Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu
Synopsis: An elderly lord abdicates to his three sons, and the two corrupt ones turn against him.
Akira Kurosawa’s Ran was made when the director was 75-years-old. He had been preparing the film for ten years, but was nearly blind at the time of filming. Fortunately, he had created such beautifully detailed storyboards that he and his assistants were able to create on film that vision which had driven Kurosawa for so long. The film is not only a version of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, but also of an ancient Samurai legend in which a king binds three arrows together to show that they cannot be broken, while one arrow alone is easily snapped. It’s a simple but effective metaphor from which Kurosawa crafts a slow-moving but elegant and absorbing fable.
Tatsuya Nakadai plays Lord Hidetora Ichimonji, an ageing warlord who feels that it is time to pass over control of his feudal kingdom to his three sons. His two older sons, Taro (Akira Terao) and Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) flatter their father upon hearing the news, but Saburo (Daisuke Ryu), the youngest son warns against the folly of expecting he and his brothers to remain united once Hidetora’s fiefdom has been split into three. Enraged by what he sees as his son’s impudence, Hidetora banishes his youngest son.
Hidetora expects to continue to enjoy his exalted status upon the passing of power to his sons, but it’s not long before Saburo’s prediction begins to come true, and Hidetora finds that he has become an annoyance to Taro and Jiro. The political intrigue and Machiavellian backstabbing within the two courts result not only in the fall of Hidetora, but also of the Ichimonji empire.
The story of Ran will be familiar to those who know Shakespeare’s King Lear, although the daughters have been replaced by sons, but it’s unlikely that anyone will have seen a telling of the tale as sumptuous and haunting as Kurosawa’s. The intricate costumes of the lords, the vast landscapes and towering skies, the close attention to detail all combine to create a film of lasting beauty and grace. An early battle scene, played out in silence against a brooding, ominous score, is possibly one of the most powerful and haunting battle scenes ever shot, culminating in a single rifle shot which breaks the silence and opens the gates to the chaotic riot of war. Ran is a superior piece of work in every respect, but even if it wasn’t, it would be worth seeing simply for this masterful battle sequence.
(Reviewed 7th August 2013)