Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ran – Movie Review

The fruitlessness of chaos

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Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is an adaptation of Shakespear’s King Lear as well as the legends of the feudal lord Mori Motonari. The meaning of ran is chaos and that’s what we get to see in this film. The feeling of harmony and peace that the movie starts off with is quickly replaced by one of violence and treachery. And the fruitlessness of it all is what makes it the saddest part of the whole affair.

The story starts off with the old patriarch of the Ichimonji clan, Hidetora, deciding to abdicate the rule of his kingdom to his three sons; Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Taro, the eldest, will receive the prestigious First Castle and become leader of the Ichimonji clan, while Jiro and Saburo will be given the Second and Third Castles. This means that the younger brothers are to support the eldest in running the kingdom and thereby be together as a united force. Hidetora will remain the titular leader and retain the title of Great Lord. Suburo criticizes this plan by saying that Hidetora himself achieved power through treachery and that he is foolish to expect his sons to be loyal to him. The king mistakes this suggestion for disloyalty and banishes Sabuora from the kingdom.

However Saburo’s foresight is proven true when under the behest of his wife Lady Kaede Taro begins to take more and more control of the kingdom. Things reach a head when Hidetora is forced to comply with Taro’s demands of confirming his new standing and powers by signing a document in blood. Hidetora thereafter storms out of Taro’s castle and moves on to the second castle of Jiro. But he finds that Jiro wants to use his father as a pawn to pursue his own ambitions and even asks his father to enter the castle but without his guards.

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The old man then leaves for the third castle where he is welcomed and given refuge. However the combined forces of Taro and Jiro attack the castle and begin to destroy everything and murder everyone in sight. Hidetora is distaught and he wishes to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). However he the finds that he wont be able to do so because his sword is broken and he subsequently plunges into madness. Meanwhile Jiro murders Taro and becomes the leader of the clan. He now has an affair with Lady Kaede who wants Jiro’s Buddhist wife Lady Sué to be murdered. Lady Sué learns of this plan and flees from her castle.

Sabuora learns of his brother’s treachery and gathers around an army of warlords to search and rescue his father. Jiro learns of Sabuora’s intentions and sends his own army to confront him. Jiro attackes Saburo’s forces and is ultimately decimated by the warlords and their armies. Saburo finds his father but one their way back he is murdered by Jiro's gunnery brigade whom Jiro had sent to murder Saburo incase he found their father. The old man too dies of heart break at the sight of the dead body of the one son who loved him.

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The greatness of the film is the characters. Kurosawa gives enough space for all of the character to develop and showcase their depth. Lady Kaede’s tranquility on the outside masks her turmoil inside. Her clan was destroyed by Hidetora and was forced to marry Taro. She therefore has a hidden agenda of destroying the Ichimonji clan. She too is beheaded in the end by one of the loyal generals of Jiro who finds out that she had planned the path destruction all the way.

We also find it difficult to sympathize with either Hidetora or his sons. They all are seeking power and wants to attain it even if it means ripping apart families even their own. Even Saburo sides with the enemies of the family in the end though it can be argued that he at least was loyal to his father till the very end.

Kurosawa also tires to convey the message that the cycle of violence is never ending and that our bad deeds will always come back to haunt us. He also gives us the depressing view that even good can sometimes be crushed by evil in the course of chaos. He illustrates this with the fate of Lady Sué. Like Lady Kaede her family too was destroyed by Hidetora. Her brother Tsurumaru’s was blinded by Hidetora and her castle destroyed. But unlike Kaede, Sué embraces Buddhism and forgives her father-in-law. But even she is killed by Jiro’s forces.

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The other striking feature of the movie is the visuals. Kurosawa shows that he is as adept in handling color as he was with black and white. He uses the medium of film like a canvas and paints some of the most mesmerizing visuals you will ever see on a movie screen. The sheer beauty of the visuals is breathtaking.

He also uses the visuals to be symbolic. For example one of the climatic shots of the movie shows the blind Tsurumaru tap his way to the edge of a precipice clutching a Buddhist scroll given to him by his sister. Kurosawa captures a long shot where Tsurumaru seems to be engulfed by a reddening sky and he seems to lose his balance and fall off the edge. However we see that he just barely manages to hold on to the cliff even though he is forced to let go of the scroll. Kurosawa shows that sometimes even God cannot save us from ourselves.

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Unlike his earlier films Kurasowa does not provide any glimmer of hope or redemption in the despair that is all encompassing the film. He does not provide any salvation for any of the characters. He vision is apocalyptic and hence the visuals of the war are appropriately chaotic and brutal. But still he never glorifies the violence and manages to convey the fruitlessness of it all which is the overall theme of the movie.

Reviews of Akira Kurosawa's Major works

Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon (1950)

Ikiru (1952)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Hidden Fortress (1958)

Yojimbo (1961)

High And Low (1963)

Red Beard (1965)

Kagemusha (1980)

Ran (1985)

Rhapsody In August (1991)


El Bicho said...

I believe Kurosawa was reflecting the times he lived. Even though he made so many masterpieces, I think the sheer scope makes this one my favorite.

ortho said...

"Ran" is one of the best cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare's King Lear that I've seen. It's also one of my favorite Kurosawa films. The color and cinematography is breathtaking.

In Japanese, the word "ran", means chaos, riot, and dissension. An apt title for this powerful film.

Xilly said...

Your blog is great! Btw, thanks for dropping by to my blog.

Unknown said...

Thankyou for your comment. Your blog looks pretty cool too.


Eternality Tan said...

Thanks for visiting my blog too!

And yes, Kurosawa's Ran is one of my favorites, and is still in the 4th position of my Top 100 list after all these years.

Tanaka said...

Like you said, the visuals are great, but what detracts from its value, so it seems to me, is the miscast of the crown.
The crown is supposed to play a very impotant rule in plays like this as recent anthropolgical studies often suggest.
That sure is the critical role.
A talented painter, Kurosawa often didn't pay as much attention to casting as he did to visuals. Not to mention that at the time when the film was produced, there were not many actors as attractive and seasoned as those who showed up in many of his earlier works.

Dark Santi said...

Thanks for comment. I saw "Ran" two days before post the review, and I don't remember every single detail. But in your fantastic chronicle (I can't find another word to define this amazing review), you describe the entire movie perfectly: the plot, everything that Kurosawa wants to show us in the movie,... just great. Really, even when I can't understand everything, my english isn't good at all ^_^

So I've got nothing more to say. I hope you enjoy visiting me, hope too that you understand me well, even when I write in a... singular spanish dialect ^_^


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