"This is a film that keeps your attention securely wrapped around its finger from its tranquil opening shots to its heart-wrenching final image."
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Producer: Serge Silverman, Masato Hara
Writer: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide (based on the play "King Lear" by William Shakespeare)
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, Yoshiko Miyazaki, "Peter"
Running Time: 160 min.
Plot: Based on Shakespeare's "King Lear", this epic, set in 16th century Japan, chronicles an aging ruler's descent into madness after being betrayed by the sons to whom he has handed down his authority.
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: How best to refer to this Kurosawa classic's relationship to the Shakespearean play "King Lear"? Well, Shakespeare is little more than a glorified, romanticized hack whose plays were based on well-known (in his day) stories that he himself did not create, so..."adaptation"? No. "Translation"? Nay. "Recreation"? I think not. I suppose "interpretation" will suffice, though I'm sure some caricature of an English professor with a stick up his ass could come up with something more accurate while chewing me out for daring to speak ill of the biggest sacred cow in all of literature.
Anyway...this is one of Kurosawa's last films, and perhaps it's no coincidence that he chose the theme of the elderly passing the reins or the banner or the (fill in the metaphor) down to the next generation. Lear's equivalent character in Ran is 70-year old warlord Hidetora Ichimonji, hauntingly portrayed by venerable actor Tetsuya Nakadai, a veteran of several earlier Kurosawa films. No daughters has he...just a trio of sons named (eldest to youngest) Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu). As is the case in the play, the two older offspring give their dad a verbal blow job when it's time to divvy up the territory, and only the youngest speaks the truth. Hidetora, too prideful to see through Taro's and Jiro's flattery, banishes Saburo. He then finds himself unable to adapt to life on a lower rung of the ladder of power, and Taro and Jiro, ungrateful swine that they are, refuse to treat him with the dignity and respect he believes he is due. His world turned upside-down, Hidetora succumbs to madness while his violent rise to power in a half-forgotten past comes back to bite him on the ass.
As Shakespearean tragedies go, King Lear has one of the highest body counts...possibly THE highest. It therefore comes as no surprise that Ran has no shortage of bloodshed, both referred to in the past tense and displayed to us through an unflinching lens. A gruesome siege an hour or so into the film is turned into a thing of perverse beauty by the expert cinematography by Takao Saito and the absence of dialogue and sound effects; Toru Takemitsu's musical score is the only aural component. As is to be expected for a film bearing the "epic" label, the visuals aim to impress; there are some choice shots that do a fine job in showing the majesty of both Japan's man-made structures and its untamed countryside.
Outstanding amongst the supporting characters are Taro's vicious, conniving wife, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), and Hidetora's irreverent but fiercely loyal jester/nurse, Kyoami (played by an actor credited only as "Peter"). He provides the only comic relief in this grim tale but also displays wisdom unusual for one of his standing, dispensing gems such as "In a mad world only the mad are sane", "If the rock you sit on starts to roll, jump clear...or you'll go with it and be squashed", and my personal favorite, "Man is born crying. When he's cried enough, he dies." There was a six year gap between the two times I watched this movie, but that particular quote stayed with me for the whole period.
Age (and a failed suicide attempt) did nothing to dull Kurosawa's talent. This is a film that keeps your attention securely wrapped around its finger from its tranquil opening shots to its heart-wrenching final image.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 8/10