The start is a torrential rainstorm, where several men sit around discussing a trial they have either witnessed, or taken part in. The trial concerns the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife, apparantly at the hands of a famous bandit (played by Toshiro Mifune, a Kurasawa favorite). The story of what actually happened is told through the point of view of the bandit, the woman, the dead man (through a spriritual medium) and a woodcutter who was there and now is standing with these men at the beginning of the film.
The interesting thing is that we as the audience are left to assume what really happened, as the film gives no definitive solution. The subject is really the nature of man, and how point of view will change the perception of a scenario to favor or in some cases, cast a negative light on events that transpire.
This was the first film to shoot directly at the sun. In fact, the beginning shot of the woodcutter traveling into the woods to cut lumber is breathtaking, the camera weaves in and out, up and down, through branches and leaves, showing just how far out of the way these things will be happening. The excellent DVD has a feature on the camera work, which you will find interesting and will help you when you go back to the film for a second viewing.
Also included with the disc is a booklet with the two short stories Kurasawa used as the premise for the film (most notably "In the Grove")along with an excerpt from Kurasawa's book about the shooting of the film and the apprehension of the Japanese film companies about the fact that the story seemed to have no good ending. Kurasawa explained that the story was not about the solution of the murder as it was about the nature of man.
Film fans need to see this movie. So many movies made in the last few years (Snake Eyes, The Usual Suspects) owe themselves to Rashomon, movies which show us points of view that are not necessarily the truth. The fact is that four people can see a situation but report it four completely different ways. What's the truth? The truth is--that's just human nature.