For the next film I wanted to cover for this years Blind Spot list, I wanted to go to one director whose films I should be a lot more familiar with, Akira Kurosawa. Now before this the only films of Kurosawa’s I’d seen were Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai, considering the decades long career of Kurosawa, only seeing two of his films I think I needed to see more. Considering that one of the only other ones I’ve seen was Throne of Blood, I feel like going back to Kurosawa’s Shakespeare adaptations was a good call so I chose to go with Ran, Kurosawa’s version of King Lear.
The film focuses on Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Japanese warlord, who decides to divide his land between his three sons, Taro, Jiro and Saburo. Whilst Taro and Jiro accept, Saburo does not due to understanding that Taro and Jiro will not remain loyal to Hidetora the second Hidetora stands down, with Hidetora banishing Saburo for this. However, Saburo’s prediction comes true with Taro and Jiro wanting to use Hidetora as a puppet in their own schemes to obtain total power. During this time, Hidetora starts to descend into madness, haunted by those who he killed in his rise to power. Now whilst Ran is best known as an adaptation of King Lear, that came about by accident. Originally, Ran was meant to be a subversion of the tale of Mori Motonari and the three arrows, with the subversion unintentionally lending itself well to a retelling of King Lear. The atmosphere that Kurosawa generates throughout Ran is incredibly bleak, death being seen in all corners, as true in the production of the film as in the film itself. There’s a sense of a world abandoned in this film, the environment being virtually empty except for war and those we do see suffering from the damage caused by Hidetora, this sense of a world abandoned by all, even the gods, going through to the final frame of the film.
The performances meanwhile help show the bleak tone of the film. As Hidetora, Tatsuya Nakadai does excellent work showing the descent into madness that Hidetora goes through, unable to accept the reality of the world due to his intense feelings of guilt. He portrays Hidetora as someone who expects to be despised, he gained his power through bloodshed and he cannot comprehend the idea that anyone would pity or forgive him. He also shows that, even in his advanced age, Hidetora is still a powerful threat, able to kill without a second thought, with his madness and inability to accept the truth of the world leading to his downfall. As Taro, Jiro and Saburo, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu and Daisuke Ryu are solid, each showing a different side of the film, from the power hungry nature of Taro, to the more tactical Jiro and the more intelligent and respectful Saburo. The most fascinating character in the film though isn’t any of these characters, it’s Lady Kaede with Meiko Harada giving an incredible performance. Lady Kaede is someone who saw her family killed by Hidetora and was forced into marriage with his son Taro, Harada showing the horror of that situation effectively, but the interesting aspect of the character comes through how she plays the other characters, even turning Jiro against his wife so she can be with him, putting herself right in the line of power in order to destroy the entire Ichimonji clan. It’s difficult for anyone to pull off playing such a powerful puppeteer but Harada does it brilliantly, made even more effective through the use of Noh acting techniques for her performance. There’s also a fascinating performance from Takeshi Nomura as Tsurumaru, who was blinded by Hidetora’s forces upon the seizing of his fathers lands, with his sister, Lady Sue, being forced into marrying Jiro (with Yoshiko Miyazaki giving a solid performance showing her more forgiving nature towards Hidetora), the horror of war being best seen through his body language and how the character isolated himself to stay as safe as he could from Hidetora. Solid performances are also seen from Masayuki Yui, Shinnosuke Ikehata and Hisashi Igawa, all adding to the tone of the film.
On a technical level, the cinematography is incredible. Working from the storyboards that Kurosawa painted for the film, we get a unique looking film, the sense of despair and horror present throughout every frame of the film, from the fires destroying the castles to the body strewn battlefields to the ruins of fortresses long destroyed. The use of colour in particular needs to be highlighted, mainly the strong primary colours used to represent Taro, Jiro and Saburo which help to give clarity to the chaos of the battle scenes, knowing the sides of each army by the colours they sport. The battle scenes themselves are masterfully handled, showing the chaos of war along with the horror and death associated with war, the sheer number of arrows and bullets being fired showing a world that knows nothing other than war. The music meanwhile adds a melancholic feel to the film, in particular the flute music played by Tsurumaru, which adds an unsettling air to the whole film.
Overall, whilst there are still a lot more Kurosawa films I need to see, it’ll be hard for any of them to top this one in quality. The bleak nature of the story, the strong visuals and the excellent acting creates a film with a tone unlike any other that you’ll see, making Ran an incredibly powerful film, with the rough translation of the character for Ran, Chaos, being an apt description of the tone of the film.
My Rating: 5/5