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Akira Kurosawa's 1985, Ran, is based one of Shakespeare's greatest
works, King's Lear. The Film proudly stands along with his other
classic such as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Roshomon, Sanjuro and the
Hidden Fortress. He is a master in the art of filmmaking, no one can
film an epic battle scene quite like Kurosawa. This is recognized as
the most expensive film ever made by Akira Kurosawa, it was at that
time, Japan's most expensive film ever. Being at the age of 75, he
still showed us, he's one of the best in the business.
This movie is about an aging lord, head of the Ichimonji family, decides to retire and to pass the power to Taro, the eldest of his three sons. He will however have to banish Saburo, the youngest one, who dared to speak the truth to him. Soon, the former lord is chased away from the castles of his sons and becomes mad when he understands that one of his sons is trying to kill him. The three brothers are fighting for control of the Kingdom, as their lust for power grows every day. Four armies are facing each other on the prairie. Lord Ichimonji's former peaceful kingdom is nothing but a distant memory.
Akira Kurosawa redefines what an epic film is, with astonishing story telling, entirely believable characters and real life battle scenes without the use of Special effects/CGI. He retells the story of King Lear in his own way and no one would recognize that it was actually a adaptation beforehand. But just like Shakespeare, there is humor, irony, death and not a happy ending. Everyone who played a part in the production of this film, deserves some kind of recognition. The acting is pretty much excellent and certainly believable.
10/10 Kurosawa is a Genius
I would agree with Ebert's review on a point, that Akira Kurosawa,
legendary director of such samurai classics as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo,
Hidden Fortress, and Kagemusha, as well as human dramas like Rashomon,
The Lower Depths, and Red Beard, could really best direct this film in
his old age. There's something about his version of the doomed King
Lear of Shakespeare, his Lord Hidetora Ichimonji that could be truly
captured by someone in old age. Not to say that directors can't make
great films when they're young, or in middle age, about a man in the
dark days of the golden years (About Schmidt, Tokyo Story, Bob Le
Flambeur, and Kurosawa's own Ikiru come to mind). But it's clear that
Kurosawa must've seen or felt or understood at least an element of
Hidetora's character, something that goes beyond tragedy that is stuck
with all who are mortal.
At one point when Hidetora is in a wandering, dazed state he says "I am lost", to which his companion/caretaker Kyoami responds "Such is the human condition." Was Kurosawa lost as an artist and filmmaker as he tried to get his epic (which at the time of it's filming was the most expensive Japan had seen, and got some extra backing from outside European backers) off the page and onto celluloid? Hard to say, but the end result displays that even in his later days he could create a work so wonderful, so sad, so brutal, and so human that it will remain timeless. If Kurosawa deserves praise for look of the film, the pacing, the editing, every single painstakingly storyboarded (painted) shot, and his direction with the two battle sequences as well as with the quieter, more compelling scenes with the actors, the man who plays Hidetora deserves some as well (like any production of King Lear, including Godard's wild treatise with Burgess Meredith in the lead role, the actor is as important as the writer). Tatsuya Nakadai, who had roles in past Kurosawa films as a young man in Yojimbo (the gunslinger) and Sanjuro (the opponent), is awe-inspiring.
Early in the film, after a mind-shattering dream, his character decides to split up his kingdom unto his three sons (Jiro, Saburo, and getting the first castle and all control, Taro), he still feels in control, and has the look of a Lord with just the right level of stubbornness and, unfortunately, naivety. Then, as everything he owns crumbles before him, there is one scene that struck me as remarkable, and then for the rest of the film I couldn't take my eyes off of Nakadai whenever he was on screen. It involves the first battle sequence, in which one of his son's comes to take over a castle, and killing all of Hidetora's men. Look at Nakadai in the scene where he's sitting down stone-faced amid the chaos going on outside, and then as he somehow manages to walk out, the fellow soldiers making way for him. He then sees one of his sons, the betrayer, and he doesn't say a word- he's already decided that his son Taro has gone too far with his position, as he rules over his domain and scares the peasants right out of the picture- and he simply walks away, as his family continues to crumble under corruption of the mind and heart.
