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.
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 new 4K restoration, courtesy of Studiocanal and ICO (Independent Cinema Office), renders this masterpiece in new levels of detail and comes with the following extras:
– 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
The performances from Farrell, Plummer and Bale are nicely restrained, whilst Kilcher is terrific, bringing an impressive depth of feeling to her role.
James Horner’s score, alongside some judicious use of Wagner, is probably the greatest he’s ever written with a thrilling use of strings and melody.
When the film premiered in late 2005 in New York and Los Angeles with a running time of somewhere around 2 hour 30 minutes, Malick decided to cut it down by about 15 minutes for the wider release.
I remember going to a BAFTA screening in November 2005 and I caught the longer cut and when I saw the initial DVD release in 2006, it seemed a little cut down, although it isn’t the kind of film where the cuts were immediately apparent.
The ‘Extended Cut’ on the Blu-ray is the same the DVD released at October 14, 2008 which is almost 22 minutes longer than the original extended cut.
This is the kind of film that could have been made to highlight the Blu-ray format because the stunning cinematography )all shot on Steadicam using natural light) is a key element in the film’s power.
The new Blu-ray is a 1080P transfer the sharpens everything up in terms of colour and resolution.
DVD Beaver has posted some screen captures comparing the DVD and Blu-ray versions and they also note that grain is not as prevalent as expected and note that the audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track at 1437 kbps.
The extras on the Blu-ray Disc include:
Behind The Story – Making ‘The New World’: A comprehensive 10-part documentary about the making of the film that expands by about 20 minutes on the original making-of doc on the original 2006 DVD release.
This new Blu-ray release follows an aging Sengoku-era warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai) who decides to abdicate as ruler in favour of his three sons and the subsequent chaos that is unleashed on his kingdom.
Returning to the Shakespearean themes he had previously explored in Throne of Blood, this was Kurosawa’s last major epic and silenced doubters who felt he couldn’t work in colour.
After a glittering career as one of world cinema’s most acclaimed directors, by the late 1970s Kurosawa had been struggling with numerous personal and professional problems which saw him have difficulty in getting financing for his films.
That changed with Kagemusha (1980), the story of a man passed off as a medieval Japanese lord, and it was financed with the help of the director’s most famous admirers, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.
Ran explored similar aspects of medieval Japan but was bigger and more ambitious in scope, to the point that he spent nearly a decade planning it and trying to obtain funding.
With the help of French producer Serge Silberman, he finally managed to get it in production and the result was a stunning epic filled with memorable compositions and haunting performances.
However, the film has always had a noisy band of critics from the ludicrous gang of socialist delegates at the 1979 Berlin film festival who protested against the screening of the film – feeling obliged to voice their solidarity with the “heroic people of Vietnam”.
After Cimino’s epic fall from grace with Heaven’s Gate (1980), the knives came out as revisionists attacked the film: the Russian roulette sequence was historically inaccurate; the lead characters were too old; and of course the hoary old critique – beloved of contrarians apparently grasping at profundity – that it was somehow racist in its depiction of the North Vietnamese.
Some of these criticisms can be refuted by the fact that it is a work of imagination, not documentary, and that it isn’t actually about the politics of the Vietnam War.
Given the lies and political deceptions that created and prolonged the conflict, it is perhaps understandable that justifiable anger would spill out into discourse about the first major film to feature it as a backdrop.
But it isn’t a defence of US involvement in South East Asis and, if anything, is something of a cautionary tale of how innocence and idealism – very American virtues after World War II – can be devoured by the horrors of war.
If a film like The Green Berets (1968) was a deluded depiction of what some Americans actually thought was going on in Vietnam, The Deer Hunter represents the painful cultural hangover the nation felt at losing their first war.
Over thirty years on from its release, there is still a powerful sense of existential dread within the film which has probably been felt by any community scarred by sending its people off to war, be it Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Rather than being a sentimental celebration of fallen soldiers, it remains a haunting portrayal of patriotic ignorance being slowly crushed by the reality of armed conflict.
With a running time just over three hours, it is a slow and meditative epic filled with memorable images that were superbly shot by Vilmos Zsigmond and the Blu-ray does real justice to his visuals.
Some of the extras have appeared on previous versions by Warner and Optimum but for the Blu-ray Disc some new ones have been added.
The most interesting of these is a French documentary about the Vietnam War called ‘Unknown Images’ which is gives valuable context to what they describe as an ‘abominable war’.
