Theatrical release poster
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Screenplay by
Based on"In a Grove" and "Rashōmon"
by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Produced byMinoru Jingo
CinematographyKazuo Miyagawa
Edited byAkira Kurosawa
Music byFumio Hayasaka
Distributed byDaiei Film
Release date
  • August 25, 1950 (1950-08-25)
Running time
88 minutes
Budget$140,000 (est.)[1]
Box office$143,376+ (US)
373,592+ tickets (EU)[citation needed]

Rashomon (Japanese: 羅生門, Hepburn: Rashōmon) is a 1950 Jidaigeki drama film directed and written by Akira Kurosawa, working in close collaboration with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa.[2] Starring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, and Takashi Shimura as various people who describe how a samurai was murdered in a forest, the plot and characters are based upon Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story "In a Grove", with the title and framing story being based on "Rashōmon", another short story by Akutagawa. Every element is largely identical, from the murdered samurai speaking through a Shinto psychic to the bandit in the forest, the monk, the assault of the wife and the dishonest retelling of the events in which everyone shows their ideal self by lying.[3]

The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative and contradictory versions of the same incident. Rashomon was the first Japanese film to receive a significant international reception;[4][5] it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, was given an Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards in 1952, and is considered one of the greatest films ever made. The Rashomon effect is named after the film.


In Heian-era Kyoto, a woodcutter and a priest, taking shelter from a downpour under the Rashōmon city gate, recount a story of a recent assault and murder. Baffled at the existence of conflicting accounts of the same event, the woodcutter and the priest are joined by a commoner. The woodcutter claims he had found the body of a murdered samurai three days earlier, alongside the samurai's cap, his wife's hat, cut pieces of rope, and an amulet. The priest claims he had seen the samurai travel with his wife on the day of the murder. Both testify in court before a policeman presents the main suspect, a captured bandit named Tajōmaru.

In Tajōmaru's version of events, he follows the couple after spotting them traveling in the woods. He tricks the samurai into leaving the trail by lying about finding a burial pit filled with ancient artifacts. He subdues the samurai and attempts to rape his wife, who tries to defend herself with a dagger. Tajōmaru then seduces the wife, who, ashamed of the dishonor of having been with two men, asks Tajōmaru to duel her husband so she may go with the man who wins. Tajōmaru agrees; the duel ends with Tajōmaru killing the samurai. He then finds the wife has fled.

The wife, having been found by the police, delivers different testimony; in her version of events, Tajōmaru leaves immediately after assaulting her. She frees her husband from his bonds, but he stares at her with contempt and loathing. The wife tries to threaten him with her dagger but then faints from panic. She awakens to find her husband dead, with the dagger in his chest. In shock, she wanders through the forest until coming upon a pond and attempts to drown herself but fails.

The samurai's testimony is heard through a medium. In his version of events, Tajōmaru asks the wife to marry him after the assault. To the samurai's shame, she accepts, asking Tajōmaru to kill the samurai first. This disgusts Tajōmaru, who gives the samurai the choice to let her go or have her killed. The wife then breaks free and flees. Tajōmaru unsuccessfully gives chase. After being set free by an apologetic Tajōmaru, the samurai kills himself with the dagger. Later, he feels someone remove the dagger from his chest, but cannot tell who.

The woodcutter proclaims that all three stories are falsehoods and admits that he saw the samurai killed by a sword instead of a dagger. The commoner pressures the woodcutter to admit that he had seen the murder but lied to avoid getting in trouble. In the woodcutter's version of events, Tajōmaru begs the wife to marry him. She instead frees her husband, expecting him to kill Tajōmaru. The samurai refuses to fight, unwilling to risk his life for a ruined woman. Tajōmaru rescinds his promise to marry the wife; the wife rebukes them both for failing to keep their promises. The two men unwillingly enter into a duel; the samurai is disarmed and begs for his life, and Tajōmaru kills him. The wife flees, and Tajōmaru steals the samurai's sword and limps away.

The woodcutter, the priest and the commoner are interrupted by the sound of a crying baby. They find a child abandoned in a basket along with a kimono and an amulet; the commoner steals the items, for which he is rebuked by the woodcutter. The commoner deduces that the woodcutter had lied not because he feared getting in trouble, but because he had stolen the wife's dagger to sell for food.

