Ran (1985), or The Wisdom Of Age

24 09 2009

I truly mean it when I say that Ran is one of the most engrossing Japanese films I’ve ever seen. When you first lay your eyes on it, you’re sucked in and you can’t look away. Akira Kurosawa, after many years of mastering the fine art of cinema, he finally consummated his lifetime of achievements and made a perfect film. To me, this is flawless film-making; after investigating it thoroughly, I find it to be both a visual feast as well as a gripping classical drama that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. This may sound like normal praise about a Kurosawa movie, but even amongst all the Kurosawa pictures I’ve seen, this one ranks highly. I’m somewhat awe-struck and completely amazed by Ran, and it’s not hard to see why.

It’s a loose re-telling of the classic tale of King Lear, set in feudal Japan. Hidetora is a king with three sons, named Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. In his old age, he plans to abdicate the throne, suggesting that the three rule together, with the eldest being the leader. The youngest, Saburo, is not happy with this, and makes this known to his father and his brothers. This creates a rift between the family that slowly begins to tear them apart. Everybody’s petty grievances come out, plots are formulated, and people are killed for useless and base power. It’s a saddening testament to human nature that must be seen to be fully appreciated.

I am floored by everything about this jidaigeki. What a gem to find by such happenstance! A movie such as this is only as potent as the emotions we feel for the characters. If the script is stale, you can sense it from a mile away. But Ran, written by Kurosawa himself, is fresh and extremely relevant in that timeless way. Despite its epic nature, everything hits you personally in a way that resonates through time, class, and gender. It’s about the dissolution of the family, and how when a single family is given too much power, the people between them can suffer the most damage.

The acting is flawless, especially from Hidetora, who is played by my hero from Sword of Doom, Tatsuya Nakadai. He goes through the most in the reconfigured King Lear role, and his presence is still as commanding as ever. The sons are also excellent, with their own unique attributes and eccentricities. My favorite younger actor here, though, has to be Mieko Harada, who play’s Taro’s wife, Lady Kaede. She is cold, ruthless, and desires a divide between the father and husband Taro for some reason. She exerts all her feminine wiles and influence in a way that breaks Taro down, Lady MacBeth-style. Harada is excellent, and after seeing this film I can safely say that she has become one of my favorite Japanese actresses. She imbues the film with grace and charm, and though that charm is used for evil here, it is undeniable and enveloping.

Kurosawa lovingly renders this compelling film in the most beautiful colors imaginable. From the pristine, awe-inspiring green hills of Hidetora’s domain to the raging fires he creates around it, the film looks incredible. I fell in love with every frame of Ran. The shooting style, which uses the least amount of close-ups I’ve ever seen in a Kurosawa film, is refreshing and inventive. The takes are long, patient, and impressively unbroken. He takes his time to establish a mood and a presence for the actors, instead of rushing into things. This is part of what I really enjoy about wise, learned directors; their ability to take their time and judiciously create a scene. Not a moment is squandered on the arrogant spasms of youth’s wanton haste. It’s simply exquisite.

I think I’ll leave this one somewhat short, because I’m honestly at a loss for words right now. I wasn’t expecting something so lovely, so well-crafted. I’m serious when I say that Ran is one of the greatest epics I’ve ever seen, a boon to Kurosawa’s already-amazing oeuvre, and possibly a contender for Best Film of the 80s. It’s that good. It’s a tad long for some people (over 2 1/2 hours), but don’t let that stop you. If you’re in the mood for a dark and chaotic period film (the word Ran means “revolt” or “chaos” when translated), then please watch this movie. I am proud to give Ran 10 Lear-iffic epics out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow I’ll be cooling off my heels from all that drama with something a bit lighter, enigmatically titled I Heart Huckabees! Until then, I leave you with a short scene from one of the best films I’ve been witness to in these 265 days of Cinematronica from today’s feature: