch it. Ergo, it's a film that is more worthy to own on disc than most movies, which are only good for a few viewings. I return to it every few years; even with simply one set of eyes, I've managed to see it in many different ways, sometimes incompatible with each other.

It's story is brief and simple: nine or 10 centuries ago, a thief (Mifune) waylays a samurai (Masayuki Mori) and his wife (Machiko Kyo), ties up the man, has sex with the wife, and is arrested; the samurai is killed. But the way this straightforward tale is conveyed to us is anything but simple. We get the story in bits and pieces at the thief's trial; everyone involved testifies; and all have their own versions of what happened.

Criterion released a very good DVD of “Rashomon” about 10 years ago; the new Blu-ray and DVD are both steps up, thanks to restoration work done since then. The Blu-ray is, not surprisingly, much sharper and more detailed. The sound is OK and will probably never be better than OK. All the extras from 2002 are repeated: a terrific audio commentary by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie; 12 minutes of excerpts from “The World of Kazuo Miyagawa,” a documentary on “Rashomon's” cinematographer; and a six-minute introduction/interview with Robert Altman. The grand jewel of the newly added material is a detailed 68-minute documentary about the film's making and reception.

"Rashomon" (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, $29.95)

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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