Written by: Ron Cotton on December 1st, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: June 1st, 1985 (Japan)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Hisashi Igawa, Masayuki Yui, Kazuo Kato, Norio Matsui, Toshiya Ito, Kenji Kodama
DVD released: November 20th, 2006
Approximate running time: Approximately 156 minutes.
Aspect Ratio: 16×9 Anamorphic
Rating: R / UK: 12
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Stereo Japanese with English subtitles
DVD Release: Optimum Asia Releasing
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99
“A finale full of sound and fury and the chaos that gives the film it’s name… Ran” – Narrator, A.K.
Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), a powerful elder ruling over vast tracts of lush countryside, has in the past conquered and laid waste over these lands for fifty years of his youth. Now, tranquil and peaceful, Hidetora with his sons Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpatchi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) along with prior rivals Lord Fujimaki and Lord Ayabe gathered together to bind a marrage between Hidetora’s youngest and a rivals daughter all in the name of peace. During an unrestful slumber, from visions in a dream, Hidetora’s immediately decrees that Taro shall lead over the lands as the other two brothers shall support him in his wake. Saburo raises a defiant voice to his father, claiming that such a brash move would lead them all to even more chaos and ruin, family notwithstanding. Hidetora’s own vassel comes to Saburo’s defense, claiming that all that was spoken is true. Angered over what he sees as insolance, Hidetora banishes the two.
This sets for what is to come, both the expected and unexpected, as everything that Hidetora’s built becomes completely undone. Despite the rating Ran was given, this movie is not a violent bloodbath. Instead, this epic drama is a very hard pill to swallow. Every subtle moment and every spoken word by the Ichimonjis has wide ramifications thoughout. Not pure blood and guts, this strategic film unfolds as the harsh reality of this tragity cannot and will not be avoided.
“The essence of films is to show what people want to see. [...] A camera can go anywhere. It’s an almighty tool.” – Akira Kurosawa in A.K.
Ran bears a striking resemblance to his prior work Throne of Blood for good reason. Both are based upon Shakespeare’s most infamous tragedies. In both, Kurosawa incorporated his passion of Japanese Noh theater (the predecessor of Kabuki theater). The major characters wore thick makeup, making their faces distorted like the masks in Noh theater: Actors expressions come primarily from strong body language and dialog. During crucial scenes, the shrill flutes of Noh theater shriek as off beat drums thump. Filming shots that are analogue to theater-goers, providing few closeups and instead relying immensely on wide angled shots. Both were filmed on Mount Fuji. While Throne of Blood starred Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa found Ran to be his greatest achievement in film making. It’s sadly ironic that during the filming of this Shakespearean tragedy, Kurosawa’s wife Yôko Yaguchi died. Kurosawa mourned for one day before resuming production.
“I always tell my crew… ‘To create is to remember. Memory is the basis for everything.’” – Akira Kurosawa in A.K.
Although filmed in color, Ran isn’t divergent in technique from some of his other former films. Weather sets the tone of the film and a brooding storm over the horizon is most certainly a Kurosawa trademark. The huge scope portrayed in this film is grandiose and epic. The rolling mountains shrouded with countless horsemen and footmen is a fabulous sight, rekindling scenes from The Seven Samurai. With a budget of $12 Million Dollars, this is not only Kurosawa’s last epic, but was also Japan’s most expensive to produce at the time. With 1,400 extras and over 200 horses, no cost was spared. Akira Kurosawa is without a doubt a major influence to many modern filmmakers throughout, forging great works while maintaining his original vision and remaining faithful to his Japanese background.
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, To have a thankless child.” – William Shakespeare’s King Lear
King Lear’s tragic ending was considered by many to be “too tragic,” and was often given a “happy” ending for hopeful viewers. For Kurosawa, this is not so. While fighting his own demons and directorial doldrums, Akira Kurosawa was filming his true embodiment of Hidetora Ichimonji (King Lear). His blood birthright of being a decedent of samurai and during production loosing his sight, he was and could experience the many conflicts that Hidetora faced throughout the film; in one form or another.
The bold colors of red, blue and yellow are extremely bright and edge toward saturated. These vivid colors strikingly rebel against Kurosawa’s older black and white works, and yet clearly represents his new form. This bold move is reminiscent to the musical leap made by Beethoven in his ninth symphony, Ode to Joy. Frankly, with Optimum Asia’s Ran enchanting release, I cannot foresee a better release on DVD until Ran is released on some High Definition format. The details of Ran are literally that crisp and clear. Some evening scenes and interiors have film grain, the inherent signature of film.
The dolby digital 5.1 sounds as if it has greater depth and ambiance than the original stereo channel. Note that my current audio setup is unable to test the validity of the surround sound. Even in a stereo audio setup, I would choose the warmer 5.1 track. English subtitles are legible, easy to understand, and remains on the screen with enough time to read.
Chris Marker’s documentary A.K. along with the Ran’s original French theatrical trailer is included on the Special Features Disc. Serge Silberman produced this short as well as raised funds for the production of Ran. The extra is peppered with heavy grain and yet takes nothing away from the experience. The narrator thankfully adds comments without interrupting the life behind the camera. The documentary details Kurosawa’s dedicated crew that has ceremoniously stayed with him over the years. All of this is done quite artistically without removing the realism of the shoot. A.K. demonstrated that everyone contributed their time and effort and no matter who they were, everyone wanted to complete this momentous film. Not with the grand scope of the PBS documentary Kurosawa, this extra is extremely specific to the film Ran and is included on the Criterion Collection edition of Ran as well. A.K. has English subtitles options and has a multilingual stereo track.
Excluded from this Ran release is the basic fan fare of audio commentary tracks and additional bonus materials and features. Personally, I’ve hoped for a Kurosawa trailers collection on the special features DVD or some of the other materials found on the Criterion release. However, all is forgiven as Optimum Asia provided with a crisp and unblemished transfer that is definitely unparalleled with any release prior.
“Why did these warriors believe in Zen? With the life they led, always on the verge of death, they could not have lived without having such a reassuring belief. [...] It had a practical purpose.” - Akira Kurosawa in A.K.
For those who have an attention to detail and who love art-house films, Ran is a film with greatness. No matter who you are, Ran easily stands as one of Akira Kurosawa’s top ten films. For some, Ran could be a difficult transition to those who expect another classic like Yojimbo, The Seven Samurai, or Rashomon. Ran represents a mature and theatrical Kurosawa. Optimum Asia produced this double disc special edition, a worthy addition to every collectors shelf.
References: Wikipedia and the Throne of Blood Commentary Track.
For more information about Ran and other titles released by Optimum visit their website.