Meanwhile, the priest attempts to soothe the baby. The woodcutter attempts to take the child after the commoner's departure; the priest, having lost his faith in humanity after the events of the trial and the commoner's actions, recoils. The woodcutter explains that he intends to raise the child. Having seen the woodcutter's well-meaning intentions, the priest announces that his faith in men has been restored. As the woodcutter prepares to leave, the rain stops and the clouds part, revealing the sun.


Press photo of Toshiro Mifune and Daisuke Katō


The name of the film refers to the enormous, former city gate "between modern-day Kyoto and Nara", on Suzaku Avenue's end to the south.[6]


Kurosawa felt that sound cinema multiplies the complexity of a film:

Cinematic sound is never merely accompaniment, never merely what the sound machine caught while you took the scene. Real sound does not merely add to the images, it multiplies it.

Regarding Rashomon, Kurosawa said:

I like silent pictures and I always have... I wanted to restore some of this beauty. I thought of it, I remember in this way: one of the techniques of modern art is simplification, and that I must therefore simplify this film."[7]

Accordingly, there are only three settings in the film: Rashōmon gate, the woods and the courtyard. The gate and the courtyard are very simply constructed and the woodland is real. This is partly due to the low budget that Kurosawa gained from Daiei.


When Kurosawa shot Rashomon, the actors and the staff lived together, a system Kurosawa found beneficial. He recalls:

We were a very small group and it was as though I was directing Rashomon every minute of the day and night. At times like this, you can talk everything over and get very close indeed.[8]


Due to its small budget the film had only three sets: the gate; the forest scene; and the police courtyard. Filming began on 7 July 1950 and ended 17 August. After a week's work on post-production, it was released in Tokyo on 25 August.[9]

The cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa, contributed numerous ideas, technical skill and expertise in support for what would be an experimental and influential approach to cinematography. For example, in one sequence, there is a series of single close-ups of the bandit, then the wife and then the husband, which then repeats to emphasize the triangular relationship between them.[10]

The use of contrasting shots is another example of the film techniques used in Rashomon. According to Donald Richie, the length of time of the shots of the wife and of the bandit is the same when the bandit is acting barbarically and the wife is hysterically crazy.[11]

Rashomon had camera shots that were directly into the sun. Kurosawa wanted to use natural light, but it was too weak; they solved the problem by using a mirror to reflect the natural light. The result makes the strong sunlight look as though it has traveled through the branches, hitting the actors. The rain in the scenes at the gate had to be tinted with black ink because camera lenses could not capture the water pumped through the hoses.[12]


The bandit and the wife, in the dappled light of the forest

Robert Altman compliments Kurosawa's use of "dappled" light throughout the film, which gives the characters and settings further ambiguity.[13] In his essay "Rashomon", Tadao Sato suggests that the film (unusually) uses sunlight to symbolize evil and sin in the film, arguing that the wife gives in to the bandit's desires when she sees the sun.

Professor Keiko I. McDonald opposes Sato's idea in her essay "The Dialectic of Light and Darkness in Kurosawa's Rashomon." McDonald says the film conventionally uses light to symbolize "good" or "reason" and darkness to symbolize "bad" or "impulse". She interprets the scene mentioned by Sato differently, pointing out that the wife gives herself to the bandit when the sun slowly fades out. McDonald also reveals that Kurosawa was waiting for a big cloud to appear over Rashomon gate to shoot the final scene in which the woodcutter takes the abandoned baby home; Kurosawa wanted to show that there might be another dark rain any time soon, even though the sky is clear at this moment. McDonald regards it as unfortunate that the final scene appears optimistic because it was too sunny and clear to produce the effects of an overcast sky.


Stanley Kauffmann writes in The Impact of Rashomon that Kurosawa often shot a scene with several cameras at the same time, so that he could "cut the film freely and splice together the pieces which have caught the action forcefully as if flying from one piece to another." Despite this, he also used short shots edited together that trick the audience into seeing one shot; Donald Richie says in his essay that "there are 407 separate shots in the body of the film ... This is more than twice the number in the usual film, and yet these shots never call attention to themselves."


