An Unsolvable Case

The Rashomon Effect - who's telling the truth?

Sheltering under the city gates during a rain storm, two men recount the story of a recent rape and murder case. A samurai and his wife had been attacked in the woods, but the stories from each witness differed. What actually happened?


羅生門
罗生门


Luó shēng mén


Rashomon effect, an unsolvable case, a mystery

This phrase comes the Japanese movie and novel of the same name, and means ‘an unsolvable case’ – a situation in which conflicting stories make the truth unclear.

To understand the phrase more you need to see the movie Rashomon (the English name of the movie and Japanese phonetic), in which a samurai and his wife are attacked in the woods. The samurai is murdered and the wife raped. During the court trial, the events of the attack and murder are recounted by the witnesses, but each person’s tale differs.

The story is about how personal motivations can affect how people see events, and also how they act out of self-interest, which can make finding the actual truth impossible – the Rashamon effect.

Rashomon - Wife at trial
The wife of the murdered samurai testifies at the court trial.

The movie is excellent, and was one of my first introductions to Japanese cinema. It’s beautifully shot and acted. I can still remember the howling from the spirit medium who summons the ghost of the murdered samurai during the trial.

When using this phrase you’re basically giving a nod to the movie. Here’s a recent headline from Liberty Times in Taiwan:


YouBike羅生門 38歲女子為搶車與男大生互告
YouBike罗生门 38岁女子为抢车与男大生互告


YouBike luóshēngmén 38 suì nǚzǐ wèi qiǎng chē yǔ nán dàshēng hù gào


Youbike Rashomon – A 38 year old and male university student sue each other over bike squabble

If you read the story you can see why the headline calls this situation the “Youbike Rashomon”. Each of the people involved in the situation tells a different story, so there’s no way to know the truth.

To refer to a situation as being confusing or unclear you can say:


真是個羅生門
真是个罗生门


Zhēn shì gè luóshēngmén


It’s really a Rashomon

or


這事情有如羅生門
这事情有如罗生门


Zhè shìqíng yǒurú luóshēngmén


This situation is like Rashomon