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How do you know what's true? - Sheila Marie Orfano


6,817 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

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A samurai is found dead in a quiet bamboo grove. One by one, the crime’s only known witnesses recount their version of the events. But as they each tell their tale, it becomes clear that every testimony is plausible yet different. And each witness implicates themselves. What’s going on? Sheila Marie Orfano explores the phenomenon of warring perspectives known as the Rashomon effect.

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“In a Grove” is just one of the over 150 works by “the father of the Japanese short story”, as Ryūnosuke Akutagawa is commonly referred to. He was known for combining eastern and western styles in his work, counting the American poet Edgar Allan Poe as a large influence and employing Japanese techniques such as ma, the concept of negative space, and shishoshetsu, or confessional-style prose, in his writing. Though he created an extensive body of work, he lived a short life, dying by suicide in 1927 at the age of 35. He is considered a “national writer” of Japan, with his stories incorporated into the country’s school curriculum.

Akira Kurosawa is regarded as the first Japanese director to gain international acclaim. In addition to Rashomon, his filmography includes the emotional Ikiru and the quintessential action movie Seven Samurai. Though Akutagawa formulated the plot that originally describes the Rashomon effect, it was the popularity of Kurosawa’s film that led to the creation of the term.

The Rashomon effect has real implications across a variety of disciplines, from philosophy and communications to sociology and anthropology. It often pops up in politics and social justice, too, like in disagreements about politically and racially charged issues such as policing and gun control. In these scenarios, the effect highlights how our internal biases can subconsciously or consciously influence our interpretation of what has happened. This lesson further explains how factors like our political identity can affect our ability to process information.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Sheila Marie Orfano
  • Director Jeremiah Dickey, Gerta Xhelo
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Sound Designer Jeremiah Dickey
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma

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