The film was scored by Fumio Hayasaka, who is among the most respected of Japanese composers.[14] At the director's request, he included a bolero during the woman's story.[12]

Due to setbacks and some lost audio, the crew took the urgent step of bringing Mifune back to the studio after filming to record another line. Recording engineer Iwao Ōtani added it to the film along with the music, using a different microphone.[15]

Allegorical and symbolic content

See also: Rashomon effect

The film depicts the rape of a woman and the murder of her samurai husband through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses, including the bandit-rapist, the wife, the dead man (speaking through a medium), and lastly the woodcutter, the one witness who seems the most objective and least biased. The stories are mutually contradictory and even the final version may be seen as motivated by factors of ego and saving face. The actors kept approaching Kurosawa wanting to know the truth, and he claimed the point of the film was to be an exploration of multiple realities rather than an exposition of a particular truth. Later film and television use of the "Rashomon effect" focuses on revealing "the truth" in a now conventional technique that presents the final version of a story as the truth, an approach that only matches Kurosawa's film on the surface.

Due to its emphasis on the subjectivity of truth and the uncertainty of factual accuracy, Rashomon has been read by some as an allegory of the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II. James F. Davidson's article, "Memory of Defeat in Japan: A Reappraisal of Rashomon" in the December 1954 issue of the Antioch Review, is an early analysis of the World War II defeat elements.[16] Another allegorical interpretation of the film is mentioned briefly in a 1995 article, "Japan: An Ambivalent Nation, an Ambivalent Cinema" by David M. Desser.[17] Here, the film is seen as an allegory of the atomic bomb and Japanese defeat. It also briefly mentions James Goodwin's view on the influence of post-war events on the film. However, "In a Grove" (the short story by Akutagawa that the film is based on) was published already in 1922, so any postwar allegory would have been the result of Kurosawa's editing rather than the story about the conflicting accounts. Historian and critic David Conrad has noted that the use of rape as a plot point came at a time when American occupation authorities had recently stopped censoring Japanese media and belated accounts of rapes by occupation troops began to appear in Japanese newspapers. Moreover, Kurosawa and other filmmakers had not been allowed to make jidaigeki during the early part of the occupation, so setting a film in the distant past was a way to reassert domestic control over cinema.[18]



Rashomon was released in Japan on August 24, 1950.[19] It was released theatrically in the United States by RKO Radio Pictures with English subtitles on December 26, 1951.[19]

Home media

Rashomon has been released multiple times on DVD. The Criterion Collection issued a Blu-ray and DVD edition of the film based on the 2008 restoration, accompanied by a number of additional features.[20]

Reception and legacy

Box office

The film performed well at the domestic Japanese box office, where it was one of the top ten highest-earning films of the year.[21] It also performed well overseas, becoming Kurosawa's first major international hit.[22]

In the United States, the film grossed $46,808 in 2002[23] and $96,568 during 2009 to 2010,[24] for a combined $143,376 in the United States between 2002 and 2010.

In Europe, the film sold 365,300 tickets in France and Spain,[25] and 8,292 tickets in other European countries between 1996 and 2020,[26] for a combined total of at least 373,592 tickets sold in Europe.

Japanese critical responses

Although it won two Japanese awards,[21] most Japanese critics did not like the film. When it received positive responses in the West, Japanese critics were baffled: some decided that it was only admired there because it was "exotic"; others thought that it succeeded because it was more "Western" than most Japanese films.[27]

In a collection of interpretations of Rashomon, Donald Richie writes that "the confines of 'Japanese' thought could not contain the director, who thereby joined the world at large".[28] He also quotes Kurosawa criticizing the way the "Japanese think too little of our own [Japanese] things".

International responses

US release poster for Rashomon

The film appeared at the 1951 Venice Film Festival at the behest of an Italian language teacher, Giuliana Stramigioli, who had recommended it to Italian film promotion agency Unitalia Film seeking a Japanese film to screen at the festival. However, Daiei Motion Picture Company (a producer of popular features at the time) and the Japanese government had disagreed with the choice of Kurosawa's work on the grounds that it was "not [representative enough] of the Japanese movie industry" and felt that a work of Yasujirō Ozu would have been more illustrative of excellence in Japanese cinema. Despite these reservations, the film was screened at the festival.

Before it was screened at the Venice festival, the film initially drew little attention and had low expectations at the festival, as Japanese cinema was not yet taken seriously in the West at the time. But once it had been screened, Rashomon drew an overwhelmingly positive response from festival audiences, praising the originality of the film and its techniques while making many question the nature of truth.[29] The film won both the Italian Critics Award and the Golden Lion award—introducing Western audiences, including Western directors, more noticeably to both Kurosawa's films and techniques, such as shooting directly into the sun and using mirrors to reflect sunlight onto the actor's faces.

