Ran (1985)

“You spilled an ocean of blood. You showed no mercy, no pity. We too are children of this age… weaned on strife and chaos. We are your sons, yet you count on our fidelity. In my eyes, that makes you a fool. A senile old fool!”

‘Ran’, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1985, is an adaptation of ‘King Lear’ relocated to medieval Japan and focusing on a warlord, Hidetora Ichimonji, played by  Tatsuya Nakadai, who abdicates and hands control to his three sons. There follows a power struggle between the three, political intrigue, the machinations of the oldest son’s wife and the decline into madness of the old warlord. As with ‘King Lear’ there’s the sense that the history of an entire nation is being told through the internal struggles and disharmonies of a family, and this sense of scale informs Kurosawa’s cinematography and staging of the movie. It’s an outside film, and the backdrop to the drama is often mountains or plains of grass or, as Hidetora’s insanity beings to bite, blackened wasteland and rock quarries. Everything is harmonised to achieve this effect from the sweeping action, the heightened performances to the weird, echoey sound effects. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Kurosawa movie in colour as well, and the director embraces this with bold flashes of red and placing the lush greens of the landscape centre stage. Highlights of the film are the siege on the third castle which is shot with minimal sound effects and the scene between the dangerous and unpredictable Lady Kaede and her late husband’s brother. But it’s the scale and the direction of armies of performers that sets this film apart. Kurosawa’s genius is in controlling huge numbers of people and framing epic events in a way that creates a real personal drama.

Would I recommend it? Yes – in conjunction with Kurosawa’s ‘Throne of Blood’ for the obvious Shakespeare comparison.

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