Ran (2000 Re-issue)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, Masayuki Yui, Peter.
MPAA Rating: R (for war violence)

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
August 20, 2000

For a rather lackluster year at the movies, there has been a very good selection of re-issues. First, there was the beautiful restoration of Hitchcock's Rear Window, and several other notable films have followed. Coming soon is a new cut of The Exorcist, but right now I have the great pleasure of seeing Akira Kurosawa's Ran for the first time on the big screen. I was a bit too young when it came out in 1985, so my appreciation of this brilliant epic has been limited to the television until now.

Ran, which basically means "Chaos" in Japanese, is an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear, set in feudal Japan. Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) is getting old, so he names his oldest son, Taro (Akira Terao), as the new Great Lord of his hard-fought domain. The other two sons are given castles of their own, and the lands surrounding them. Middle son Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) is as grateful as Taro for his inheritance, but Saburo (Daisuke Ryu), the youngest son, greets the arrangement with cynicism. Hidetora finds Saburo's attitude disgraceful, and banishes him from his presence.

Soon after Hidetora starts his retirement, Taro calls on him. Taro, at the request of his manipulative wife, Kaede (Mieko Harada), makes his father sign a pledge stating that he is the true Great Lord, with authority over all, including Hidetora. Jiro turns on him, as well, leaving Hidetora without any of his sons on his side -- or so he thinks. Saburo stays at his side, using his valet, Tango (Masayuki Yui), as a proxy while Taro and Jiro reignite war across the land.

Ran is one of Kurosawa's most ambitious films, produced when he was in his mid-70s. All of the film's elements, from the re-shaping of Shakespeare's characters to the massive battle scenes, are created with true virtuosity. Only the vivid color cinematography and the absence of Kurosawa's old stock players (Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, et al.) make this film stand apart from his work of thirty years earlier. He would only make three more films before his death in 1998, but Ran stands as his last great samurai epic.

To have the opportunity to see it in a theatre is good enough. What Winstar has done to make it an even greater experience is a remastered soundtrack, along with new, easily-readable subtitles. Luckily, the original film was kept in impeccable condition, so a full restoration was not (and hopefully will never be) necessary. The print is very clean, and the colors pop from the screen, showcasing the Academy Award-winning costumes.

Unfortunately, this film was not even nominated for the Best Foreign Film award, but managed three other nominations in mainstream categories, including Best Director for Kurosawa -- his only nomination. He remains the best-loved Japanese director in America, but he is ironically unappreciated in Japan. His work is alternately considered too "Western" or too "old-fashioned" for modern Japanese tastes. They'd much rather see Godzilla 2000 than a re-issue of Ran or even Seven Samurai. Make every effort you can to see this film, and hopefully the other classics will follow, including those that need restoration. If we Westerners don't make the effort, who will?


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Ran (1985)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Ran (1985) - English subtitles -- VHS Widescreen
Ran (1985) -- DVD
King Lear, a play by William Shakespeare -- Hardcover
King Lear, a play by William Shakespeare -- Paperback
King Lear, a play by William Shakespeare -- Audio Casette (read by BBC Radio cast)


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan