Hollywood Flashback: 'Rashomon' Won an Oscar and Broke Records in 1952

Rashomon - Photofest - H 2019
Daiei Studios/Photofest

Akira Kurosawa's movie, which told conflicting versions of four eyewitness accounts of a murder and rape in 8th century Japan, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an honorary Academy Award for best foreign-language film.

In 1951, William R. Wilkerson himself, The Hollywood Reporter's editor and founder, took a break from his rabid campaign of exposing entertainment industry communists to attend the Venice Film Festival. He was not impressed.

"Most of those sitting in on the awards may have been bought for a bottle of Chianti," he wrote in his Trade Views opinion column.

Besides having nothing good to say about the festival, Wilkerson made no mention of Japan's Rashomon winning the Golden Lion. Akira Kurosawa's film, which told conflicting versions of four eyewitness accounts of a murder and a rape in 8th century Japan, had shaken the festival.

Six months after Venice, in March 1952, Kurosawa's masterpiece began playing at the Beverly Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills. THR had a look, and wrote in its review, "An intriguing film, both from academic and entertainment viewpoints, Rashomon is an amusingly ironic tale of ancient Japan, beautifully photographed and capably acted."

Not exactly wildly enthusiastic, but 10 days after the review was published, the film was given an honorary Oscar for best foreign-language film. (In those days, the Academy's board decided on honorary winners the night before the ceremony, and Kurosawa did not attend.)

With that award putting it on the map, Rashomon went on to set box office records for a subtitled film.

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.