was a triumph interrupted by tragedy. Shooting was halted three times on Akira
Kurosawa’s monumental fusion of Shakespeare’s King Lear and the legend of feudal lord Mōri Motonari, due to the
deaths of his regular fight choreographer Ryu Kuze, his soundman since Stray Dog, Fumio Yanoguchi, and his wife
and sounding board, Yôko Yaguchi. Nevertheless, Kurosawa still finished the
film that would forever cement his reputation as one of the world’s greatest
filmmakers. Still as overwhelming as ever, the 4K restoration of Kurosawa’s final
straight-up masterpiece Ran (trailer here) opens this Friday in New York, at Film Forum.
the Sengoku Era, daughters were not allowed to inherit—hence, Lord Hidetora
Ichimonji’s three sons. His son Saburo loves him best, but the Daimyo cannot
see past the young man’s rash, impetuous behavior. Technically, Jiro is the
most Machiavellian of the brothers, but even he is no match for Taro’s wife, Lady
Kaede. She harbors a deeply-burning grudge against Lord Hidetora for slaughtering
her family after their arranged marriage. Ichimonji caught the clan of Jiro’s wife
Lady Sué similarly unaware, yet her profound Buddhist faith prevented her
suffering from corroding her spirit. Consequently, she is the only person who
inspires guilt in the old warlord.
Lear, Ichimonji concludes he must abdicate and name his successor to insure long-term
stability. Of course, it will have the exact opposite effect. Although Saburo
is the most talented and worthy, Lord Hidetora names Taro instead.
Understanding the possible ramifications only too well, Lady Kaede spurs Taro
to consolidate and codify his new power. This deeply disappoints his father, who
finds himself essentially stripped of the emeritus status he had envisioned for
himself. War is inevitable and the carnage will be spectacular.
is almost impossible to recognize the iconically handsome Tatsuya Nakadai (the
all business cop in High and Low and Mifune’s
very different adversaries in Yojimbo and
Sanjuro) under all the make-up
transforming him into Ichimonji. Nevertheless, he vividly and poignantly expresses
Ichimonji’s increasingly erratic mental state. However, Mieko Harada upstages
everyone and everything as the ferocious Lady Kaede (an original character with
no analog in Lear or the tales of Mōri).
It is a huge ensemble, most of whom labor under dehumanizing circumstances, obscured
by rain, smoke, and helmets. However, Hisashi Igawa adds intriguing heft and
nuance as Jiro’s general, Kurogane, perhaps one of the film’s few characters
Frankly, there will probably never be another motion
picture that devotes so much time and resources to filming battle scenes that
is not first and foremost a war movie. Ran
is high classical tragedy several times over, but it also features some
absolutely stunning scenes of Sixteenth Century warfighting. It is one of the
few films that lives up to and even surpasses its reputation as a career-capping
masterpiece. It is sort of incredible that Kurosawa was able look through a
camera lens again following the epic production of Ran, but did indeed make three more quite nice, but considerably
smaller films (including a contribution to a multi-director anthology). Very
highly recommended, the 4K restoration, in all its dazzling color, opens this
Friday (2/26) at Film Forum.
Labels: Akira Kurosawa, Japanese Cinema, Shakespeare on film, Tatsuya Nakadai