In Ran Kurosawa studies the technological, and social, amplification of violence. Once again, he uses the period of the Sengoku Jidai to construct historical metaphor. The civil wars, the political instability, and the endemic patterns of ambition and betrayal that typified that period are used to offer a commentary on what Kurosawa now perceives as the timelessness of human impulses toward violence and self-destruction. (p. 284)
[Seeking retirement, Lord Hidetora bequeaths the family headship to his oldest son, Taro; Jiro and Saburo will retain control of the second and third castles and must pledge to assist Taro.] Saburo, the only son who truly cares for his father...tells his father that his plan of unification is folly and absurdity, pointing out that the three sons are all children of the age, schooled in violence and power-seeking. ["In what kind of world do we live? One barren of loyalty and feeling."] As such, how does he expect them to honor loyalty and live in peace? Hidetora interprets these words as an implicit threat against himself and the other sons and banishes Saburo. This speech, and the subsequent events it prophesies, illustrate the power that Kurosawa now accords to karma and the environment. The self can no longer transcend its age. . . .Kurosawa's view of the human character is at its bleakest and most unsparing, and history has given way to a perception of life as a wheel of endless suffering, ever turning, ever repeating. (285-87)
The problems to be addressed, Kurosawa now believes, are spiritual ones. The once-compelling issues of political and social reform have now been revealed as illusory, like the gestalt of producing a cloud of fireflies on a moonlit night. The man whose films once proclained that willpower could cure human ailments now professes that the world is impervious to reform nd the artist shackled in his or her ability to compel such change. "I believe that the world would not change even if I made a direct statement: do this and do that. Moreover, the world will not change unless we steadily change human nature itself and our very way of thinking. We have to exorcize the essential evil in human nature, rather than presenting concrete solutions to problems or directly depicting social problems." Kurosawa adds that he did not think in these terms when he was young and that is why he could make such films back then. "I have realized, however, that it does not work. The world would not change." (289-90)
--Stephen Prince, The Warrior's Camera
In Ran, Kurosawa creates a series of magnificent visual tableaux by transforming reality into symbols and abstract patterns. The names of the three sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo, mean "first son, "second son," and "third son." These names, therefore, transform the individuality of each son into his hierarchical position in the family system. In a similar vein, the film uses color schematically. Taro, Jiro, and Saburo are respectively clothed in yellow, red, and blue, and their soldiers also carry yellow, red, and blue banners and pennants. The number of horizontal lines on the soldiers' pennants--one, two, and three--corresponds to their leaders' names and familial positions. The troops of Fujimaki, Sabruo's father-in-law, are in white, and those of Ayabe, who attacks the first castle at the film's end, are in black. The scarcity of close-ups and the extensive use of long shots render even principal characters abstract figures and, by preventing the spectators' identification with them, create a sense of detachment that positions the spectators as distant observers of a drama of mass destruction. . .Without any ilusion of psychological depth, they are mere types, used only to as part of the pattern of a magificent tapestry...These abstract signs and designs tend to flatten and transform the film into a transparent surface without any depth. . .
The extreme generalization and abstraction make the film's story, which is already too predictable without any twists, ultimately not significant. The film's pessimistic outlook has in the end only secondary importance compared to the perfectly composed visual tableaux. Among Kurosawa's work, Ran is probably the best example supporting Masumura Yasuzo's characterization of Kurosawa as a "magnificent yet tragic genius" who makes a gargantuan effort to present dynamic and perfect images on the screen.
Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Kurosawa, p. 357-8.
Comments from the booklet accompanying the DVD:
Ran is the late masterpiece and testament of a great director contemplating his own twilight—and the world’s as well. It is a tragedy fed by Shakespeare, Noh, and the samurai epic, full of metaphors and grand themes, a film that shows human brutality, warfare, and suffering, as if from the eye of a dispassionate God, seated far above the world’s terror. In King Lear, we hear that spine-chilling speech, “As flies to wanton boys, so we are to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” But in Ran, it is the humans who kill, wantonly and bloodily, before a god who never interferes, freezingly sad and silent.
Three decades separate Ran from Akira Kurosawa's other great epic, Seven Samurai (1954), and though each is a grand, visually overwhleming saga of warfare, they're quite different in style and effect. Seven Samurai is robust, earthy, full of lusty humor, excitememnt and emotion--a film by a director in his prime. Ran, made when Kurosawa was seventy-five, is coldly beautiful, bleak, horrifying and remote, with an Olympian view that holds little sympathy for most of the main characters. . .
