In a very strange way, Ran is the Akira Kurosawa-counterpart to Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Both films deal with parents who are passed about by the children as if they are an unwanted nuisance.
But Ran is apocalyptic. It is about a man who puts his faith in the world around him only to discover that everything he knew was a façade, and façades are easily destroyed. Lord Hidetora is a man who has spent his entire life waging wars and conquering dominions, and in his old age has decided that he is through; he simply wants to spend his final years resting and dividing his time among his children. But is it possible to do this? Is it possible to simply walk away from the things you have done and there be no consequences for your past actions? It seems that Ran subscribes to concept of “you shall reap what you sow.”
Over the course of 162 minutes we see Lord Hidetora’s world crumble to pieces, and worse yet, we see his mind crumble to pieces. At the beginning of the film Lord Hidetora, while hosting a hunting party with his three sons and the clan heads, gives up his position as The Great Lord of the House of Ichimonji and essentially gives control of his kingdom to his oldest son, Taro. None of the three are very happy about this, but the youngest son Saburo, seems to go out of his way to make his displeasure known to everyone there. He not only calls into question his father’s mental health and stability, but also calls into question the loyalty of his older brothers.
Kurosawa paints us a picture of a man totally separated from the world around him; a man totally separated from everything good in the world. Lord Hidetora became the Great Lord through his own choices and actions, but now his choices are taking his position away from him, reducing him to little more than a fool wandering in the wilderness completely unaware of the world around him.
Throughout the film we meet characters who knew Hidetora from his past life, people whom the Great Lord had an impact on in some fashion. What we are shown is how the life of a single man has cause misfortune and misery in those around him; no one is better off for having known Hidetora.
In a particularly moving scene Hidetora has completely lost whatever connection he had to reality and his caretaker, a jester named Kyoami, delivers the best line in the film and one of the best lines ever written: “Man is born crying. When he has cried enough, he dies.”
Kyoami serves an important purpose in the film. Beyond serving the role of the much-needed comic relief (Kyoami laughs with a frown, you might say) in what is an otherwise very dark film, he serves the role of keeping the audience connected to Lord Hidetora. With Hidetora’s mind slipping away from him it would be very easy for us to stop caring what happens to him, but because we are able to sympathize with Kyoami, and because Kyoami is able to sympathize with Hidetora, we are able to stay emotionally connected to the very sad story of this man.
Now, it would wrong on many levels to talk about Ran and not mention two other important aspects of this film. The first is the impressive battle that marks the middle section of the film; it is of a scale that we do not see in movies anymore (at least, not without excessive digital effects), and it features one of my favorite shots in any movie. Lord Hidetora’s castle is being burned to the ground, smoke is pouring out of it, and out of the front door and down a very long staircase comes Lord Hidetora in a daze. The intention of the attack was to assassinate the former Great Lord, but the soldiers gathered around the castle seem to be in shock by what they are seeing: not an ounce of fear in Hidetora’s eyes, not even anger or confusion; his expression is emotionless, blank, and empty. It’s a glorious shot.
The other aspect that I have to mention is Lady Kaede as played by Mieko Harada. It is one of the finest performances I have ever seen in a film, and adds so many layers to the already complex plotting that director Akira Kurosawa offers with this film. I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling how beautiful the performance is, but I will say that the character of Kaede will take on an entirely different appearance on return viewings of the film. Not to mention the way Kurosawa brings her plotline to a finish.
Akira Kurosawa is my favorite director. His films offer images of such stunning beauty that I can’t help but be awestruck by them. This won’t be the last piece I ever write on a Kurosawa film. Heck, this probably won’t be the last piece I ever write on THIS Kurosawa film.
Here are two trailers for the film. The first is for the original US theatrical release, the second is for a re-release by Rialto Pictures.
Ran is currently streaming in HD on Netflix Instant. Check it out.
Thanks to collectivemovielove.blogspot.mx for posting this piece over there!