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Ran Movie Review

film kurosawa awards akira

1985 – Akira Kurosawa –

To list the many obstacles preventing most viewers from watching renowned Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's Ran is to confirm how small a mainstream audience the film will usually enjoy. First, it is based on King Lear, not Shakespeare's most accessible play. Next, Kurosawa sets his adaptation in 16th-century Japan as the aging warlord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) chooses to divide his kingdom among his sons and then must endure the civil strife and rejection of himself that follows once he has ceded his power. In addition, Kurosawa's cinematic style over the years has moved away from a greater reliance on editing to the recurrent use of longer takes that position and observe many characters in a single shot with an unmoving camera, a style that will often seem visually static rather than layered and rich. Finally, it is nearly three hours long.

To list the many benefits that may be enjoyed from watching the film in spite of these obstacles is to confirm what a remarkable, profound film it truly is and what pleasures await those who make the effort. First, the film, like Shakespeare's play, explores some of life's most elemental truths: the blinding effects of pride, the ferocity of hate, the loyalty of those who follow their leaders regardless of cost, the painful humility that must acknowledge hurts inflicted on loved ones, the ultimate pitilessness of life. Kurosawa made the film at age 75, and when it appeared for years that the necessary money would not be forthcoming, he filled his time by producing paintings and sketches of shots from the film that he already had in his mind. It is in many ways an aging artist's summation of his life's work.

The epic battle scenes rival in their scale and richness those in any other movie. The first of these occurs as Hidetora resides in an abandoned castle with his thirty remaining samurai, and the armies of his two disloyal sons surround him. The battle scene plays in a different style from the previous scenes, unfolding as a series of brief shots with no sound other than the haunting music of Toru Takemitsu. The effect is to heighten the detachment of the audience and perhaps even to suggest the way Hidetora must have observed the event as his kingdom begins its slide into chaos. He sees the battle as a series of chilling tableaux of bloodied warriors shot full of arrows sprawled over battlements, a blur of passing horses, flickers of rifle fire, drifting smoke, and carnage. Some of the extreme long shots exert considerable power, like the memorable image of Hidetora staggering down the steps of the burning castle while the opposing armies (one dressed in bright red, the other in yellow) flank him the courtyard below. The film richly rewards those who undertake the effort to enter its world. Its small audience will be an enthusiastic one.

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai (Lord Hidetora), Akira Terao (Tarotakatora), Jinpachi Nezu (Jiromasatora), Daisuke Ryu (Saburonaotora), Mieko Harada (Lady Kaede), Yoshiko Miyazaki (Lady Sue), Kazuo Kato (Ikoma), Masayuki Yui (Tango), Peter (Kyoami), Hitoshi Ueki (Fujimaki), Hisashi Ikawa (Kurogane), Takeshi Nomura (Tsurumaru), Jun Tazaki (Ayabe), Norio Matsui (Ogura), Kenji Kodama (Shirane), Toshiya Ito (Naganuma), Takeshi Kato (Hatakeyama) Screenwriter: Akira Kurosawa, Hidwo Oguni, Masato Ide Cinematographer: Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda, Asakazu Nakai Composer: Toru Takemitsu Producer: Masato Hara and Serge Silberman for Herald-Ace and Nippon-Herald; distributed by Greenwich Films MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 160 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1985: Costume Design; Nominations: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Cinematography, Director (Akira Kurosawa); British Academy Awards 1985: Foreign Film; Los Angeles Film Critics Awards 1985: Cinematography, Film; National Board of Review Awards 1985: Director (Akira Kurosawa); New York Film Critics Awards 1985: Foreign Film; National Society of Film Critics Awards 1985: Cinematography, Film Box Office: $11M (the most expensive movie ever made in Japan).

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