The themes of Ran are the evil of humanity, the deadly heritage of warfare, and madness. But in showing all this horror, Kurosawa leaves us one great consolation: the beauty of the art with which he reveals it all. The stylization in Ran is not completely original. Besides Shakespeare and Noh, we can see it in the antecedents in the films of Kenji Mizoguchi, Teinosuke Kinugasa, and other masters from the great thirties-to-fifties era of Japanese film epic. Where the young Kurosawa had deliberately disrupted the elegant forms of the films from that period, injecting more spontaneity and danger, here he engages with that tradition more subtly, using those films’ overwhelming sense of ritual and the past to create a stabbing feeling of inevitability and fate. Finally, when we see Hidetora and his sons trapped in the poetic frames and staging of Ran, we’re watching a theatricality heightened past grand opera to a point near vertigo and frenzy.
And we’re watching, in the hands of a master (a sensei), a great metaphor of the apocalypse, a world in flames whose chaos is made strangely beautiful.
Some memorable lines from Ran:
Men prefer sorrow over joy...suffering over peace! (Saburo)
Man is born crying. When he has cried enough, he dies. (Kyoami)
"This isn't a movie to be watched, it's a ceremony to
A REVIEW OF RAN
By Roger Ebert
Original date of publication: 12/25/1985
One of the early reviews of Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" said that he could
not possibly have directed it at an
earlier age. My first impulse was to question that act of critical omnipotence.
Who is to say Kurosawa
couldn't have made this film at 50 or 60, instead of at 75, as he has? But then
I thought longer about "Ran,"
which is based on Shakespeare's "King Lear" and on a similar medieval
samurai legend. And I thought
about Laurence Oliver's "Lear" on TV last year, and about the "Lear"
I saw starring Douglas Campbell a
few weeks ago here in Chicago, and I realized that age probably is a prerequisite
to fully understand this
character. Dustin Hoffman might be able to play Willy Loman by aging himself
with makeup, but he will
have to wait another 20 years to play Lear.
The character contains great paradoxes, but they are not the paradoxes of youth;
they spring from long
habit. Lear has the arrogance of great power, long held. He has wide knowledge
of the world. Yet he is
curiously innocent when it comes to his own children; he thinks they can do
no wrong, can be trusted to
carry out his plans. At the end, when his dreams have been broken, the character
has the touching quality of
a childlike innocence that can see breath on lips that are forever sealed, and
can dream of an existence
beyond the cruelties of man. Playing Lear is not a technical exercise. I wonder
if a man can do it who has
not had great disappointments and long dark nights of the soul.
Kurosawa has lived through those bad times. Here is one of the greatest directors
of all time, out of fashion
in his own country, suffering from depression, nearly blind. He prepared this
film for 10 years, drawing
hundreds of sketches showing every shot, hardly expecting that the money ever
would be found to allow
him to make the film. But a deal was finally put together by Serge Silberman,
the old French producer who
backed the later films of Luis Bunuel (who also could have given us a distinctive
Lear). Silberman risked
his own money; this is the most expensive Japanese film ever made, and, yes,
perhaps Kurosawa could not
have made it until he was 75.
The story is familiar. An old lord decides to retire from daily control of his
kingdom, yet still keep all the
trappings of his power. He will divide his kingdom in three parts among his
children. In "Ran" they are
sons, not daughters. First, he requires a ritual statement of love. The youngest
son cannot abide the
hypocrisy, and stays silent. And so on. The Japanese legend Kurosawa draws upon
contains a famous
illustration in which the old lord takes three arrows and demonstrates that
when they are bundled, they
cannot be broken, but taken one at a time, they are weak. He wishes his sons
to remain allies, so they will
be strong, but of course they begin to fight, and civil war breaks out as the
old lord begins his forlorn
journey from one castle to another, gradually being stripped of his soldiers,
his pride, his sanity.
Nobody can film an epic battle scene like Kurosawa. He already has demonstrated
that abundantly in "The
Seven Samurai," in "Yojimbo," in "Kagemusha." In "Ran,"
the great bloody battles are counterpointed
with scenes of a chamber quality, as deep hatreds and lusts are seen to grow
behind the castle walls.