The film was released in the United States on December 26, 1951, by RKO Radio Pictures in both subtitled and dubbed versions, and it won an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 for being "the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1951" (the current Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film wasn't introduced until 1956). The following year, when it was eligible for consideration in other Academy Award categories, it was nominated for Best Art Direction for a Black-and-White Film.

Upon release in North America, Ed Sullivan gave the film a positive review in Hollywood Citizen-News, calling it "an exciting evening, because the direction, the photography and the performances will jar open your eyes." He praised Akutagawa's original plot, Kurosawa's impactful direction and screenplay, Mifune's "magnificent" villainous performance, and Miyagawa's "spellbinding" cinematography that achieves "visual dimensions that I've never seen in Hollywood photography" such as being "shot through a relentless rainstorm that heightens the mood of the somber drama."[30] In the early 1960s, film historians credited Rashomon as the start of the international New Wave cinema movement, which gained popularity during the late 1950s to early 1960s.[29]

Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 98% of 52 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; with an average rating of 9.3/10. The site's consensus reads: "One of legendary director Akira Kurosawa's most acclaimed films, Rashomon features an innovative narrative structure, brilliant acting, and a thoughtful exploration of reality versus perception."[31] In a 1998 issue of Time Out New York, Andrew Johnston wrote:

Rashomon is probably familiar even to those who haven't seen it, since in movie jargon, the film's title has become synonymous with its chief narrative conceit: a story told multiple times from various points of view. There's much more than that to the film, of course. For example, the way Kurosawa uses his camera...takes this fascinating meditation on human nature closer to the style of silent film than almost anything made after the introduction of sound.[32]

Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four and included it in his Great Movies list.[33]

Remakes and adaptations

See also: Remakes of films by Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon spawned numerous remakes and adaptations across film, television and theatre.[34][35] Examples include:


In 2008, the film was restored by the Academy Film Archive, the National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and Kadokawa Pictures, Inc., with funding provided by the Kadokawa Culture Promotion Foundation and The Film Foundation.[45]

Awards and honors

Top lists

The film appeared on many critics' top lists of the best films.

See also


  1. ^ The other one being The Woman in Question (1950).[61]


