Akira Kurosawa is considered to be amongst the four greatest directors of our time (next to Stanley Kubrik, Federicco Fellini, and Francois Truffaut), and this little film proves it. Ran has to be one of the most intense, dramatic and powerful films ever made. Adapted from William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Ran adds to the story the morals and human values that so much are stormed today in modern Japan, depicting metaphorically the society in which we live in, and it’s effects that it has in us. The ensuing tragedy in this film will last long in our hearts even after the film has ended.The film centers itself in the 16th century, as the elderly Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tadsuya Nakadai) has decided to retire and divide his kingdom amongst his three sons: the eldest, Lord Taro Takatora (Akira Terao), the middle, Lord Jiro Masatora (Jinpachi Nezu), and the youngest, Lord Saburo Naotora (Daisuke Ryu). But when Lord Saburo defiantly objects out of loyalty to his father and warns of inevitable sibling rivalry, he is banished and the kingdom is awarded to his compliant siblings. Soon it’s apparent to Lord Hidetora that the loyal son's fears were true: a duplicitous power struggle ensues and the aging warlord witnesses a maelstrom of horrifying death and destruction. Totally shattered by the betrayal of both their children, Hidetora sinks into madness, as the ensuing war would bring devastation to the family.
"Arguably Kurosawa’s Masterpiece"
The film starts off slowly since it takes time for the characters to develop, and some people will probably find it a problem, but when it takes off, it’s simply an incredible ride to the end. It’s been said that a younger director would have not made this film, since Kurosawa did it when he was 75 years old. I have to agree with that, since, what we’re seeing in the movie is basically the most horrible nightmare that a parent can have, and it’s a situation in which only a man in advanced age has the experience and the ability to depict it to its utmost reality. Sure, a great warlord that has conquered lands and killed people and so on and so on, but the father has a blurry view on his children, not knowing about their feelings, and thinking that his children can do no wrong to him. So when he decides to divide his kingdom into his three children, all hell breaks loose, because the father had a plan, that they would live and prosper together and be allies in times of trouble and war, and they ended up fighting each other. One of the film’s memorable moments is the “arrow lesson,” in which Lord Hidetora tells his children with three arrows, that if they are bundled, they cannot be broken, but taken one by one, they are weak. But the sons are too greedy that they ignore this, and later on they pay the price. Imagine yourself, being the father of your kids, and all of a sudden they turn against you. How would you feel? This representation can also metaphorically represent modern Japan, where corruption reigns over the many aspects of its industry. It may refer to the world as a whole but due to the film’s nature, it more talks about Japan than any other country. Also included in the film, you can see some of the Shakespearean trademarks again in form of a woman, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), as he uses her powers of sexuality to also contribute towards the rivalry of both Lord Taro (Kaede’s husband) and Lord Jiro. The use of the woman is crucial in the film since it represents the very essence of greed and corruption. These depictions were portrayed accurately, and were really impressive.
The most memorable parts of the movie are the battle scenes, which are the most dramatic pieces ever put on film. Kurosawa masterfully creates the battle scenes in the way they have to be, not with glory or excitement, but with the brutal realities of war, which are thrilling, yes, but also horrifying and melancholic. The battle scenes, especially the first of the two, are showed straightforward, and there’s plenty of blood, but thanks to that, and the musical score, it creates the key atmosphere of insanity that soon will start affecting Lord Hidetora. The insanity of war, the horror of seeing his loyal warriors being killed by flies by the armies of his two sons, and not a word is spoken during most of the scene, but the images talk to us, and tell us about the insanity, the horror, and the betrayal. That was filmmaking at it’s best. The cinematography is magnificent, since the camera achieves its goal, and tells us what it wants us to see. The second battle scene you can feel the horses racing all over your screen, and again the camera catches those scenes beautifully. The way that it was made, and the accuracy of Japanese warfare is so perfect that I too, seriously doubt that anybody in the world, especially America would have also made a film as like this one. Some people may find this movie very dark, grim and depressing, well, life, can be joyful, but it also can be depressing and grim, and unfortunately, when you make the wrong decisions, it can turn out to be a horrible nightmare. I have to applaud Akira Kurosawa for this film, and his co-writers Masako Ide and Hideo Oguni, since they brought us an incredible piece of work.
The performances were fantastic, especially from Tadsuya Nakadai, as the warlord turned madman Lord Hidetora, his performance is so accurate that he easily steals the show, and Mieko Harada also shines as the evil Lady Kaede. The rest of the supporting cast was great; everyone in this film was great.In the end, this film is recommended to anyone, especially students of film, so they can see how a great film is made. Ran was to be Kurosawa’s last masterpiece and arguably one of the finest films that ever came out of Japan. It’s destined to be a classic, hell, it already is, and it should not be missed.
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originally posted: 02/10/02 19:46:57