I'm sure I had read the name of this movie before, with it being part of the Criterion Collection, on the IMDb top 250, and other top movie lists, but for some reason it seems the first time I had paid any attention to it was when it showed up on my Leonard Maltin day-to-day calendar sometime this past year. My brother-in-law mentioned he had seen it and enjoyed it, so I put it on reserve at the library. After sitting by the TV for almost 6 weeks, we finally sat down to watch Rashomon so that we could turn it back in without being fined. I'm glad we did.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the first Asian foreign film I had seen and loved it along with Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower, and others. This film will be added to that list of enjoyed movies. While a simple storyline (basically an event and then witnesses reporting what was seen), the way that the story unfolds from the various witnesses is very thought provoking. In addition to a good story, the filming was very impressive (even to someone who doesn't know a whole lot about filming)! It was helpful to watch an intro to the film after having watched it, where the speaker talks about the talent of Kurosawa's filming direction.
I was particularly moved by one of the end scenes where the woodcutter and commoner are arguing over stealing from a baby that has oddly appeared out of nowhere. The woodcutter reprimands the commoner for taking the amulet and kimono from the baby, but is in turn chastised for stealing the dagger from the scene of the crime that he was a witness for, "a bandit calling another a bandit." It's very enlightening to realize that many times what we despise in others is nothing more than traits we have ourselves and resent ourselves for having.
This scene brings up another interesting question with regards to when stealing might be considered OK. It might be considered OK (though not lawful) to steal when your family is starving and you find a valuable dagger to sell to obtain food. The thief should not be excused from the demands of the law, justice must be satisfied (to keep order in society). Stealing from a baby, just because it won’t miss what is taken or know any better, is wrong if it’s only for greed. There are a million different circumstances where this logic is probably flawed or doesn’t work. Laws exist to protect society, and imperfect as they maybe, there may be appropriate times to break the law, so long as you are not putting your soul in danger. This is far from a lesson in ethics, any additional discussion is welcome in the comments.
Wikipedia does a decent job summarizing the last scene of the movie that was equally poignant and more hopeful:
"These deceptions and lies shake the priest's faith in humanity. He is brought back to his senses when the woodcutter reaches for the baby in the priest's arms. The priest is suspicious at first, but the woodcutter explains that he intends to take care of the baby along with his own children, of whom he already has six. This simple revelation recasts the woodcutter's story and the subsequent theft of the dagger in a new light. The priest gives the baby to the woodcutter, saying that the woodcutter has given him reason to continue having hope in humanity. The film closes on the woodcutter, walking home with the baby. The rain has stopped and the clouds have opened revealing the sun in contrast to the beginning where it was overcast."
If you're not biased against black and white films or films that have subtitles (unless you speak Japanese), this is a good movie to watch if you're not in the mood to be solely entertained.