Ran (1985)

Made late in his career, the last of Akira Kurosawa’s great historical epics transposes the story of Shakespeare’s King Lear to feudal Japan.

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“From its tightly woven screenplay to Toru Takemitsu’s haunting score, Ran is a compelling, devastating portrait of a bloody dynasty’s descent into hell.”
Stuart Galbraith IV, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, 2001

A magisterial final testament from one of Japan’s greatest directors (though he would make three more smaller scale films), Akira Kurosawa’s Ran was the most expensive Japanese film yet made. Returning to Shakespeare for inspiration – three decades after his version of Macbeth, Throne of Blood (1957) – Kurosawa found his Lear in Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai), an ageing warlord who divides his kingdom between his three sons.

Swirling mist, rumbling clouds, shade passing across a battlefield – the director harnesses the elements to tell the tale of Hidetora’s growing madness as his offspring jostle for power. For the remarkable central sequence, when Hidetora’s Third Castle is ambushed by the forces of his elder sons, Kurosawa omits sound, relying on Toru Takemitsu’s score to help impart the dreadful force of the battle.

Chris Marker’s A.K. (1985), a profile of Kurosawa made during the production of Ran, is one of the great making-of documentaries.

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