I return to the War section of the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, and settle in for Ran, Kurosawa’s epic opus. Taking its inspiration from Shakespeare’s King Lear, the film is a visual masterpiece delving into tragedy, drama and action. It is also one of the top recommendations on the What Else to Watch list in DK Canada’s The Movie Book following my screening of Rashomon.
Lord Hideotaro (Tatsuya Nakadai) is seventy years old, and is ready to retire as the country’s warlord. He is going to pass on his rule to his three sons, Taro (Akira Tarao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu). Taro and Jiro are both eager to take the power their father offers, promising to look after him in his twilight years, but Saburo, risking banishment calls the idea foolish and leaves the realm.
No sooner have both Taro and Jiro come into power, taking over the first and second castles of the land, before claiming the third which was to be Saburo’s, they turn on their father.
He is driven from his homes, even as he falls into traps set for him by Taro, leading to a massive loss of life, and causing the elder to descend into madness.
Saburo may be able to save his father, and foil his brothers machinations, but knowing its based loosely on a tragedy by the Bard, do you think that’s likely?
There are other players in the game as well, the Lady Kaede (Meiko Harada), who serves as Taro’s wife, and then seduces Jiro, as she works her own plans. All of which is set against the gorgeous backdrop of Japan, with stunning, rolling green hills, amazing structures, and family banners flapping in the breeze.
The epic story plays out brilliantly, every character has their role to play, and each has a definable arc, showing us that there are indeed, no small parts.
It has been a long time since I have watched a Kurosawa film, and this one left me agog at its stunning use of colour, landscapes, costumes and performances. A powerful experience that plays out with exemplary craftmanship, and gorgeous cinematography, Each image of the film is beautiful to look at, and the performances and beats bring the story to life.
Watching the concepts of family, honour, betrayal, revenge, and loyalty play out as only Kurosawa could present them makes for a fantastic cinematic experience, that pales in comparison to most of the films that are being made today.
The film walked away with an Oscar for Best Costume Design, while getting nods for Director, Cinematography, and Set Decoration – and it’s easy to see why.
Ran is a pageantry of visual colour and powerful storytelling that is a fantastic introduction to Kurosawa, or a joyful revisit.
Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book and find something amazing to watch tonight.