If there were one film in this era of re-releases, digitally restored prints and director's cuts that should inspire you to rush to the biggest screen possible, it would be Akira Kurosawa's 1985 epic, "Ran."
And by epic of course I mean vast armies sweeping across the screen, the sky raining arrows, the ground stained with blood, and the landscape strewn with metaphors. But in Kurosawa's retelling of Shakespeare's "King Lear" the most devastating scenes are inevitably the quietest.
It is the story of an aging Japanese warlord, who though he still maintains a fearsome power, senses that it is time to cede authority and conquered lands to his three sons. The logic he attempts to demonstrate is that one arrow may be easily broken, yet three held together remain strong. The obsequious older brothers respectfully defer. But youngest son Saburo snorts at such folly and is quickly banished, taking up residence with one of his father's rivals. The seed for downfall is now planted, but the story takes turns that are unexpected to everyone. Except, perhaps, Saburo.
It is easy to see why American directors such as Lucas, Spielberg and Scorcese fall all over themselves citing the late Kurosawa as an influence. Ironically, Kurosawa was not always so well revered in Japan, where he was sometimes considered too Western in his own influences. But what he accomplishes so masterfully in "Ran" is an utterly timeless period piece. Replace the feudal Japanese warlord with a modern cutthroat CEO, and the same rumination on the trappings of power rings true.
If there is one thing most American directors have yet to borrow from Kurosawa, it's the director's discrete touch. The use of the epic music track is sparse, with some of the most powerful moments being accompanied only by the sound of insects and distant thunder. In 160 beautifully flowing minutes, Kurosawa crafts a tragedy so complete, the final scene, featuring one of the film's most minor characters, will leave you breathless.
The power of the film is inescapable, even on video. The chance to watch it unfold once again on the big screen is too good to miss.
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 2000
1985 - Japan/France