Ran (1985)

Director:  Akira Kurosawa
Cast:  Tatsuya NakadaiAkira TeraoJinpachi Nezu
Plot:  An elderly lord abdicates to his three sons, and the two corrupt ones turn against him.

Genre:  Drama / War / Action

Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Costume Design.  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Runtime:  162min
Rating:  PG13 for battle sequences.
International Sales:  Studiocanal

“Man is born crying.  When he has cried enough, he dies.”

I had a hard time deciding which was my favourite Kurosawa film for a long time – Ran or Seven Samurai (1954).  Both are incredible films, but if you put a gun to my head, I will pick Seven Samurai.  But this review is about Ran, and if you haven’t already noticed, I have given it five stars. 

I gave it full marks when I first caught the film on a DVD.  I have rewatched it more than five times now, the latest occasion on Blu-ray.  Nothing has changed my admiration for the film.  I feel it is still one of the best films I have seen of all-time.

What struck me most was Kurosawa’s direction of his actors and the battle scenes.  Tatsuya Nakadai who plays Lord Hidetora gives one of the great performances that befits a person who has gone insane and has lost himself in a world of chaos, betrayal and irrational violence. 

“In a mad world, only the mad are sane,” says Kyoami, a clownish character who provides comic relief and levity in a serious film based loosely on Shakespeare’s 'King Lear'.  The drama focuses on an elderly Hidetora who gives up his absolute power to his eldest son, while splitting the remaining conquered land to his two younger sons. 

What transpires is an epic disintegration of the father-son bond, ruled by the desire for authority, jealously, vengeance and a host of other debilitating factors.  Kurosawa paints a picture of distinct colours.  Blood spilled is an unnatural bright red; the different coloured flags of opposing armies sway in the wind as they wait for the battle cry. 

The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking – reverse shots could be a hundred miles away, and the attention to detail and realism is extraordinary.  There is a scene where Hidetora walks out of a burning castle – that is an actual fire raging with huge clouds of smoke billowing. 

Kurosawa’s staging of action or the prospect of action is unparalleled.  One of my favourite scenes is that of an army of men on horses paddling across a river from one bank to another, accompanied by the deep thumping of an orchestral drum.  The music by Toru Takemitsu is never intrusive, providing a haunting aural backdrop to a bleak world. 

Winning an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Ran failed to land a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, despite being nominated additionally for Best Director, Cinematography and Art Direction.  This was Kurosawa's last great film, made when he was 75 years of age.  It was as if he needed a lifetime of wisdom to deliver the film. 

Ran is one of the great epics, a film that is quintessentially Japanese, yet its influence continues to permeate the Western world, in particular Kurosawa's mastery of battle action - probably something Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 2001-2003) and Ridley Scott (Gladiator, 2000; Kingdom of Heaven, 2005) might have been inspired to emulate, and if I may add, with the help of CGI.

Verdict:  Among the masterpieces of Kurosawa, this one sits confidently at the very, very top, and is quite rightly one of the greatest films ever made of all-time.


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Kishan said…
Nice review, Eternality. Just watched this film at the Capitol Theatre. I could not take my eyes off the screen. Akira Kurosawa was a true genius and a legend. Watching Kurosawa's films, I've had the impression that his films are first and foremost incredibly entertaining, and watching RAN with an audience really reaffirms it to me. The silent battle sequence at the castle is absolutely transcendent filmmaking; and by watching the film in the theatre, in the second battle sequence you could actually feel in your bones the impact of the thunderous cacophony of hooves and gun shots. By far the best cinematic experience I've ever had.
Eternality Tan said…
Hi Kishan, are we acquainted by the way? Yes, indeed it was my first time watching it on the big screen (finally!). Still in awe of Kurosawa no matter how many times I see it.
Kishan said…
We aren't, but I've been reading your reviews for some time and I really like them, and I think you're one of the best film writers in Singapore! :)
Eternality Tan said…
Thank you, appreciate the encouragement! I do what I can amid my busy work schedule to do what I like, which is to watch and write about films as regularly as I can.

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