It's a sequence like that though, where the great Lord makes such a radical change, where Kurosawa and Nakadai have some of their greatest time ever on a screen. As the filmmaker treats the battle, up to a point, like a feudal-Japanese version of a Eisenstein battle (no talk, no sound effects, just the eerie, sorrowful score here applied by Toru Takemitsu) with devastation and visceral nature taken to a poetic, thoughtful level, the actor's eyes and body language are, well, indescribable almost. And if Nakadai gives the finest male performance of the film, credit is equally due to the pivotal female character, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), who is like a Lady Macbeth taken to the next level. This is a character that's seen Lord Ichimonji destroy his castle when she was young, and now that she has her son(s) right in the palm of her hand, she'll have her revenge in guise of ego-feeding.
I may not be able to recommend Ran on one level, despite it being on the painter's equivalent of a splendorous, seething portrait of royalty. Kurosawa takes his time telling the story, and to some it might even feel longer than his epic Seven Samurai. This is a work heavy on emotional nuance, on how the characters (in particular Hidetora) look unto their surroundings, how the presence of destruction and war and slayings are traumatic as opposed to being 'cool' in a stylistic way. If you're looking for a slam-bang action thriller look, elsewhere. But if you're looking for a mature film about life, death, loss, and the bonds that are kept within families, the mind, and how we accept and give forgiveness (a blind character named Lord Tsurumaru is stunning from a certain point of view), this is it. As well for the Shakespeare fan it's an absolute must-see, and it may even turn some onto Shakespeare's classic due to the fact that this film, much like Throne of Blood, contains none of the language style used in the source.
Throughout his career Kurosawa strove to achieve what he called "real
cinema", proclaiming that "in all [his] films, there's [only] three or
minutes" of such quality. Many would argue that he was his greatest
For if not in "Seven Samurai", then definitely in "Ikiru" and if not in
"High and Low", then definitely in "Rashomon" he must have achieved this
plateau of greatness. Well, if not in any of his other films, then
definitely in "Ran" Kurosawa finally came to the apex of cinematic
With the both lyrical and grandiose tone of its craft, its beautifully
imagery, its haunting score by Toru Takemitsu, and its lead Tatsuya
Nakadai's masterful understated performance, "Ran" is perhaps the most
realized epic ever made.
The tale, which is an adaptation of Shakespeare's "King Lear", begins as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji and his court are out hunting. During a break in the hunt, Hidetora proclaims his adbication from the hight seat of the Great Lord and bestows his lands unto his three sons, dividing them up equally. He declares his oldest to be his successor in power. When his youngest son and one of his faithful nobles, express their concerns on this idea, Hidetora foolishly banishes them both, mistaking their advice as insolence. With this opening scene, the peaces are aligned and soon 'chaos' as the film is aptly named will break out throughout the land. From here, we see the downfall of Hidetora and all those who surround him. The film retains all the themes of the original play, but also thanks to Kurosawa's own input addresses a slew of even more varied ideas. Like Shakespeare, Kurosawa is greatly interested in the responsibility of the leader and the hypocrisies and ironies of an autocratic system. The most obvious though not the central theme in the whole film is war, and Kurosawa explores this theme to its full extent throughout the film. In perhaps the most grandiose battle scene every filmed, he demonstrates the destructive consequences and the paradoxical beauty of conflict.
Here, Kurosawa implements the camera with masterful skill not once employing the editing/photography tricks and gimmicks so often seen in films (even the good ones) today. This director has an awareness of the past and the history of film, but also the creative spontaneity of a true genius. In "Ran", he focuses on the more methodically simple yet artistically complex montage of Eisenstein, and on the strict compositions of Ozu. He employs the most basic and yet most artistic of techniques. Each shot is planned to precision, and each cut is made for a purpose. The coreagraphy and blocking of each scene is simple and powerful, and Kurosawa allows the actors to play out these scenes without the intrusion of the camera or the editor. Thus, the director prevents the style from eclipsing the already powerful material he has to work with. Simply put, "Ran" is a masterpiece that flows and develops like an opera, from its forebodingly peaceful ouverture to its bloody Shakespearean heart until its final, quietly subdued, and sorrowful denouement.
