What is its origin and what is it?
The term is derived from a 1950 film by influential movie director Akira Kurosawa. In the movie, a Samurai is murdered and his wife is raped by a bandit Samurai. Four different accounts are given for the incident, each one very different and self-serving.
The Rashomon Effect is used to understand the faulty and misleading eye-witness accounts found in journalism and law enforcement, and is particularly relevant in those fields because such accounts can be very unreliable.
What is it and how is it used?
Juxtaposition is simply the use of two or more elements to show contrast in order to illuminate a particular point. This is used in literature and film to show a sharp contrast, often to emphasize a particular quality of a person, place, thing or event.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Ghost Dog is a movie about a modern-day black Samurai whose primary weapon is a gun, who lives in an inner-city ghetto, on a roof-top with a bunch of pigeons. He is indebted to a mafia man, named Louie, who saves him in his youth when he is brutally attacked by a street thug. Ghost Dog considers himself Louie's retainer; in Samurai parlance, this means Louie is Ghost Dog's lord. Consequently, Ghost Dog performs mob hits for Louie.
A hit goes wrong when Ghost Dog is sent to kill a gangster who happens to be sleeping with the mob boss' daughter. The daughter sees Ghost Dog, which is a definite faux pas which the mafia cannot forgive. The mafia then considers Ghost Dog a liability and orders him to be killed. The assassination becomes Louie's responsibility.
Ghost Dog, knowing that the mob is gunning for him, proceeds to wipe out the rest of the crime family, except for the mob boss' daughter and Louie.
In the end, Louie kills Ghost Dog and it is revealed that the daughter is the new boss.
The Rashomon Effect in Ghost Dog
The central incident that propels our anti-hero into the world of the Samurai, is the event in which Louie saves him from the street thug. It is revealed that Louie actually saw the event as him defending himself, because the thug had turned on him when he interrupted the assault. However, our protagonist construed the actions of Louie as Louie saving him.
The movie is full of very differing perspectives, each one serving each individual's own needs and desires. The mafia is protecting business and family and our anti-hero (protagonist) is fighting for honor and survival. Our modern-day Samurai has a friend who is a young girl, named Pearline, he meets at the park, and she, in the end, seeks to pick up the protagonist's tradition; this is also the case with the mob boss' daughter in terms of her family's business.
At the park, the neighborhood ice cream vendor, named Raymond, also happens to be our anti-hero's best friend and he, by all appearances, has nothing to gain from any of the events. He truly cares about his friend and is heart-broken by his death.
There are a multitude of perspectives in this story, all serving to illuminate various social and political issues. There is the Native American who keeps pigeons on the roof, whom two mafia hit-men mistake for Ghost Dog, and they don't know what to do so they shoot one of his pigeons. This shows the general stupidity of the hit-men and definitely hints at their rather absurd racism. There is a scene in which one of the mafia henchmen shoots a female law enforcement officer and his partner is horrified while the killer asserts that the killing was a statement of equality between the sexes. Here we see varying perspectives and various issues illuminated with the actions that spring from those perspectives.
The movie really centers on divergent perceptions and the actions that flow from them.
Juxtaposition in Ghost Dog
The whole backdrop of the story and the leading character placed against this backdrop, sets the stage for juxtaposition. The lead character is a black Samurai in the ghetto who lives like a hermit on a roof-top with his pet pigeons. His incredible competence and sense of honor is contrasted with the mafia family who are portrayed as buffoons and backward. This contrast is partly to accentuate the cold ferocity of the our lead character and partly to make us sympathetic to his antagonists. No one in the movie is portrayed as "the bad guys".
The mob boss' daughter takes over the family business and our protagonist's young friend, Pearline, takes over his Samurai tradition; the latter is signified at the park where the title character is killed and his young friend picks up his gun and takes aim, as if the gun had been passed on to her. That the heirs to these two divergent traditions are young girls is no mistake, another juxtaposition in the movie; as if to say, that it does not matter who carries on these customs, it all ends up the same either way.
Hip Hop artist RZA, from Wu-Tang Clan, provided the music for the movie, which offers yet another juxtaposition; interspersed with Samurai philosophy and mafia banter, there are street kids reciting Hip Hop lyrics, Italian mobsters delivering Hip Hop lines and Hip Hop beats appropriately fitted into the background of our anti-hero's clandestine maneuvers. This is all too appropriate, considering that Wu-Tang Clan's music, and Hip Hop in general, have many incongruent elements mixed together that give it some of its most artistic and dramatic effects.
Clearly the intent behind this movie is to present many contrasting elements that accentuate and illuminate certain issues and dramatize the character of certain people in the story. The hero is shown as almost super-human against the background of ghetto deprivation and the dying mafia that pursues him.