Seven characters speak to a magistrate about their knowledge of a man found stabbed in the chest in the woods near Kyoto after a woodcutter discovers a dead samurai soldier in a secluded grove. The woodcutter reports to the magistrate the details of the scene of the crime and the condition of the body, recounting that the well-dressed victim was stabbed in the chest, but that there was no sword nearby. A priest saw the soldier with a woman and a horse the day before. The man had a bow and a lacquered quiver holding more than twenty arrows. An officer has arrested a notorious thief named Tajomaru and has no doubt that this criminal committed the murder. Tajomaru’s weakness for women and his violent activities are well known, explains the officer; the fact that the lacquered bow and arrows found in Tajomaru’s possession belonged to the dead man further convince the officer that he has arrested the right man. The quiver, however, contains only seventeen arrows. The thief also has a horse that matches the description given by the priest. An old woman approaches the magistrate and asks the court to find her missing daughter. She defensively acknowledges her daughter was spirited, but she insists that the young woman was devoted to her husband, twenty-six-year-old Takehiro.
Tajomaru confesses that he has murdered the samurai because he wanted the man’s wife: When he saw the couple, he decided he must have the woman. He lured Takehiro into the dense grove by appealing to his greed, promising to sell him some valuable swords and mirrors at a bargain. He attacked the samurai from behind and tied him to a tree, then went back outside the grove where the woman waited on the horse. He led her into the grove by telling her Takehiro had been taken ill, and seeing her husband tied up, she pulled out a dagger and fought Tajomaru. She was a spirited fighter, Tajomaru agrees, but he overcame her without difficulty. Although murder is not difficult for him, he did not plan to kill the husband because it was not necessary. Although he has ravished women without compunction on other occasions, he insists that this time he fell in love with the woman. He claims that she then cried that she could not bear for two men to know of her shame, and she suggested that the two men fight to the death and vowed that she would go with the winner. After twenty-three runs with the sword, a number that demonstrates the samurai’s incomparable strength, Tajomaru finally succeeded in killing the soldier. During the fight, the woman disappeared, leaving her horse behind. Tajomaru appropriated the horse and other items and rode off.
A young woman appears at a temple and identifies herself as the wife of the victim. She claims that she was ravished by Tajomaru while her bound husband watched her contemptuously. Tajomaru left immediately afterward. The wife insisted that she could not bear for her husband to know of her shame and suggested that they both die. Her husband agreed that she must kill him and then kill herself. She stabbed her husband, but to her greater shame, she did not have the courage to kill herself.
The spirit of the victim, speaking through a medium, maintains that he killed himself. Takehiro says that his wife chose to go with the thief but insisted that Tajomaru kill her husband before they left. Even the amoral Tajomaru grew pale at the woman’s cruel suggestion, Takehiro asserts. Tajomaru asked Takehiro if he should kill the woman, but she ran off and Tajomaru chased after her. To preserve his honor, Takehiro thrust the dagger into his own chest. As he gasped his last breaths, he could feel someone pull the valuable, bejeweled dagger from him.
“In a Grove” (sometimes translated as “In a Bamboo Grove”) gained worldwide renown for serving as the basis for director Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashmon (1950), which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. A Heian era morality tale that in message—what should be considered good or...
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