Based on Shakespeare's King Lear, this film follows the story of the
aging warlord Hidetora who, in an attempt to restore peace, divides his
kingdom between his three sons - Taro, Jiro, and Saburo - and retires
from his duties. However, one of his sons sees this as unwise and is
banished by his father, leaving his two brothers in charge of two of
the three castles left in their hands. It isn't long before they are
overtaken by greed and eventually betray their father, leaving him in
the hands of a philosophical jester and a loyal retainer. This betrayal
ultimately leads to war, dividing the family and driving Hidetora
The remarkable script, which contains many of my favorite lines from any film, still manages to break its way through the confinement of subtitles and reveals itself to be one of the richest Kurosawa ever wrote. He has obviously worked equally hard on the look and feel of the film - the cinematography being excellent (example: the long, continuous shot of Saburo's men charging on horseback across a river).
There's also something rather frightening about it that I can't quite put my finger on. The first battle, which is the film's turning point, is the most horrifying, yet strangely beautiful, battles ever filmed. A good effect used is the loss of sound, with only Toru Takemitsu's haunting score to be heard. The entire battle lasts less than ten minutes and there is no uplifting or bombastic music to be heard, but in my opinion, it's Ran's finest scene, and thus the finest scene ever.
What Kurosawa managed to get rather than give though was excellent performances from his actors, none more brilliant than Tatsuya Nakadai's Hidetora, Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede (a woman similar to Lady Macbeth but with a different hidden agenda), and the strangely-named Peter as Kyoami.
'Ran' is the Japanese word for chaos, riot, dissension. Akira
Kurosawa's masterpiece is indeed a feast of destruction and perdition,
charged with symbols and powerful in pictures like it is found very
rarely in today's cinema.
The dusky story is based on Shakespeare's 'King Lear'. In the film a Japanese warlord celebrates his own downfall. Kurosawa devised this with a radical film language which works with certain imageries of colors, rapid cut sequences and a sophisticated sound design. When the colorful flags of the different armies get intermixed in a battle, when the peacefully quiet wind (which carries the soundtrack) swells to a raving storm or when long wide shots suddenly segue into shots of details that follow hot on each other's heels then you realize Kurosawa's incredible style which deeply influenced the cinema worldwide.
The drawings of the characters are equally terrific. Hidetora's jester is for a certain reason always at the side of the warlord. Their relationship alters as the film continues: Jester and warlord change their roles which makes it hard to distinguish both. Just as the sky turns from blue to grey with dark clouds, the violent past of Hidetora is catching up the aging lord. His trail of murder and predation is not forgotten, the brutally conquered land still carries the old scarves of war and exploitation which now burst out again.
The viewer can take this monumental work as a warning to the destructive power of war, which is even decades later at present and beset those who seed the violence.
Kurosawa, while a great director, isn't somebody whose films I blindly endorse.
However, Ran takes the cake. It easily makes my personal top five films any time I think about it.
The imagery is absolutely stunning, and the dialogue is quite clever. The battle scenes are suitably horrific, and the humor (and yes, there is humor) is subtle enough not to get in the way.
All told, one of the greatest films it's been my privilege to see. I watched it to get the nightmare that was Cold Mountain out of my head, as proof that long movies can actually be epic, as opposed to boring, trite, and predictable.
Ran takes viewers to a place they would rather not explore on their own. In a world of cruelty, Kurasowa has shown how the moments within the horror can have beauty. Shakespeare wrote King Lear as a mirror on the human condition. We do not have to be kings and princesses to identify with the father's desire for the well being of his children, even if his own life was one of cruelty and pain. We see this theme throughout great literature and film. What Ran has done is to provide the viewer with many small moments within the pain to realize the beauty. Even the moment of epiphany for Hidetora, when his actions achieve his madness, is one of surpassing beauty. As the storm rages outside the small house of the prince he blinded, whose parents he killed, whose sister he forcibly married off, the simple sounds of the flute provide an intense focus on the here and now. It is at this moment when Hidetora recognizes that he himself sowed the seeds of his own destruction. There is no dialogue, no swashbuckling, just the terrible beauty of the music. As with many of Kurasowa's films, despite their epic scope, it is the small paint strokes that make up the master's canvas.
