I’ve come to a conclusion on William Shakespeare adaptations. A filmmaker either knows what he or she is doing and sets out to bring to life and expand on the piece, or the filmmaker takes such a project on simply for the novelty of its reputation, with little or no idea as to how to approach it. Ran is Akira Kurosawa’s take on Shakespeare’s King Lear, and it is, without fail, one of his most brilliant and amazing pieces to ever grace the fine world of cinema.
Ran follows the story of the Great Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) and the downfall of his empire. Hidetora has decided to surrender his power after fifty long years of war, passing on his lifelong achievement to his sons Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu). However, Saburo speaks out against his father’s wishes and thus is banished from the kingdom. With the power being passed on to Taro and Jiro strictly, Hidetora’s only wish is to live out his remaining days within Taro’s walls and maintain the title “Great Lord.” However, things take a quick turn for the worse, as Jiro and Taro begin a power struggle for dominance over the kingdom and treat Hidetora as burden more than a father.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Akira Kurosawa can do no wrong. Ran demonstrates his style even further. Epic is the name of the game here, and Ran doesn’t let up on the feeling. The film’s opening already gives us a victorious feeling as Hidetora, his family, and his allies ride up a hill into a secluded area. Wide shots and long shots aren’t uncommon throughout the whole film, really helping add to its immense scope.
The best parts of the film are, by and large, the battle sequences. These are the most amazing I’ve ever seen on film, giving even Seven Samurai a run for its money. According to IMDb.com, 1,400 extras were used in the making of Ran, with armor for each one. It really pays off, too. Deaths are violent and constant, entire castles are set ablaze, and rows and rows of warriors clash with one another. Kurosawa could only have one-upped this by going back in time and actually filming a battle this massive. What’s even more amazing about these sequences is how eloquently they are shot. Gorgeous, light music is placed in the background of blood-spattered swords and arrows. Kurosawa ends up crafting a beautiful and violent tapestry out of the story.
The pacing of the story is — well let’s put it this way — you’ll be surprised when the two hours and forty minutes pass, because the running time’s effects aren’t felt. While sometimes it’s not hard to find ourselves staring at the clock, waiting for the time to elapse and life to move on, Ran won’t give you time to look. By the time it’s over, you won’t believe that such a duration has passed. Kurosawa’s scenes are shot with dramatic precision; every moment of the film is crucial to the story.
I would feel bad if I went any further on all the amazing things Ran has to offer. If you’re into samurai cinema, then this is not to be missed. It’s a masterwork of the highest form. I heard rumor that a film critic once said if you died and went to Heaven, Ran would be playing. I hope that critic is right.