Monday, March 9, 2009

DVD: Ran: Special Edition

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Satoshi Terao Taro, Jinpachi Nezu
Year made: 1985

King for a day

Akira Kurosawa may have been 75 years old when he made Ran, but he certainly had not lost his touch. It might not be the old master’s best film but it is certainly one of his grandest.

Following in the footsteps of Throne Of Blood, which was an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Ran takes the story of King Lear and places it firmly in feudal 16th Century Japan in such a unique way it equals any telling of the English playwright’s work. Kurosawa spent a decade preparing himself to make this epic a final coup de grace in the twilight of his career.

The result, while at times indulging itself a little too much in classic Shakespearian pageantry, is quite spectacular and affirms the fact forevermore that no one could better AK when it came to ambitious battle scenes. And Ran is littered with them, all incredibly choreographed and executed perfectly.

After ruling his land for nearly half a century, the Great Lord Hidetora Ichimonji decides the time has come to pass on his power and land to his three sons; Taro, Jiro and Saburo. Hidetora dreams of peace in his region and hopes for his children to always remain allies. However, Saburo, the youngest of the brothers, is uncomfortable with the whole situation and voices his immense dissatisfaction with the arrangements and is subsequently banished from the kingdom.

It does not take long for the youngest prince’s fears to come to fruition as chaos begins to consume when civil war breaks out between the ruling lords. The Great Lord goes mad as a result of the betrayal his two elder children show in their greed and hunger for power, forgetting any honourable duty they ought to hold towards their father.

Ran is filled with wonderful standout performances throughout, in particular from Tatsuya Nakadia as the Great Lord who is as gripping as he is mesmerising, capturing the descent into insanity of Hidetora in true tragic Shakespearian tradition.

The last word has to be reserved for the man Kurosawa who has quite simply put together a film of incredible magnitude and brilliant vision. At worst it could be accused of being indulgent, but this is Shakespeare so a little drama and grandeur is never far away.

It is a real letdown that more has not been done with this supposed two-disc special edition. The Region 1 Masterworks Edition features two commentaries from Kurosawa and Japanese culture scholars, which would have made for fascinating listening for those wanting to learn more about the director and are sorely missing from this release.

What lifts this disc from the gutter though, is a very good 71-minute documentary on the making of Ran. It is rammed with behind-the-scenes footage and covers the full scale of Kurosawa’s challenge, his meticulous rehearsal process and an exploration of his techniques and trademarks.

This may not be the most comprehensive DVD treatment of a Kurosawa film, but what there is cannot be faulted.

Film 5 stars
Extras 2 stars

Special features
• ‘AK The Making Of Ran’ documentary (71 mins)

If you like this why not try…
Throne Of Blood (1957)
Akira Kurosawa’s reworking of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to 16th Century Japan is one of his finest works.

This review first appeared in DVD Review #64