The 'Kurosawa' adaptation of King Lear in his film 'Ran' is a tremendous
It is a very dramatic film with many soliloquies and dialogue, but if you are patient with it, you are treated to some of the most epic scenes of cinematic brilliance that Kurosawa made. After all it is Shakespeare and one must be patient with it if they are not a fan of the old school theatre.
Colourfull clashing armies, The lord awaiting his fate in a burning castle, a brilliant execution scene (I consider the BEST I have ever seen film ever), and the blind being left in the hands of Buddha?
While Seven Samurai will always be his perfection, Ran is more than an enjoyable movie that should be seen. Just stick with it and you'll never forget it.
Rating 9 out of 10.
With RAN (1985) Akira Kurosawa seems to be setting up a macarbe trap. The
first section of the film is slow, following an aging warlord (Tatsuya
Nakadai's best acting in a long wonderous career.) dividing his castles
amongst his unsavory sons. The action is slow, people talk in low tones,
it's almost at snail's pace. But then, a battle scene like nothing you ever
seen before explodes on the screen. The film takes a 180 degree turn and
becomes more and more sinister, more compelling. You can't look away.
Akira Kurosawa (1910-1997) was responsible for elevating Japanese cinema to a front-runner in world cinema. Two of his films, RASHOMON and SEVEN SAMURAI were made in less than ten years after World War II. These films put a spotlight on Japanese culture. Some of his later films, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, THE BAD SLEEP WELL, YOJIMBO and HIGH AND LOW became the basis for a good percentage of the major American films produced after 1960.
If you sit down to see RAN, be prepared for a jaw-dropping experience.
Ran is probably cinema's greatest rendition of a Shakespearean Epic,
ironically coming from an oriental film-maker. Adapted by Kurosawa from
Shakespeare's King Lear, Ran undoubtedly features amongst the best
works of the master auteur. It captures with sheer vividness and
surreal resplendence, the true essence of human struggle for survival,
highlighting the cruelties associated with life. Ran is strictly
indicative of the sole consistency of life i.e. change, an attribute
that not only makes the humans vulnerable but also gives them the hope
to rise after a fall.
The story focuses on a senile warlord, who owing to his senescence is rapidly losing his strength and his ferocious grandeur that he had earned through years of relentless savagery and ruthless slaughter, ergo he renounces to his three sons, hoping them to establish a sort of a triumvirate with the eldest son having a slight edge. His two elder sons accept the proposal with rapturous glee, but his youngest son seems bemused and questions the wits of the patriarch for taking the untimely decision. Though arrantly annoyed by his son's audacious defiance, he tries to console him, only to find him inconsolable. Deeply hurt by his son's impertinence and censure, he reluctantly banishes him and enthrones the two elder sons. The rest is rather worth a watch than a read, for there is nothing that can better the sumptuous elegance of Ran.
The brilliantly captured scenes are breathtaking to say the least, especially the war scene that depicts fate casting the final blow to the ruthless reign of the warlord. The brutality and the bloodshed depicted in the very scene can make even a cold-blooded appear jittery. Ran portrays the poetic justice in such a relentless and abominable fashion that one can't help but sympathize with the narcissistic warlord, who spent his life arrogating and annihilating the innocent souls. The plaintive score gives the movie a much desired tone, a mood that not only supports its melancholic backdrop, but also immensely adds to its poignant beauty. The final scene featuring the blind boy, deeply clutched by his haplessness and gross solitude, though doesn't feature an utterance of even a single syllable, the playback of the mystical flute makes the scene haunting as well as mesmerising and worth a thousand words. Ran is a classic example of Kurosawa's brilliance and perhaps a consummation of his apotheosis.
A must watch for eclectic viewers and admirers of pristine cinema. Highly recommended: 10/10.
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