  1. ^ Galbraith IV, Stuart (2002). The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Faber and Faber, Inc. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-571-19982-2.
  2. ^ "Rashomon". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  3. ^ "Akira Kurosawa Rashomon". www.cinematoday.jp (in Japanese). December 19, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2020.
  4. ^ Wheeler Winston Dixon, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster: A Short History of Film. Rutgers University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780813544755, p. 203
  5. ^ Catherine Russell: Classical Japanese Cinema Revisited. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011, ISBN 9781441107770, chapter 4 The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa
  6. ^ Richie, Rashomon, p 113.
  7. ^ Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa.
  8. ^ Qtd. in Richie, Films.
  9. ^ "Rashomon". Akira Kurosawa Info. March 24, 2024. Retrieved March 24, 2024.
  10. ^ The World of Kazuo Miyagawa (original title: The Camera Also Acts: Movie Cameraman Miyagawa Kazuo) director unknown. NHK, year unknown. Television/Criterion blu-ray
  11. ^ Richie, Films.
  12. ^ a b Akira Kurosawa. "Akira Kurosawa on Rashomon". Archived from the original on November 28, 2010. Retrieved May 2, 2022. when the camera was aimed upward at the cloudy sky over the gate, the sprinkle of the rain couldn't be seen against it, so we made rainfall with black ink in it.
  13. ^ Robert Altman. "Introduction". Rashomon (DVD). The Criterion Collection. One typical example from the movie which shows the ambiguity of the characters is when the bandit and the wife talk to each other in the woods, the light falls on the person who is not talking and shows the amused expressions, this represents the ambiguity present.
  14. ^ "Hayasaka, Fumio – Dictionary definition of Hayasaka, Fumio | Encyclopedia.com: FREE online dictionary". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved October 21, 2011.
  15. ^ Teruyo Nogami, Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies with Akira Kurosawa, Stone Bridge Press, Inc., 1 September 2006, p. 90, ISBN 1933330090.
  16. ^ The article has since appeared in some subsequent Rashomon anthologies, including Focus on Rashomon [1] Archived November 1, 2022, at the Wayback Machine in 1972 and Rashomon (Rutgers Film in Print) [2] Archived November 1, 2022, at the Wayback Machine in 1987. Davidson's article is referred to in other sources, in support of various ideas. These sources include: The Fifty-Year War: Rashomon, After Life, and Japanese Film Narratives of Remembering a 2003 article by Mike Sugimoto in Japan Studies Review Volume 7 [3] Archived November 28, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Japanese Cinema: Kurosawa's Ronin by G. Sham "Kurosawa?s Ronin". Archived from the original on January 15, 2006. Retrieved November 16, 2005., Critical Reception of Rashomon in the West by Greg M. Smith, Asian Cinema 13.2 (Fall/Winter 2002) 115-28 [4] Archived March 17, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Rashomon vs. Optimistic Rationalism Concerning the Existence of "True Facts" [5][permanent dead link], Persistent Ambiguity and Moral Responsibility in Rashomon by Robert van Es [6] and Judgment by Film: Socio-Legal Functions of Rashomon by Orit Kamir [7] Archived 2015-09-15 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ "Hiroshima: A Retrospective". illinois.edu. Archived from the original on August 20, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  18. ^ Conrad, David A. (2022). Akira Kurosawa and Modern Japan. McFarland & Co. pp. 81–84. ISBN 978-1-4766-8674-5.
  19. ^ a b Galbraith IV 1994, p. 309.
  20. ^ "Rashomon". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  21. ^ a b Richie, Donald (2001). A Hundred Years of Japanese Film. A Concise History. Tokyo: Kodansha International. p. 139. ISBN 9784770029959.
  22. ^ Baltake, Joe (September 9, 1998). "Kurosawa deserved master status". The Windsor Star. p. B6. Retrieved April 19, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  23. ^ "Rashomon". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 19, 2022.
  24. ^ "Rashomon". The Numbers. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  25. ^ "«Расёмон» (Rashomon, 1950)". Kinopoisk (in Russian). Retrieved April 19, 2022.
  26. ^ "Rashômon". Lumiere. Retrieved April 19, 2022.
  27. ^ Tatara, Paul (December 25, 1997). "Rashomon". Tcm.com. Archived from the original on December 25, 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  28. ^ (Richie, 80)
  29. ^ a b "A Religion of Film". The Emporia Gazette. September 20, 1963. p. 4. Retrieved April 19, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. The historians of the new cinema, searching out its origins, go back to another festival, the one at Venice in 1951. That year the least promising item on the cinemenu was a Japanese picture called Rashomon. Japanese pictures, as all film experts knew, were just a bunch of chrysanthemums. So the judges sat down yawning. They got up dazed. Rashomon was a cinematic thunderbolt that violently ripped open the dark heart of man to prove that the truth was not in it. In technique the picture was traumatically original; in spirit it was big, strong, male. It was obviously the work of a genius, and that genius was Akira Kurosawa, the easliest herald of the new era in cinema.
  30. ^ Sullivan, Ed (January 22, 1952). "Behind the Scenes". Hollywood Citizen-News. p. 12. Retrieved April 19, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  31. ^ "Rashomon". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  32. ^ Johnston, Andrew (February 26, 1998). "Rashomon". Time Out New York.
  33. ^ "Rashomon". Roger Ebert.com.
  34. ^ a b Magnusson, Thor (April 25, 2018). "10 Great Movies That Used The Rashomon Effect". Taste of Cinema.
  35. ^ a b c d Harrisson, Juliette (October 3, 2014). "5 great Rashomon TV episodes". Den Of Geek.
  36. ^ a b "Rashomon". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Retrieved September 26, 2022.
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  41. ^ Huntley, Kristine (May 1, 2006). "CSI -- 'Rashomama'". csifiles.com.
  42. ^ Maunula, Vili (May 12, 2013). "Review: At the Gate of the Ghost (2011)". akirakurosawa.info.
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  44. ^ Zachary, Brandon (October 16, 2021). "The Last Duel Is Ridley Scott's Take On a Classic Japanese Film". cbr.com.
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  48. ^ Carr, Jay (2002). The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films. Da Capo Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-306-81096-1. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  49. ^ "100 Essential Films by The National Society of Film Critics". filmsite.org.
  50. ^ "Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll 2002 The Rest of Director's List". old.bfi.org.uk. Archived from the original on February 1, 2017. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
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