Takashi Shimura did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the woodcutter in Rashomon.
Takashi Shimura's role is a limited role and Shimura plays his role in a seemingly simple fashion at first as the film cuts back to the three men before and after each of the stories. He and Minoru Chiaki as the priest accent each of the stories by portraying the men's reactions to hearing each version of the story. Minoru Chiaki effectively shows the great distress over the nature of the story as he sees people acting morally bankrupt. Shimura portrays a similar reaction which adds to the impact to each story by showing what it means to them. Shimura though is careful in that he portrays the woodcutter's reaction which is not the same as there seems to be some sort of outrage he has under that haunted expression as he reflects on the stories he has heard.
Takashi Shimura in his performance carefully sets up the secret the woodcutter has as he tears down each of the stories by calling the three storytellers liars, and Shimura gives the sense that this there is more to what the woodcutter knows which is revealed later. The woodcutter claims to have seen the whole event himself and depicts the story in a particularly unromantic light, and paints all of the three participants rather poorly. Shimura handles the scenes before and after the woodcutter's story just right as it is impossible to tell if he is lying or if he telling the truth yet Shimura never makes this seem lacking in distinction. Shimura portrays that the woodcutter is most definitely haunted for a reason and hates what has happened but he leaves the viewer to decide from where this outrage comes.
The scenes of the three men discussing the crime build up to the point in which they find an abandoned baby and the commoner steals a kimono that was with it, the woodcutter calls him on it leaving the commoner to reveal that perhaps the woodcutter was also acting in self-interest with his story as he was the one who took the expensive knife left after the crime. Shimura is very moving using mostly his expressive face as the woodcutter must face his own guilt. Shimura shows the weakness that exists in the man as well and powerfully expresses the shame the man feels for his actions. Shimura is actually able to retain the mystery of the story as he again leaves it open where exactly the shame lies in that man whether it is for stealing the knife or perhaps for making up his version of the story.
The film leaves Shimura and Chiaki a difficult scene to end on as they must make an optimistic ending from the often pessimistic narrative. The optimism comes from the woodcutter's willingness to take the baby and takes care of it as one of his own acting no longer in self interest. The scene comes out of the blue and it is easy to see how it might not have worked but it ends up being a terrific ending to the film due to the performances of Shimura and Chiaki. Shimura is only genuine in his depiction of the woodcutter's moral redemption as he is willing to do a purely selfless act. Shimura's and Chiaki's scene has such honest warmth and feeling and gives hope at the end of the film that does not feel forced or sanctimonious in the least.
Shimura's screen time is limited and his scenes are decidedly not the showy ones of the film as we only see the woodcutter in the strictest terms. Shimura despite this still gives a complex performance within the woodcutter who seems simple at first yet he and the film reveal this to not be the case in a most effective fashion. It is a most intriguing portrait that he creates of the observer as we see both his own reactions to the three other stories but as well what makes up actually why a man might take the selfish route and create his own perspective in the film place. His work makes the stories out of the realm of the rashomon effect hold their own power as well as amplify the power of the stories, and as well his portrayal of the morality of the woodcutter acts as the natural and very poignant personification of one of the major themes of this film.