Plot – In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the newfound power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other…and him – Ran.
Director – Akira Kurosawa
Released – 1985
Ran, a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, starts as it means to go on. A gorgeous sequence with several shots of soldiers on horseback, perched like statues on a rural seaside, guarding the victorious elderly warlord King Hidetora out hunting with his three sons, with Hidetora announcing his retirement, dividing his kingdom equally between his three sons. A decision that ends up disastrous for the Hidetora household.
Ran is more than a battle for power between three sons. One thing that soon becomes apparent with multiple viewings are the subtle actions and power-plays being made by characters in the background.
For example, the rival warlords form alliances when they sensed blood in the water or Lady Kaede, who secures a place by the side of not one but two of the brothers through a series of schemes and plots worthy of Game of Thrones and much like HBO’s TV mega-hit, the characters we sympathise with changes multiple times throughout the movie, especially King Hidetora, whose fall from grace is truly spectacular, but maybe his past actions deserve this fate?.
The aesthetic style of Ran feels completely different from much of Kurosawa’s past work, especially the masterful Seven Samurai. This is a more mature Kurosawa, here the pace is much slower, his camera work remains much more static, gone are the frequent close-up shots to characters show emotions, replaced with wide shots that showcase the grandness of this tale but also how detached the audience is from the events seen on screen.
Gone too also are the usual moral platitudes Kurosawa liked to include in his movies. There is very little in the way of preaching here. You won’t find a moral lesson to take away from these events, and although you can sympathise with some characters, it is hard to relate with them or empathise.
One thing that’s consistent across each of Kurosawa’s works is his eye for what looks good on screen and Ran is no different, his use of colour is stunning, with each rival son’s army represented by a different colour and the stunning landscapes in which the action takes place.
Feeling like a series of Renaissance paintings that perfectly matches the medieval subject matter. The only real problem with the film is that the film starts off really interesting, has an incredible battle scene, and then comes to a screeching halt during the middle portion of the film, before picking back up again in the final third.