Written by Yara
Big budget, big cast, one bold director and an everlasting tale of tragedy. This is Akira Kurosawa’s last epic period film and even though he did three more movies after this, Ran is a visual masterpiece that remains, to this day, as one of the most legendary movies ever made.
The story follows lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) who, after coming to terms with the fact that his time of ruling has passed, divides his power between his three sons, Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu). Taro, being the first born, has the majority of power. Oppose to his father’s decision, Saburo hastly speaks against Lord Hiderota and is banished from the kingdom; this event will follow lord Hidetora’s life till the very end, especially when he starts to realize that his sons may be nothing more than hounds ripping up an old carcass.
With this brief synopsis it is already possible to see the parallels between Ran and Shakespeare’s King Lear, and the similarities are not only in the characters and the plot but also in the beautifully crafted script. The dialogues are filled with metaphors, songs and elements of Japanese culture; it is as if every single sentence has a deeper meaning hidden from the surface; everything sounds utterly poetic. Akira Kurosawa spent ten years planning Ran and, believe me, it shows.
Even Ran being based on King Lear, every character in Kurosawa’s piece has an existence of their own; from the unruly Saburo, to the dutiful and kind Sué, these characters are original and represent Kurosawa’s best angles. I would like to make special mention to my two favorite characters — Lady Kaede and Kyoami, the fool; this last one, as traditional storytelling has already explored is the wisest of all the characters and it is distressful to watch him being disregarded by everyone, while uttering the most reasonable speeches. Lady Kaede is also extremely skillful with words; in Shakespeare’s play, she would be Edmund with hints of Lady Macbeth — vengeful, manipulative, conniving, extremely interesting. Every single character is tragic and actually Ran has a deeply nihilistic approach to human life; existence has no meaning other than suffering, the gods have no desire of easing human condition, one can only find peace after suffering enough and this peace is found only in death.
The kanji 乱 that gives title to the movie is used in both Mandarin and Japanese signifying “disarray”, “revolt”, “chaos” and this movie thoroughly explores the nature and depth of chaos; I would need a bigger post to expatiate the different meanings of chaos in this marvelous movie.
Focusing on the technical aspects, Ran is also an extremely kinesthetic experience, Kurosawa explores the geography and the terrain of his locations to give the audience the best, most meaningful angles; the characters wear bright colours that contrast with their psychological haziness and opaque conflicts. The soundtrack uses elements from the environment to compose the atmosphere with high-pitched birds or crickets, doors moaning and a loud wind. The battle scenes are built with mesmerizing magnitude, the stunts are fully committed, the cast is huge.
In short, although Ran means chaos and unruliness, EPIC is the only word that comes to mind when I think about this film.