Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryû, Mieko Harada, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Hisashi Igawa, Masayuki Yui, Kazuo Katô, Norio Matsui | Written by Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide | Directed by Akira Kurosawa
When aging warlord Hidetori Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) decides it is time for him to retire, he divides the lands he rules between his three sons. This causes a bitter power struggle between his eldest sons, and his youngest being banished for his warning of the impending doom. As the reality of retirement his Ichimonji war breaks out, with the banished son being the only one who could possibly save his father from the warring brothers.
Ran starts off showing the epic landscape of Japan, teasing at what to expect from the film, and this location is used to full effect in the film. There are many huge battles that feel truly impressive, but the real magic is in the smaller scenes where the dialogue takes over. Watching Ran, you’ll soon pick up the Shakespearian tone of the film, and this is because the story is actually based on King Lear. There are many times we are fed an examination of events, by the warlord’s fool which is what gives away that Shakespearian feel. These scenes work well, and while there is a theatrical feel to many of the conversations we see on the screen, Kurosawa’s direction is confident enough to make the film work.
What is impressive is that from the very first scenes we see the inevitability of the old warlord’s situation, but the film still constantly surprises with its power to keep the audience engrossed. At around two and a half hours it never feels like the film is dragging on, instead it is an experience that you will want to go on longer. This is the case especially if you are a fan of war tactics as you see each son, and other allies manoeuvre their troops to manipulate the situation and put tension on the opponents. The battles are very well choreographed, and while the more cynical viewer may realise that there aren’t as many soldiers on the field as the film is giving the illusion of, you don’t care. You are caught up in a huge battle.
While we’ve all seen movies like Lord of the Rings which use visual effects to create these types of battles, there are no computers at work here, everything we see on-screen is real. This is why it feels so impressive, because it is real, and it is being done on an epic scale.
Lovers of film will love Akira Kurosawa’s Ran because it is an example of just how epic film-making can be when it is done by masters of their art. This is arguably how films like Ran need to be put to screen, and sometimes it feels like we lose this in modern filmmaking. If you want to be reminded just why you love film, then Ran is the perfect choice of movie to watch, be it on the small or big screen.
Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is out on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK now.