Rashomon and Other Stories

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Rashomon and Other Stories

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

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Rashomon and Other Stories Summary

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Rashomon and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who is widely referred to as the "Father of the Japanese short story." Though this collection was published in 1999, long after Akutagawa's death in 1927, the earliest of the six stories was first published in 1915. The most famous of these stories, "In a Grove," inspired Akira Kurosawa's landmark 1950 film, Rashomon.

The first story, "In a Grove," is framed as a series of testimonies provided to the High Police Commissioner in Kyoto who is investigating the death of the samurai Kanazawa no Takehiro. The first testimony is delivered by a woodcutter who says he discovered Takehiro in the woods, dead from an apparent sword wound in the chest. Though the trampled leaves around the body indicate to the woodcutter that a struggle ensued, there were no weapons left at the scene, and there is no evidence to suggest that either Takehiro or his murderer were on a horse before the murder. The only additional evidence the woodcutter finds is a piece of rope, a comb, and some pieces of bamboo stained with blood.

The next testimony comes from a traveling Buddhist who claims to have met Takehiro the day before the murder. When they met, Takehiro had a sword, a bow, and a quiver in his possession. Takehiro also had a companion with him: a young woman riding a palomino horse. Next, a bounty hunter testifies that he has just caught a criminal named Tajomaru riding a palomino matching the description of the horse belonging to the young woman. Also in Tajomaru's possession were a bow and quiver the bounty hunter suspects belonged to Takehiro, though Takehiro's sword is still missing, along with the young woman. The next testimony comes from an old woman who claims to be the mother of the missing woman whose name is Masago. Masago and Takehiro were married, she says.

The commissioner interviews Tajomaru who quickly confesses to the murder, explaining that he lured Takehiro into the woods so he could rape Masago. After tying up Takehiro and raping Masago in front of him, Masago tells Tajomaru that he must either kill Takehiro or kill himself. Two men, she adds, cannot know the shame of what happened. Because Takehiro is a samurai, Tajomaru cannot bring himself to kill him while he is tied up, and so the two have a proper sword fight, which Tajomaru wins. Masago escapes while they fight. Finally, Tajomaru tells the commissioner he sold Takehiro's sword.

The police finally track down Masago, whose account of the events differs greatly from Tajomaru's. Masago claims that Tajomaru fled immediately after the rape, leaving Masago and without untying Takehiro. Devastated and ashamed after the attack, Masago tells Takehiro she can no longer go on living. She senses that Takehiro agrees to die with her, though his mouth is too full of leaves to properly answer her. Masago kills Takehiro with a dagger, then cuts the rope binding him. She tries to kill herself but finds that her spirit won't allow her to do so.

Finally, the commissioner interviews a spirit medium who contacts Takehiro's ghost. Takehiro claims that, after the attack, Masago agreed to become Tajomaru's wife, as long as Tajomaru kills Takehiro. Instead, an enraged Tajomaru asks Takehiro if he should kill Masago for suggesting such a thing. Terrified, Masago flees into the woods, leaving behind her dagger. After untying Takehiro, Tajomaru flees as well. Left alone, Takehiro kills himself with Masago's dagger, which is later picked up by a passing stranger. In the end, all of the accounts contradict one another in either subtle or significant ways.

The second story, "Rashomon," concerns a recently fired servant facing starvation who comes across an old woman plucking the hair off corpses in order to make wigs. Appalled, the servant steals the woman's kimono and kicks her to the ground, outlining the vicious cycle of poverty and violence in Kyoto. Despite sharing a title with Kurosawa's film, "Rashomon" shares only small details with the film of its namesake, which is primarily based on "In a Grove."

"Yam Gruel" follows a low-ranking samurai referred to as "Goi" who embarks on a perilous journey to satiate an absurd hunger for his favorite food, the titular yam gruel.

"The Martyr" focuses on Lorenzo, an impoverished young boy who is taken in by Jesuit missionaries in Nagasaki. After a rumor spreads that he impregnated the daughter of a local umbrella-maker, he is excommunicated from the church and left to live in squalor. When the umbrella-maker's house catches fire, Lorenzo returns to town to save the daughter's baby, whom everyone in town believes is his. Lorenzo is knocked unconscious by a falling beam, and at that moment, the town realizes that Lorenzo is actually a girl and thus could not possibly have fathered the child.

"Kesa and Morito" examines the toxic relationship between Morito and Kesa, a married woman. After raping Kesa, Morito whispers that he must now kill her husband, Wataru. Perhaps out of deep shame, Kesa agrees that this is a good idea. However, on the day in question, Kesa decides to kill herself instead.

The last story, "The Dragon," tells of a large-nosed priest named Hanazo who spreads a rumor that a dragon will rise from a local pond on March third. The rumor overtakes the town, as people mistake an otter for the dragon and refuse to believe the truth, even after Hanazo reveals it was a prank.

By re-contextualizing ancient tales with a modernist bent, Rashomon and Other Stories solidifies Akutagawa's status as the "Father of the Japanese short story."
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