Ran (1985)

It seemed logical to follow Throne of Blood with Kurosawa’s other “Shakespeare” film (depending on whether or not you count The Bad Sleep Well), but where the earlier film found Kurosawa at a high point, Ran came near the end of his career after a long period of difficulty and disappointment; this was him firing the big guns for one last time. Adapted from King Lear, I was interested to learn Kurosawa’s initial inspiration was actually a Japanese one, a historical medieval lord with three excellent sons, but Kurosawa apparently found himself wondering what if the sons had been bad and so from there it turned into Japanese Lear… albeit with modifications like Throne; Shakespeare’s Lear may be a man more sinned against than sinning, but Hidetora has been a cruel and vicious man in his time, and however much we feel for his misfortune as his sons wind up living up to his own unpleasantness, there’s always a sense of him getting due karmic payback. Interesting how Kurosawa always gets called the most “Western” of Japanese directors, but I’ve never felt any of his other films was as “Western” as this (surely not just because it was a French co-production?)… I can’t really articulate what I mean here, it’s only a feeling, much as it feels like an 80s film in the same way that Throne feels like a mid-50s film. Can’t describe what I mean any better than that, unfortunately. Anyway, one thing it doesn’t feel like is the work of an old man on a downward slide, this is Kurosawa reclaiming his past peak. Absolutely tremendous; if the 80s often feel like a comparative dark age of cinema, this was one highpoint. Mind you, if it had been his actual last film, it would’ve been an awesome send-off, but what a bleak one (let’s face it, Lear is not a particularly comic subject, whatever Nahum Tate may have thought); I’m kind of glad he got to make a few lesser but gentler films after it.

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2 thoughts on “Ran (1985)

  1. SJHoneywell December 5, 2012 at 12:42 am

    You’re on a dangerous road here–Kurosawa overload! He’s the only director I can think of where my favorite of his films is whichever one I watched the most recently. Ran is unjustifiably thought of as too slow. I found it gorgeous and epic in the best way possible.

    One of my old college roommates thought that King Lear was Shakespeare’s funniest play, by the way. I don’t agree, but Nahum Tate is evidently not alone.

  2. James R. December 5, 2012 at 1:44 am

    It’s amazing just how many long films Kurosawa made; most of them clock in at two hours plus. And yet I couldn’t imagine this one being much shorter even though it’s 162 minutes long; the pacing and proportions are remarkably right.

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