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Rashomon Principle

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The Rashomon Principle (or Smith Myth principle) was a term coined by T.A. Waters (some time around 1980) in which everyone in the audience interprets the same phenomena in slightly different ways.

Waters got the idea for the name from a Max Maven routine called "Rashomon " in the October 1979 Linking Ring (although not using this principle). Waters liked the reference, and a year or so later began using it as a way of referencing the ambiguity principle found in such effects as "Everywhere and Nowhere," "Smith's Myth," and "The Tossed-Out Deck".

This principle became popular when "Smith-Myth" by Fred Smith was included as a bonus item in Hen Fetsch's book The Five O' Fetsch (1956). Everyone assumes that two different cards were selected, especially the two principal spectators, whereas in reality both have selected the same card.

Rashomon was a movie released in 1950, based on the original Ryunosuke Akutagawa story (1915). The film depicts a crime through widely differing accounts of four witnesses. The stories are mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer to determine which, if any, is the truth. Although the title has been appropriated by magicians to describe the idea that everybody interprets things differently, that's not what Rashomon is about, according to the director, Akira Kurosawa. He explained the movie this way:

Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. This script portrays such human beings--the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are. It even shows this sinful need for flattering falsehood going beyond the grave--even the character who dies cannot give up his lies when he speaks to the living through a medium. Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem. This film is like a strange picture scroll that is unrolled and displayed by the ego.[1]



  1. Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography, Audie E. Bock translation, 1983, p. 183