The Rashomon Effect and Communication


  • Robert Anderson Simon Fraser University



Uncertainty, Negotiation, Contradiction, Closure, World cinema, Japan


How has a film released in Tokyo in 1950 been understood as providing an important explanatory paradigm for complexity? Why has this paradigm moved beyond the screen, and beyond film studies, to a number of other intellectual fields, such as communication, psychology, anthropology, sociology, epistemology, and legal studies? All of these disciplines must address and interpret complex and unstable decision-making environments, in which incomplete information and irreconcilable perspectives converge, surrounded by intense pressure for closure. This film crystallized these factors in 90 minutes and has provided the idea of a Rashomon effect. A detailed analysis of the recent Dziekanski Affair (2007‒2015) provides a good example of the value of applying this concept to the type of contradictory situations that communication studies must try to explain.

L’article concerne la question de savoir comment l’interprétation d’un film sorti à Tokyo en 1950 ait pu devenir un important paradigme de la complexité. Pourquoi ce paradigme est-il allé  au-delà des confins de l’écran et des études cinématographiques pour s’introduire dans d’autres domaines tels que la communication, la psychologie, l’anthropologie, la sociologie, l’épistémologie  and le droit? La réponse est que toutes ces disciplines doivent confronter et interpréter des champs de prise de décision complexes et instables, où convergent données incomplètes et perspectives irréconciliables, dans un contexte de pressions intenses de clôture. Le film cristallise ces facteurs en quatre-vingt-dix minutes et a produit l’idée de l ‘effet Rashomon. Une analyse détaillée de la récente affaire Dziekanski (2007‒2015) montrera l’utilité d’utiliser ce concept dans des situations extraordinaires que les études de la communication se doivent d’expliquer.

Author Biography

Robert Anderson, Simon Fraser University

Robert Anderson is Professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. On the occasion of Akira Kurosawa’s death in 1998, he organized, with the team of Blair Davis and Jan Walls, screenings and a conference in Vancouver about the director’s major films. He is grateful for the insights into the Rashomon effect offered by students since the 1990s, and for the opportunity to discuss this research when he was invited to deliver the 2004-5 Pacey Lecture at the University of New Brunswick. His earlier contributions to the Canadian Journal of Communication are editing a special issue on Communication and Martial Law (December 1988 issue), and contributing the essay “Two Unintended Faces of Television” to the “TVTV” special issue of the CJC in 1996 Vol 21 #1, which he also co-edited.