"King Lear" is a play that centers obsessively around words expressing
negatives. "Nothing? Nothing will
come to nothing!" "Never, never, never." "No, no, no, no,
no." They express in deep anguish the king's
realization that what has been taken apart never will be put together again,
that his beloved child is dead and
will breathe no more, that his pride and folly have put an end to his happiness.
Kurosawa's film expresses
that despair perhaps more deeply than a Western film might; the samurai costumes,
the makeup inspired by
Noh drama, give the story a freshness that removes it from all our earlier associations.
"Ran" is a great, glorious achievement. Kurosawa often must have associated
himself with the old lord as
he tried to put this film together, but in the end he has triumphed, and the
image I have of him, at 75, is of
three arrows bundled together.
Lord Hidetora Tatsuya Nakadai
Taro, eldest son Akira Terao
Jiro, second son Jinpachi Nezu
Saburo, youngest son Daisuke Ryu
Lady Kaede Mieko Harada
Lady Sue Yoshiko Miyazaki
Tango Masayuki Yui
Kyoami, the Fool Peter
Orion presents a film directed by Akira Kurosawa and produced
by Serge Silberman and Masato Hara.
Screenplay by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide. Photographed by Takao Saito
Ueda. Music by Toru Takemitsu. Running time 160 minutes. Classified R.
Copyright © Chicago Sun-Times Inc.
And on the briefer, lighter side:
Ran You are not worthy.
No, I'm serious.
This is Ran we're talking about here.
Ran, man. Ran.
Forget Citizen Kane, forget Casablanca, Ran is a serious, strong,
odds-on favorite for "Best Movie Ever Made."
Let's put it this way: It's based on King Lear, which, in my opinion, is
probably Shakespeare's most powerful play ... but it's better than its source
I won't give the entire history behind the movie ... Roger Ebert did a fine
in his Great Movies essay on the film ... but I
will just say that this is the
movie that Akira Kurosawa, probably the greatest director i the history of
film, struggled for years to make. Scorned in his own country, considering
and even attempting suicide, he finally got funding from American
filmmakers to produce this, his greatest film. This is King Lear, enhanced,
added to, with the tragedy moved outside of Lear's heart to the landscape of
Don't take this, by the way, as the enthusiastic ravings of a film-school geek,
ranting about an obscure movie that no mere mortal could hope to understand
without six years of in-depth training in film - Ran was directed by Akira
Kurosawa, who never made a film unaccessible by the moviegoing public.
This is not a pretentious art-house movie, this is a big, cast-of-thousands
movie with huge battle scenes, epic conflicts, castles on fire, weird sex
(implied, off-screen weird sex, but weird sex nevertheless), beautiful
scenery, and hundreds of people in color-coordinated uniforms butchering
each other. It's not just a samurai picture, it's a full-on, balls-to-the-wall
movie, which is also one of the great tragedies. This, gentlemen, is not a
chick flick. This movie kicks butt, takes names, and chops heads off.
Or, to put it another way:
You are not worthy.
While discussing the art of filmmaking, Japanese
director Akira Kurosawa once said, "There is
something that might be called cinematic beauty. It
can only be expressed in a film, and it must be present
in a film for that film to be a moving work. When it is
very well expressed, one experiences a particularly
deep emotion while watching that film."
See also these other sites:
See also these film notes:
(Japanese, 1985, 160 minutes, color, 35 mm)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Tatsuya Nakadai . . . . . . . . . . Lord Ichimonji Hidetora
Jinpachi Nezu . . . . . . . . . . Jiro Masatora Ichimonji
Ryu Daisuke . . . . . . . . . . .Saburo Naotora Ichimonji
Akira Terao . . . . . . . . . . Tarotakatora Ichimonji
Mieko Harada . . . . . . . . . . Lady Kaede
Akira Kurosawa was 75 years old when he made RAN, his 27th film. In every
way, it is the capstone of one of the great careers in the cinema, and those
who would survey this remarkable life spent in the cinema must begin by scaling this enduring, history-swept peak.
It is not surprising that Kurosawa considers it his best work.
