Set in the Sengoku era and loosely based on King Lear, Ran is often considered as a masterpiece. Written and directed by the prolific Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa, the film was first released in the UK to wide critical acclaim in 1986. This vibrant new 4K version, celebrating 30 years since the film’s original release, is first hitting cinemas, before coming out in all the usual home entertainment formats.
The film sees Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), an aging warlord, hand over power entirely to Taro(Akira Terao), the eldest of his three sons. When Saburo(Daisuke Ryû), his youngest, criticises his decision, Hidetora bans him. Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Taro, his two other sons, confound themselves in flatteries. As in all tragedies, Hidetora has his fatal flaw: hubris. And of course, it blinds him, until all is lost. Kurosawa’s epic is a careful study of the catastrophes which follow from his fateful decision.
His retirement sparks a civil war, while his youngest son, Saburo, and a loyal knight Tango(Masayuki Yui), attempt to protect him. Thrown into the mix is Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), Taro’s wife, a scheming Lady Macbeth figure. She is intent on taking revenge on the Ichimonjis, who years ago murdered her family.
Hidetora’s former cruelty, which returns to haunt him, is one of the many beautifully subtle nuances of the film. Our protagonist is pitiful in his fallen pride, new vulnerability, and broken heart. Yet, throughout his woes, we are constantly reminded of his former crimes: and his misplaced pride endures.
It is down to his fool Kyoami (Pîtâ), to enunciate the cruel truth, again and again, before anyone dares speak it. Pîtâ shows an extraordinary energy as the character, composing a satisfying contrast between his willingness to live and Hidetora’s wasting away.
Watching Ran for the first time is an awing experience. The film is beautifully, unapologetically slow; high in drama; set in gorgeously bright colours.
Kurosawa crafts superb and spectacular battle scenes. Huge cavalries run through rivers; wade poised on bridges; or shape into formations on light green fields. Castles are ransacked, burnt, and painted with vivid scarlet blood.
Then there’s the make-up and costuming, which is equally stunning. Richly textured kimonos rustle and flap, their colours speaking the character of their wearer. Hidetora’s kingly expression shifts to haggard whiteness under the mastery of a make-up artist.
Nakadai himself is arresting as the doomed lord. He’s detestable and sympathetic all at once - credibly the powerful figure who once wreaked so much havoc, as well as the man brought to tears by the tenderness of a son.
If you have the patience for the 2h46mins of running time, Ran has really everything. It’s a classic well worth re-visiting, and its images will stay with you long after the lights come up.