Ran ( 乱 )
At the time of it's release, Akira Kurosawa's Ran (乱) was the most expensive movie in the history of Japan. Never before had Japan seen a spectacle as grand as Kurosawa's epic adaptation of 'King Lear'. As I witnessed this epic recently at a special screening, I realized once again why the auteur is regarded as one of the greatest cinematic genius. Such is the mastery of Kurosawa that despite the grandiose and scale of Ran, every character leaves a indelible mark with their emotions, intents, desires, fears and their 'madness' perfectly etched out.
Ran (乱) sees Kurosawa partner with Tatsuya Nakadai once again, his favourite leading man since the fallout with the great Toshiro Mifune. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the 70 years-old Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (inspired by King Lear) who decides to abdicate his throne and pass on the main authority to his eldest Son Taro, and with each son getting a castle. But the youngest and the Lord's favourite son Saburo isn't pleased with his father's decision. He considers it to be made in haste and pleads him to continue being the Lord in command. The open displeasure leads him to being banished by the Lord. Though it's a serene start, it sets the tone with the introduction of the main characters, and the Ran's visuals that bright and vivid colors that Kurosawa uses skillfully to enhance the appeal of the settings.
Saburo's warnings come true as the elder sons Tao and Jiro conspire against him to destroy the remnants of power still held by Hidetora. Within the opening hour, we witness the first war sequence in the form of an attack on the castle where Hidetora has sought residence. The sequence is mesmerizing with it's detailed chaos. The horse-mounted Samurai cavalry ride with aggression and purpose, and the foot soldiers seem equally purposeful. Though the extras only numbered in a few hundreds, Kurosawa's direction creates the illusion of thousands, and an intensity not often seen on the celluloid. One just can't deny the masterful eye for details reflected in this beautifully crafted sequence. In the midst of the chaos emerges Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), Taro's wife who later becomes Jiro's mistress. Driven by the single purpose to destroy the Ichimonji clan responsible for the death of her family, Harada evokes a sense of dread with her ghostly appearance, eerily menacing demeanor and abrupt ferocity.
The betrayal by his own sons drives Hidetora to madness and the movie becomes increasing introspective and grim. Accompanied by a loyal advisor and a court jester Kyoami, directly inspired from 'fool', a character from Shakespeare's Lear, they seek refuge in an abandoned castle of a rival clan that was burnt down at Hidetora's command. Anachronistic as Kyoami's character may seem to anyone vaguely familiar with the Japanese culture during the reign of Samurais, he manages to evoke credibility (but it's open for debate!).
Toru Takemitsu's brilliant music adds to the horror of desolation faced by the trio, as it did for the ambiance-muted war sequence.
Tatsuya Nakadai's trans-formative performance, from a strong-willed and aggressive Lord to a mad-man, is sheer brilliance. By the time it comes to the final battle sequence, equally detailed and masterful as the first one, Kurosawa's brilliance convinces us of the insanity that partakes in all of us as we struggle and labor to fight and destroy each other, and ourselves. In it's 162 mins of running length, there's not a wasted moment. Every character and detail exists for a purpose. Ran (乱) is a Kurosawa masterpiece the deserves it's standing as one of the best in the history of world cinema.