Ran is cinematic legend Akira Kurosawa’s reimaging of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Set in feudal Japan it tells the sprawling epic of Hidetora Ichimonji, a powerful, but elderly warlord, who has built his vast kingdom upon warfare and conquest. He decides to divide his kingdom among his three sons: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Taro, the eldest, is pronounced as leader of the Ichimonji clan, while Jiro and Saburo are instructed to support him. Jealousy and rivalry ensue as the country is once more torn apart by civil war.
While Ran is a very impressive piece of work visually, the film itself is ponderously slow and unnecessarily long. Scenes unfold at a languid pace with characters simply staring at each other. Another problem is that the characters are underdeveloped. The brother’s motivations seem precipitated solely by greed and jealousy. Coupled with heightened acting the film feels like an extravagantly produced pantomime, which is unfortunate for such an acclaimed director whose work has influenced just about any director you’d care to name.
Although Ran itself is disappointing, the extras on this Studiocanal release are exceptional. The featurette about the 4K restoration is fascinating. It’s astonishing that a film that is only thirty-six years old would need so much restoration. The negative was literally held together by tape.
There are several documentaries about Kurosawa’s life and career. The most comprehensive is the feature-length A.K. by Chris Marker. With the international successes of Throne of Blood, Rashomon and Yojimbo, Kurosawa was celebrated in his native Japan. His most well-known film Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven, and George Lucas cites The Hidden Fortress as an inspiration for Star Wars. Kurosawa was the Japanese Spielberg of the 1950s and '60s. His fortune changed after the much publicised debacle that was Tora! Tora! Tora! Many in the Japanese film industry thought that Kurosawa’s career was finished. Throughout the remainder of his career, he struggled to raise financing for his films.
Included in the bonus features are two excellent documentaries about the history of the samurai and their code of honour. There is also an interview with Ms Mieko Harada who plays Lady Kaede, a character similar to Lady Macbeth but handy with a knife. Finally, the spotlight is shone on Ran’s director of photography Shoji Ueda, whose work is exquisite. If nothing else, Ran is gorgeous to look at, but if you are new to Kurosawa, start with any of his early samurai films. Ultimately, Ran is a film for the Kurosawa completest.
Ran is available now as a 4K release.