Learned from: Rashomon (1950)
The most intricate and puzzle-like of Kurosawa’s films, the groundbreaking Rashomon is still a jaw-dropper 60 years after the fact. Told through the eyes of four different characters, it’s a courtroom drama minus any actual legal quarters or clichés—hell, Rashomon established many ideas that have since devolved into clichés. The plot is a headbanger: After a woman is raped and her husband is slaughtered, a quartet of witnesses recount their versions of the events, frequently contradicting each other’s accounts and twisting the story into an Auntie Anne’s mystery that’s tricky to decode the first time around.
Fans of the countless lawyer and cop shows on television are no doubt familiar with the “Rashomon effect,” even if they don’t realize it. To broaden matters a bit, pretty much any piece of whodunit fiction told through eyewitness accounts owes its existence to this Kurosawa masterwork. Hollywood has tried several times to emulate Rashomon—sometimes well (Courage Under Fire), and other times so ineptly that you’d wish Kurosawa could backhand slap producers from beyond the grave (Vantage Point).