After a lifetime of conquest, ageing Lord Hidetora hands the reigns of power to his eldest son, but banishes his youngest when he questions the loyalty of his two brothers. When Hidetora is betrayed as Saburo predicted, he is left to wander the desolate lands his armies had ravaged in earlier times.
Ran was the last of Kurosawa’s great epics for which he was forced to seek financial backing outside of Japan where he was considered too old-fashioned. It is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear and was clearly a very personal project for him. Unlike Lear, Hidetora is shown as a man repenting his past crimes and on his wandering is constantly reminded of the life of conquest and butchery he had led up until this point. In fact everyone involved whose interests are in power and material wealth inevitably meet a sticky end and only his victims are shown to achieve any kind of peace. It is impossible not to compare Ran with his earlier works and because he was virtually blind by the time this film was made, it misses his keen eye for composition and photography; despite the epic scale and colourful costumes, I personally preferred the black and white photography of his classics. The sets and costumes are as epic as the themes and it avoids the sentimentality of a lot of Kurosawa’s work, but I found Tatsuya Nakadai’s performance a little too ripe for my tastes and is as theatrical as his rather severe make-up. On the other hand the most formidable personality is to be found in the shape of Lady Kaede played by Mieko Harada who, unlike the coquettish Lady Asaji Washizu of Throne Of Blood, is a strong willed and wily adversary whose role turns the entire chain of events on its head.
My criticisms are only born of the incredibly high standard of the rest of Kurosawa’s work and by any other it is a majestic period drama full of lush imagery and dark themes that leaves a lasting impression.