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Blood-spattered and brutal version of 'King Lear', with three sons instead of three daughters. Akira Kurosawa took the story and remade it into this highly regarded, blood splattered 'Period of the Warring States' epic. After years of ruthless slaughter Hidetero splits his kingdom amongst his sons seeking a peaceful retirement, but his life descends into chaos as he is unable to escape the corruption within his own family and the torment within his soul.
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***spoiler alert*** I assume the reader knows the story already.
The story takes place in the 16C or so, a time of upheaval and disorder worldwide. An old war lord has spent his life ruthlessly crushing enemies nearby, stopping at nothing in his striving to dominate. Perhaps as a result of his deteriorating mind, perhaps out of guilt at the terrible things he has done, he makes a catastrophically stupid decision - to divide the power of his armies between his sons in order to retire. Only one son opposes this course of action, which his father finds violently offensive. The son is banished, along with a faithful aide.
Almost immediately, the two remaining sons begin to flex their muscles, first by humiliating their father - denying him access to their castles with his reduced entourage - and then by besieging him. This is one of the most horribly graphic war scenes I have ever seen, hiding nothing of the blood and meaningless deaths. The father begins to lose his mind, paralyzed in despair and appearing like a popular demon with his ashen face. Once his forces are annihilated and his concubines have committed suicide, he stumbles out of the burning palace. Having been rejoined by the faithful servant and the eunuch court jester, the only refuge he finds is in a filthy shack that houses a boy he blinded years before. This is just one of the past crimes that revisits the war lord, who sees the irony through his psychotic despair.
As soon as the sons are rid of him, they turn on eachother. Here, there is a scheming wife, whose family we learn was murdered by war lord soon after his son married her for the purposes of alliance. She is a Shakespearean character, waiting years for revenge and then executing it at exactly the right time to perfection. She sows destruction on an unimaginable scale. As the war lord his last son, the faithful one, the tragedy is complete.
This is one of the best films I have ever seen, by far the most intense war film. Its psychology is also realistic, with the self-destructive decision of a father full of guilt. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.
Hidetora visits Taro's castle after the power transfer and finds his concubines have to bow and kneel to Taro's wife, Sue'. They are forced to move out. Hidetora discovers after the transfer of power, he is no longer respected. Sue' married into the family to consolidate land holdings and property attained as the spoils of war, a war in which her parents were murdered. She harbored revenge in her heart ever since and now urges her husband to fight his brother, Jiro. Hidetora's court jester creates a mocking song about Taro being like a gourd, spinning this way and spinning that way, implying he can not make a sound decision and stick with it. At a family gathering Taro hears the song and is outraged ... In a surprise move, Hidetora and his guards leave to visit Jiro. Hidetora discovers he is not welcome there either, not at all what he expected. He left abruptly ...
The treachery to gain power and control over the lands and castles by the two older brothers consumes them. As predicted by Subaru, the younger brother, war is inevitable. Local chieftains must decide where their loyalties lie, which brother to support. Hidetora goes into hiding. Eventually he goes mad. His only guard and caregiver, the jester, does not leave his side. This film contains very strong battle scenes. The desire for control and power is the true motivator for both older brothers. Loosely based on Shakespeare's King Lear, this Japanese version is astonishing in scope and grandeur. The costumes and scenery are fabulous. In the film, there are tender moments between the jester and Hidetora. There are moving scenes where Jiro's wife escapes to find her brother who was blinded in a past conquest and lives alone in a cottage ... The producers and directors create a phenomenal ending and conclusion. At some point, Hidetora reawakens from his madness long enough to recognize the impact of his decision on his family and the near destruction of the kingdom he once ruled. The ending is climactic and leaves a major impression on the viewer. The film is amazing!
Erika Borsos (bakonyvilla)