Betcha didn't know ... The real Rashōmon Effect
As is often the case when I want to read something but I don't know what, when I'm itchy and anxious and grabbing books off the TBR pile, then flinging them aside, I have turned to Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short stories. You might call Akutagawa my ideal discomfort reading.
— James Ellroy, The Big Nowhere
You may not have read Akutagawa, but you have likely seen a movie that takes its title, but not its plot, from one of his stories: "Rashōmon." Another thing that Rashōmon, the movie, does not take from "Rashōmon," the story, is "the Rashōmon effect," the phenomenon of different witnesses' offering mutually contradictory versions of the truth. That, and the multiple-witness murder-rape plot, come instead from another Akutagawa story, "In a Bamboo Grove." (The only element of "Rashōmon" that Akira Kurosawa appropriated for Rashōmon appears to be the picturesque setting of the decrepit Rashōmon, or "Rashō Gate.")
In Kurosawa's movie, the gate is merely the setting where the characters offer their testimony about a rape and killing. Akutagawa's story, on the other hand, makes of the gate a dumping ground for dead bodies, where an unemployed servant on the verge of becoming a thief encounters an ancient scavenger, and each offers justification of his or her ghastly acts. If not itself a noir story, it's at least a wry commentary and questioning of the nature and roots of criminal behavior, and it appeared a decade and a half before the Flitcraft Parable in The Maltese Falcon. As such, it ought to interest any reader of noir and hard-boiled crime writing.
As for that stuff about contradictory versions of the truth, it should really be called "The Bamboo Grove Effect," but I won't hold my breath.
© Peter Rozovsky 2015