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Ran – Review May 22, 2009

Posted by Cello in Movie Reviews.


Ran is directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. It is a universally acclaimed masterpiece. With that out of the way, I don’t think this is a masterpiece and I don’t necessary jump on the Kurosawa Bandwagon. Seven Samurai was classic, yes, but I had mixed feelings about this film. There are few more prolific and masterful directors in the history of cinema than Japan’s Akira Kurosawa, that is a given. But while most of his legacy was built around the 1950’s and early 60’s, subsequent years would be something of a struggle for him as it was suggested that he was too westernized and even old-fashioned. Kurosawa’s films fall in the category where the tendency to flip the genre on its head, roots in the director’s disdain for bushido, the samurai code of fealty, which he replaces with a humanist compassion and focus on the power of the individual to become heroic through self-sacrifice.

This epic retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear is set in feudal Japan, with the overlord Hidetora as the Lear figure, who starts with everything and ends with nothing. In place of the king’s three daughters in Shakespeare, Kurosawa has substituted three warlord sons. It is the one faithful son who defies the old man, by refusing to go along with a false sense of family unity, and is banished. This movie does a great job crystallizing his two lifelong themes – the samurai code and the illusion of power and permanence.


When the transfer of power is made, things begin to unfold for the worst. Saburo’s foresight is slowly becoming reality. The two oldest sons has disowned their own father and scheme a plan to have complete total control of the Ichimonji kingdom. Eventually the great lord himself is banished from his own empire that he conquered during his lifetime. He is left to wander in the outskirts of the castle. Each of Kurosawa’s changes not only works supremely well in his unique dramatic, and philosophical, conception of the story, it can be argued that they also cast a revealing light on Shakespeare.

Like I stated before, this film is not a perfect masterpiece like some people claim. Just like with his previous efferts, the humanism was still there, but it was now pessimistic and darkly existential. Kurosawa’s aesthetics shifted, too. He adopted color photography for the first time, and ceased shooting with anamorphic lenses despite the renown of his tight, natural, beautiful compositions in the 2.35:1 frame. After the much-publicized unraveling of his deal with 20th Century Fox to direct the Japanese half of the World War II spectacle Tora! Tora! Tora! and the financial failure of his 1970 film Dodes’kaden, the director even attempted suicide. Ran ends with the warlord having lost himself entirely, body, mind, and soul. And not to historical circumstances, but to the consequences of his own life. See the connection? On the visual side, each costume (1400 in all) necessitated 4 months of labor, and this area was at least awarded with an Oscar for Costume Design. Ran is a visual treat in its entirety as is its subdued but effective musical score. Not on the highest caliber of his career but still worth a view.



1. Mr. Bobu-san - May 25, 2009

Hey! i’ve been reading some of your reviews now and then when i get a chance, after seeing your comments on our Movie-Quatic review blog, and i really love your stuff. i’m a huge fan of asian cinema, and reading your blog gives me some good ideas of films to check out. I watched Ran the other day, and i actually could understand why so many critics hailed it as a masterpiece – the acting is sublime, the battle sequences are magnificently choreographed, and a lot of the composition and camerawork is impressive. but i can also see your point of view, and i’d say Ran has probably been outdated by films like those of Zhang Yimou and so on. Regardless, keep up the great work!

2. Nana - June 12, 2009

As well as with Kurosawa´s take on “Macbeth”, it is fascinating to see how Shakespeare´s themes transfer to other cultural contexts. I´m in no position to judge “Ran”, though, since I find it comparatively hard to relate to “King Lear” in general. But I did enjoy this review, particularly the parallels to the director´s life I had no idea about. Thanks for sharing!

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