Akira Kurosawa called
"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
(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.
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
desolate point of view at this late stage in life: God is dead, and we
blind men stumbling on the precipice, ready to join God in death with
one single misstep.
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
to his three sons. If Kurosawa had one last samurai epic in
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
Kurosawa scales back his cinematic arsenal to just a handful of basic
- 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
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