The Kurosawa Marathon – Ran (1985)

Lord Hidetora Ichimonji [Tatsuya Nakadai] after many years of battle and eventually becoming the ruler of his vast lands has decided that he has done enough and would like to retire from his life.  He decides to bequeath his kingdom to his three sons: Taro [Akira Terao], Jiro [Jinpachi Nezu] and Saburo [Daisuke Ryu].  After his third son, Saburo, speaks up frankly his father takes offense and decides to disown Saburo and banish him from his lands.  Tango [Masayuki Yui], Lord Hidetora’s assistant, defends Saburo and receives the same treatment as Saburo.  Shortly after Lord Taro and Jiro takes power of the land Lord Hidetora finds himself quickly being shunned out of his world by his sons due to their inability to put up with his ways anymore now that they no longer need to answer to him.

This being the first entry in my Kurosawa Marathon seems somewhat fitting.  It’s a long film which takes place in feudal days of Japan and has Samurais ruling the world, which is exactly what I imagine every Kurosawa movie is like (even though I know this not to be true).  This movie is Kurosawa’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic play King Lear.  I, being the lazy bastard I am, have only read a handful of Shakespeare’s plays and King Lear happens to not be one of them, but I quickly caught up on the synopsis via Wikipedia (yes I love you internet).

This is my third ever Kurosawa film (the first two being Rashomon and Ikiru) and it is easy to recognize how he dares do capture raw emotion through overly dramatic facial expressions in scenes.  To the uninitiated in the world of cinema this would seem as something that is hilarious to look at, but to the initiated you can see the honesty in the overly expressed face.  Sometimes when you see Lord Hidetora’s face in the latter half of the film, after he loses his mind you can almost feel his emotions as he tries to understand what he did to deserve such treatment from his sons.

I love how Saburo (the banished son) is the one that ends up being the loyal son.  It’s even shown from the first scene in the film.  Even though Saburo is the one who keeps embarrassing the family with his blunt tongue, when his father nods off randomly and they leave him Saburo is the only son who thinks to try and provide his father with some comfort (via shade from a bush).

Stepping away from the dramatic elements of the film, it has some great battle sequences.  I love particularly the battle at the third castle and some of the shots of death are just so engrossing you can’t help but embrace the insanity that ensues afterward for our lead character.  In the end of these sequences when all you see are shot after shot of the devastation that has occurred with all the dead bodies lying all over the battlefield you can’t help but sit back and feel like this is the end.  It is an immense feeling and that is definitely the mark of a great film, when it can evoke emotion from you without you feeling like it is trying at all to force the issue but rather embeds it into the story.

In the end, the film is pretty darn amazing.  Kurosawa made a classic tale perfectly transition into a film for the Eastern world, and at the same time still very relatable to anyone watching it.

IMDB says 8.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes says 96%

I say 9.0/10

  • Univarn

    I enjoyed this, but I still prefer it’s quasi accompany piece Kagemusha from that same timeline. Good to see you gave it high remarks though. Can’t wait for your other Kurosawa reviews! And I’ll be sure to include these in my Kurosawa marathon this march ;).