One of the great films of the 1980s, this samurai version of the Bard’s bleakest tragedy still ranks as one of the great Shakespeare adaptations and one of the defining works of the famed Japanese writer-director.
Kurosawa established himself as one of the great figures of world cinema in the early 1950s, with influential masterworks such as Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958) and Yojimbo (1961).
With its flashback narrative structure Rashomon influenced generations of filmmakers; Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960); Throne of Blood was a startling reworking of Shakespeare’s Macbeth; The Hidden Fortress was a big influence on the Star Wars trilogy (1977-83) and Yojimbo was virtually remade as Fistful of Dollars (1964).
By the 1980s his global fame was already established, but he directed two further classics, both of them epics. The first was Kagemusha (1980), the tale of a common thief who must impersonate a dying ruler in 16th century Japan.
The second was Ran (1985), whose various translations into English can mean ‘chaos’, ‘revolt’ or ‘confused’, and this would be a worthy tribute to arguably the Bard’s bleakest play.
Transferred to feudal Japan, it charts the hell unleashed when an ageing warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai) experiences a dream that causes him to divide his kingdom among his three sons (played by Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu and Daisuke Ryû) with predictably tragic consequences.
If you have never seen Ran before, the astonishing scale of the film is absolutely stunning. In the current digital age it is hard to image how many of the sequences were actually captured without the use of CGI.
Although the extraordinary battle sequences are incredible to behold, repeat viewings reveal Kurosawa’s subtle handling of the ruling family dynamics and how the arrogance of a single ruler can trigger brutal carnage and destruction.
The late, great Sidney Lumet (himself a master of American cinema) was very perceptive about Kurosawa and Ran:
Obviously Shakespeare’s play remains shockingly relevant, but Kurosawa brought his own distinct flavour to proceedings reimagining the essential elements story into a different culture and time.
In his best work, and this ranks among his finest, Kurosawa also had a knack of connecting inner emotions, such as pride and envy, with larger scale themes of war, betrayal and destruction.
He then used these as a rock solid foundation for crafting one of the great cinema epics, laden with startling visuals, intricate period detail and tremendous performances.
– The Film
– Film Restoration at Éclair
– Akira Kurosawa : The Epic and the Intimate
– Akira Kurosawa by Catherine Cadou
– Art of the Samurai
– Interview with the Director of Photography – Mr Ueda
– Interview with Ms Mieko Harada (As Kaede)
– Interview with Michael Brooke
– Stage Appearance at Tokyo International Film Festival 2015
– The Samurai
Studiocanal release Ran today (May 2nd) on Blu-ray and DVD