Akutagawa is one of Japan’s most famous writers, and “Rashmon” has been cited as establishing his style and becoming the prototype for historical fiction in Japan. Most of Akutagawa’s fiction contains a core of realism embellished with the casual incorporation of fantasy. Akutagawa’s work thus resembles that of the late twentieth century Latin American Magical Realists, whom he anticipated by roughly half a century.

“In a Grove” was the primary inspiration for Akira Kurosawa’s award-winning film Rashmon (1951) and is Akutagawa’s most famous story internationally. It also is his most experimental short story, for it involves seven different narrators, none of whom can be said to be central in terms of reliability or thoroughness of presentation.

“In a Grove” contains neither a prologue nor a conclusion or denouement, leaving readers with no overarching authorial interpretation to help resolve the numerous conflicting points of testimony. In this way, Akutagawa’s scenario differs substantially from that of Kurosawa, who inserted a woodcutter’s eyewitness account of the rape and suicide near the film’s conclusion in order to tie together the loose ends intentionally left dangling by Akutagawa. The self-deluded aspects of the testimony of Tajmaru (the bandit), Masago (the wife), and Takehiro (the husband) remain implicit with Akutagawa, whereas Kurosawa makes them explicit in his film.

The major...

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