Realising the Deer Hunter: Interview with Michael Cimino (23 mins)
Shooting the Deer Hunter: Interview with Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (15 mins)
Playing The Deer Hunter: Interview with John Savage (15 mins)
Unknown Images: Documentary on the Vietnam War (47 mins, NEW)
Introduction by Mickey Rourke (2 ½ mins, NEW)
Booklet: Analysis by Ryan Gilbey, film critic of the New Statesman (NEW)
An American Werewolf in London (Universal): A fully remastered re-release on Blu-ray for John Landis’ 1981 werewolf horror is most welcome, especially as it has a new set of extras including a feature-length documentary ‘Beware the Moon’ and a featurette ‘I Walked With a Werewolf’.
The plot involves two US tourists named David and Jack (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) who are attacked by a werewolf on the Yorkshire Moors. Jack dies but David survives and is taken to London where he falls in love with a nurse (Jenny Agutter). However, after dark dreams and visions he slowly realises he has become a creature of the night, wreaking havoc on the British capital.
Interestingly 1981 was the year of two other werewolf films (The Howling and Wolfen) but this one has accumulated a particular cult following due to its killer blend of scary horror (watch out for the curtains) and humour which is often at its best when you are least expecting it.
The other aspect of the film that is notable is the groundbreaking use of makeup and visual effects by Rick Baker. The famous transformation sequence was actually a major factor in makeup and industry technological contributions being recognized at the Academy Awards in 1981 as Baker won the first ever Oscar to be awarded to a special effects artist.
Landis has been effusive about the quality of the transfer to Blu-ray as he revealed in this interview with /Film at FrightFest last month in London:
French (European), German and Italian 2.0 Mono DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Traditional Chinese, Canadian French, Greek
I Walked With A Werewolf (New) (HD) – Make-up effects artist Rick Baker tells of his life-long love of the Wolfman, how he would go on to create the creature in An American Werewolf in London, and how he was able to pour his passion into the upcoming Wolfman feature.
Beware The Moon (New) – In this feature-length documentary, filmmaker Paul Davis guides us through a never-before-seen, in-depth look at the Making of An American Werewolf in London, with the help of director John Landis and make-up artist Rick Bake
Making An American Werewolf in London, An Original Featurette
An Interview With John Landis
Make-up Artist Rick Baker On An American Werewolf in London
Casting of the Hand
Feature Commentary with Cast Members David Naughton & Griffin Dunne
Belle De Jour (Optimum): Another classic gets re-rleased by Optimum this week and this 1967 drama from director Luis Bunuel still exudes a classy eroticism.
Catherine Deneuve plays a frigid housewife whose sexual fantasies come true when she opts to become the high class call girl of the title during the day and a loyal housewife at night.
From the famous opening scene to the later stages, Bunuel creates a telling portrait of a suffocating bourgeois life (aided by the magnificent cinematography by Sacha Vierny) but also subverts many of the audience assumptions in the surrealist fashion distinctive of his other work.
Deneuve gives an immaculate performance in what is probably her most iconic role, her icy beauty sometimes overshadowing the subtleties of what is arguably her finest performance.
It is a film that repays repeated viewings, not only for the little enigmas that are peppered throughout (such as that mysterious box) but for the questions it raises about desire and fantasy which retain a lasting power.
The Blu-ray transfer is impressive and the specs and extra features are:
French 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English, German, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
The Last Script (1hr 34 mins, NEW)
Commentary from Spanish Cinema expert: Professor William Evans
Story of a Film documentary (29 mins)
A Story of Perversion or Emancipation: Interview with a sex therapist (28 mins, NEW) (HD)
BD Live (DynamicHD)
Booklet: Analysis of the movie by Derek Malcolm, film critic of the Guardian for 35 years and now critic of the London Evening Standard (NEW)
The Prisoner (Network): Network have announced the release of the complete series of The Prisoner on Blu-ray Disc. This iconic cult series starring Patrick McGoohan as a former spy taken prisoner in a mysterious village, marks Network’s first foray into the Blu-ray market.
The 6-disc limited edition box set is priced at £59.99 RRP and this is the first Blu-ray version of the series anywhere in the world and is the only home entertainment edition of the series to be officially endorsed by McGoohan.
Containing all seventeen episodes, extras on the set are as follows:
“Don’t Knock Yourself Out” a feature-length documentary which is the most comprehensive look at the production of ‘The Prisoner’, told by those involved in its creation
Restored original edit of ‘Arrival’ with an optional music-only soundtrack featuring Wilfred Josephs’ complete and abandoned score
Production Crew audio commentaries on seven episodes
Trailers for all episodes
Archive textless material, including the title sequence with clean themes by Ron Grainer, Wilfred Josephs and Robert Farnon
Commercial Break Bumpers
Behind-the-Scenes footage including much previously unseen
Script and Production Documentation PDFs
Image Galleries with Music Suites
Exclusive book on the making of the series by TV historian Andrew Pixley
Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes on all episodes + the original Mono