RAN

(English translation: "Chaos")
(1985 - Japan)
With Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Tereo, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Reviewed by JB

     Akira Kurosawa called his previous film, KAGEMUSHA, "a dry run" for RAN, a film he had been planning for ten years.  However, the one film RAN recalls the most is THRONE OF BLOOD.  Not only does RAN also borrow freely from Shakespeare (KING LEAR this time) but even shares a similar plot (civil war amongst three castles) and a bleakness unseen in most of Kurosawa's other work.

     Instead of centering on the downfall of one man as THRONE OF BLOOD did with Lord Washizu, RAN, with its relentlessly dark outlook on man's propensity for violence, is about the downfall of mankind itself.  The chilling final shot of RAN literally sums up Kurosawa's desolate point of view at this late stage in life: God is dead, and we are all blind men stumbling on the precipice, ready to join God in death with one single misstep.

What the Hell?     Tatsuya Nakadai, who starred in Kurosawa's previous KAGEMUSHA, gives a fine, stylized performance as Lord Hidetora, the aging head of the Inogichi Clan who transfers his power to his three sons.  If Kurosawa had one last samurai epic in him before turning toward a more softer and introspective style of cinema in his final years, it is fitting that Nakadai, if not Mifune (estranged from the director after RED BEARD) or Takashi Shimura (died in 1982), is right by his side in the end.

     Even more than he did in KAGEMUSHA, Kurosawa scales back his cinematic arsenal to just a handful of basic shot types - the long take and the carefully composed tableau of characters in long shot.  The film is almost told in a series of cinematic paintings, just as the director storyboarded it.  So rare are closeups in this film that they are almost jarring when they occur.  It is if Kurosawa wants to distance us from the characters so that we don't develop empathy for them.

     Few directors ever had such fun (so to speak) in filming warfare, especially warfare featuring samurai on horseback, as Kurosawa, who reaches back to his glory days for one montage sequence that may be the most stunning ten minutes of film he has ever shot..  As war finally does break out between Hidetoro's son, Kurosawa gives us a mostly silent montage of the horrors of war. Blood flows freely through this sequence as concubines either commit hara kiri or are shot to death by warriors, arrows fly with deadly accuracy, soldier contemplate their own injuries (severed arms, arrows through eyes) and blood leaks through the roof of a castle.  This masterful sequence ends with the sound of a gunshot that signifies the first of many betrayals that will happen in the second half of the film.  For another ten minutes the battle goes on, with some glorious shots of Hidetora, fire and arrows all around him, contemplating the fall of his empire.  It is the opposite of the scene in THRONE OF BLOOD where Wazshizu is cut down by dozens of arrows - here, all hell breaks loose around Hidetora, yet he remains physically, if not psychologically, untouched.

       RAN may be a bit ponderous (at times, it makes the slowest parts of IKIRU look like a Benny Hill chase) and could have been trimmed by about twenty minutes, but it is nevertheless Kurosawa's final masterpiece.  Some even think it is his greatest film, and I won't argue with that. ½ - JB

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