Samurai Shakespeare

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Title: Ran

Rating: 5 Stars

I already talked about how important this movie was to me. It not only led to a lifelong love of non-mainstream movies but also to a lifelong love of Shakespeare.

I had not seen this movie in over twenty years. I saw that a revival of it is playing at a local theater, so I hustled down and watched it.

As before, I was enthralled. In my limited experience with Kurosawa as a director, he just seems custom made for Shakespeare.  This seems especially true of King Lear. The violence, tragedy, and insanity is perfect for him.

The plot is similar to King Lear, except that Lord Hidetora has three sons instead of daughters. As with Lear, the youngest child, who most loves him and is the most honest, ultimately ends up being banished for his honesty. The two remaining sons almost immediately turn on their father and ultimately onto each other.

There were differences between Ran and King Lear.

There is no equivalent to the Gloucester/Edgar/Edmund sub-plot.

The original King Lear is more about poor judgment that is mistaken for aged wisdom (Thou shouldst not been old / Till thou hadst been wise). Here you see that his afflictions are not only his current poor decision / judgment but also based upon previous acts of evil that he committed during his reign.

Which brings us to the main plot point difference, Lady Kaede. She is married to Taro, Lord Hidetora’s eldest son. The main castle, where she now lives with Taro, who has taken over for Lord Hidetora, was the castle of her childhood. Lord Hidetora, in his battles, conquered her father and took over the castle. In the process, Kaede’s family was wiped out. Swearing revenge, she is now in a position to have it. She manipulates Taro into forsaking his father. When Taro dies and the second son, Jiro, takes over, she manipulates Jiro into an ill conceived war. She is the primary agent in the destruction of the Hidetora dynasty. This is the biggest example of Lord Hidetora’s past coming back to destroy his present.

Visually, the film is stunning. There are mass battles of samurai graphically fought. Castles are burned. Obviously, this was before the age of CGI. In fact, not even miniatures were used. A castle was built for the sole purpose of burning it down. Many long shots are used to emphasize the beauty of the scenes. In fact, the last shot is that of a young man, blind (actually blinded by Lord Hidetora himself in a different castle battle early in his reign, yet another example of heedless violence from him echoing to the present), alone, desolate, forsaken in the ruins of a castle.

Lord Hidetora, much like King Lear, transitions from a bold leader to a ruined wreck of a man during the course of the film. The short reunion with his youngest son, Saburo is his only solace.

So, yes, this is an awesome movie and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to see a restored version of it in a theater on a big screen.

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