Ran, 1985 re-release, film review: ‘Sweeping, battle-strewn epic’

Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora in Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985). Photo courtesy of Rialto Pictures.

Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora in Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985). Photo courtesy of Rialto Pictures. - Credit: Archant

The Seven Samurai aside, I could never quite get the lauding of Kurosawa, but the idea that the best way to adapt King Lear is to cut down on the yap and greatly increase the number of gee-gees was clearly a stroke of genius.

In relocating the story to feudal Japan, he gave us a samurai horse opera version of Lear that doesn’t contain a single line of the Bard (at least not in the subtitled translation of the Japanese dialogue)

But it probably captures the play’s fierce, dark power better than any board-trod production from the last four centuries.

It’s a slow starter, opening with our Lear figure, Hidetori, sitting in a field surrounded by his three sons and some other lords, drinking tea behind a windbreak.

Here, after seven decades of war and conquest, he outlines a perfectly reasonable retirement plan, handing over to his eldest son.


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Everybody goes crazy about this and the orderly transference of power collapses into chaos almost instantly.

The first part of the film is an inversion of the three little pigs, as the aged Hidetori (the much younger Tatsuya Nakadai, under distracting layers of make up) huffs and puffs from one son’s castle to the next, none of whom are keen to let him in.

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Due to Kurosawa’s failing eyesight (he was in his mid-70s when he made this), everything was carefully storyboarded beforehand.

Yet it really doesn’t show. This sweeping, battle strewn, epic looks like it was made on the hoof, that they turned up with hundreds of horses and extras and took the locations and conditions just as they found them.

Usually such undertaking is stifled by meticulous preparation, but Ran bursts with energy and life.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

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