"Ran" is the first film I've watched by Akira Kurosawa. Now I'm a huge fan of his work thanks to my Amazonian friends who had already seen it. When a legend like Kurosawa, does a King Lear adaptation at the tender age of 75, one would expect a small-scale film concentrating on the human elements of the story. That he produced an epic of such proportions makes a further evaluation of the great man's contribution to cinema necessary.
"Ran" is set in medieval Japan and follows the basic King Lear narrative closely. Lord Hidetora is an aging warlord and, wanting a peaceful retirement, decides to divide his kingdom up amongst his three sons. After banishing the youngest, Saburo, for pouring scorn on the idea, Hidetora finds himself an unwanted obstacle to the older two. After repeated humiliations, pride forces Hidetora into vain wanderings on the open plain, his state of mind declining as rapidly as his entourage.
The film sets itself the unenviable task of trying to explain the precarious position man holds within the universe. Man is seen to be elevating himself to such a level that he dreams of challenging the very laws of nature. Hidetora has achieved his status through deception, callousness and violence; his notion to wash away the blood he has spilt in happy retirement is scornfully thrown back by the elements. The speed and manner in which he is forced to lie in the bed he has made for himself should serve as a warning to all.
The films large set pieces, particularly two quite stunning battle sequences, are staged magnificently, but 'Ran' is no empty epic. The characters and their motivations are fully explored and the tension built up by the dialogue fully compliments the action. With an ending which offers no redemption 'Ran' paints a bleak picture - the colors and brushstrokes it employs however, turn it into a dazzling masterpiece. The battle scenes are some of the best I have seen. One point - the second main battle reminds me of 'Zulu' with the soldiers lined up on the skyline shouting down. The makeup used on Hidetora to mimick the Noh theatre makes this film that much more dramatic.
Don't expect to be uplifted with a standard samurai flick. This is one of the most historic beautiful films I've ever seen. Before you watch this try placing this on big screen with good color registration and good sound because Kurosawa uses as much of the screen as he can.