Archive Review: Ran (1985)

The height of Akira Kurosawa’s career as a masterful Japanese filmmaker might have been in the ’50s with “Roshomon” and the epic “Seven Samurai,” but “Ran” represents a consummation of sorts in the director’s career and lifetime. At age 75, Kurosawa puts his own style into Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” the descent of a once great king into utter senility, and the result is a deeply personal and tragic film of great beauty and wisdom.

His second Shakespeare samurai adaptation, (after “Throne of Blood” in 1957, which drew on “MacBeth”) Kurosawa tells the story of Lord Hidetora Ichimonji a famous, revered and aging ruler in feudal Japan who after a bad dream is stirred into abdicating his throne to his sons, Taro, Jiro and Saburo. He gives full control to his eldest, Taro, though his youngest, Saburo, tells him it’s a horrible idea and as a result gets banished. Sure enough, Hidetora is denied the respect of Taro when he takes power and wanders off in search of the son he exiled to seek redemption as the elder brothers shred apart his kingdom in attempt to have it all to themselves.

“Ran” is a beautiful film despite the Shakespearian tragedy. Filmed in Kurosawa’s style of three simultaneously rolling stationary cameras, it rarely gets in close to the scene and appears to have the style of much older films, save the color. Kurosawa, who’s known for painting his story boards, brings this contemporary abstract color to the film by using the three primary colors (yellow, red and blue) to represent the three sons (their respective armies all wear those colors.) The colors are bright and show the division between the brothers — each distinct yet capable of mixing. Even the blood is bright red paint as opposed to anything more realistic, suggesting how unnecessary the bloodshed is.

The film borrows a lot of Japanese tradition in telling a Western story, which in the past always seems to work well. Borrowing on traditions of Noh theatre, allusions to animals like the treacherous fox and the make-up on Hidetora (frequent Kurosawa collaborator Tatsuya Nakadai) is suggestive of Noh techniques that resemble iconic masks that represent characters with certain qualities. Nakadai excellently uses the facial expressions so crucial to Japanese theatre in his incredible portrayal of Hidetora as he goes from confident and powerful to completely lost.

It’s a meaningful story for Kurosawa to tell at this point in his career, having much of his films in the ’60s and ’70s pass by unnoticed and in that time attempt to take his own life. Kurosawa takes his bleak look at human nature with “Ran,” using weather like always to show the coming storm of bloodshed and tragedy. “I am lost …” Hidetora says as they wander about, and Kyoami the fool replies “such is the human condition.” It’s apparent where the story will go and Kurosawa delivers it as only a master can.

5/5 Stars

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment