The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The title Rashmon and Other Stories has been used for several collections of Rynosuke Akutagawa’s work. “In a Grove” (published in Japanese as “Yabu no naka,” 1922), the opening story and centerpiece of this 1952 anthology, consists of the testimony of several different speakers responding to a government official’s investigation of a woman’s rape and her husband’s subsequent death in a secluded forest. The most intriguing testimony springs from the bandit who raped the wife, the wife herself, and the dead husband, who speaks through a spirit medium. Each of the three recounts with dogged assuredness a version of the events that is radically different from those of the others; each version elevates the motives of the speaker at the expense of the perceived motives of the other two persons present. The mixture of cogency and implausibility in all three accounts suggests that nobody can be certain about all the details of that day in the grove—or throughout much of recorded history.

The story “Rashmon” is named for the largest city gate in medieval Kyto, Japan’s former capital. This gate and the corpse-laden room in it serve as the story’s setting, and its state of disrepair is emblematic of the grim period of famine and concomitant moral decay gripping Japan at that time. Desperate to earn money with which to buy food, a shriveled old woman is pulling the hair from corpses in the gate in order to make wigs from it. The...

(The entire section is 475 words.)