Kurosawa agonized over RAN for a decade, and with each passing year, his dream
of filming this epic seemed to recede. His health was beginning to fail, and
far worse, for one of the mediums greatest pictorialists, his eyesight was weakening as well. For Kurosawa, whose
storyboard paintings for the film are so exquisite that they were sold as fine
art, this made getting his vision on the screen even more urgent, for time was running out. His bravest gesture was to
expend much of the money raised for RAN on KAGEMUSHA, which he referred to as
a "dress rehearsal" for RAN. Had KAGEMUSHA failed, Kurosawas opportunity to make RAN would have
been lost forever. It was an inspired gamble, for KAGEMUSHA was a worldwide
hit that convinced the distributor Nippon Herald to provide the money to make RAN.
When finally it went before the cameras, RAN took nine months to shoot and cost
eleven million dollars, making it the most expensive film in Japanese history.
The details were a publicists dream, and a producers nightmare: the 12 thousand detailed medieval costumes,
some taking months to make; the perfect replica of an ancient castle, built
of plastic and wood, in full-scale, the whole thing to be burned up in a fiery climax on the slopes of Mount Fuji; the
52 horses imported from Colorado; and the unheard of (and successful) campaign
to film at two of Japans most revered shrines, the castles at Himeji and Kumamoto.
As he had with other period masterpieces like THE SEVEN SAMURAI and THRONE OF
BLOOD, Kurosawa immersed his film in the world of Bushida, the medieval warrior
code, and its obsessions with courage, atonement, and clan honor. War in Kurosawas films
is perversely gory and courtly at the same time, and his explosive heroes manage,
similarly, to be craggy and imposing on the one hand, and vastly emotional, even sentimental, on the other
hand. In the world of paradoxes he creates, Kurosawas protagonists stalk
about, glowering, wounded behemoths whose spirits are confused by subtle but profound changes in their terrarium-like
King Lear had always been among Kurosawas favorite works by Shakespeare;
now, he set out to make a version of the tragedy that was fully inhabited by
Japanese traditions and
It is the sixteenth century. Seventy year-old "Lord Hidetora Ichimonji"
(Tatsuya Nakadai) is a ruthless feudal baron. He is ready to retire, and his
three sons are candidates for his throne. But the youngest, "Saburo," (Daisuke Ryu) outrages his father, and is banished,
while the two remaining sons contend for the riches of the crown. Joining forces,
they range their armies against their father in an act of political patricide whose viciousness they have learned
from him. Saburos loyalties then become the wheel on which the family
Foreboding hangs over RAN like mist in the dank forests of Lord Hidetoras
estates, masking danger, and hiding true enemies from one another until they
are within a swords length. The conflict over royal succession is set deep within natural symbols--scudding clouds, sunsets,
panoramic landscapes--because, for the combatants, this conflict is as elemental
as the winds and the rain.
Hidetoras behavior on seeing his familys disintegration and his
sons disloyalty is bizarre, and like other memorable Kurosawa protagonists,
such as the brooding patriarch in RECORD OF A LIVING BEING who becomes so fearful of nuclear holocaust that he wants to flee
with his mistress and their son to South America, irrationality is a thin veneer,
covering truths which, for Kurosawa, are as basic as they are terrible for his characters. For these antiheroes,
the news is always bad; a stable life is transformed from within by corrosion
of the family, and of the state, corrosion brought on by the failure of the patriarch to listen and love well
enough in the long years before the crisis. In RAN, Kurosawa graphically exteriorizes
this insanity by sending Lord Hidetora into the wilderness accompanied only by his jester, "Kyoami"
(Peter). In fact, all is insanity in RAN. Families are torn apart by greed,
kingdoms are wastelands awash in rivers of blood, and armies are slaughtered over a royal familys jealousies. Betrayal and
bloodshed pile upon irony and reversals of fortune, as the spoils at the center
of the struggle are destroyed in frantic, murderous conquest. Finally, atop a virtual mountain of corpses, Lord Hidetora
must confront his responsibility for this epic of destruction. Loyalty without
end, bottomless guilt. . .. Kurosawa, who had gotten his start working on "national policy films" in World
War II, has spent his life on screen wondering at the extremes of commitment
and attachment to ideals. His larger-than-life samurai and towering bloodthirsty princes mock the failings and limited ambitions
of the tiny mortals who surround them. And indeed, in full battle array, feared
and dreaded by all, Kurosawas protagonists speak like thunder and strike like lightning. But if the human
frailty they deride is made up of little moments of hesitation in the face of
total devotion, total dedication, total fanaticism, perhaps, Kurosawa seems to be saying in RAN, perhaps those moments of restraint
are not weakness, but strength.