Ran means chaos or turmoil and that’s what’s at the heart of Akira Kurosawa’s take on King Lear and Mōri Motonari. The director had been planning to make this film for decades and this was the realitization of a decade of painting the storyboards for this film. It would be his last epic and the most expensive film that he would ever make.
Beyond the autobiographical nature of this story, Kurosawa also saw the battle scenes as metaphor for nuclear warfare and the high anxiety after Hiroshima. There’s also the influence of Japanese Noh theater for two of the protagonists, Hidetora and Lady Kaede, whose single-mindedness stand in contrast to the rest of the cast of characters.
Hidetora is a powerful warlord at the close of his life who has decided to divide up his kingdom amongst his sons, with Taro gaining the First Castle and the leadership of their family, while his brothers Jiro and Saburo are to support him and live in the lesser castles.
The wise old man explains unity using three arrows. It is easy to snap one arrow but three together are more durable. Saburo snaps all three arrows and calls his father a fool, which leads to him and a servant named Tango being exiled. Fujimaki, a visiting leader who watches all of this, agrees with the brash young man and offers him his daughter in marriage.
Taro’s wife Lady Kaede also demands that her husband go to war, still angry that her entire family was killed by Hidetora. The constant battles — gunfire has replaced swords and arrows — drives the old man mad as he wanders the wilderness, haunted by visions of those he has destroyed in his journey to power.
As the entire family follows him into some level of insanity, with war, intrigue and double crosses throughout, it seems as if every castle will crumble into nothingness.
How important was Ran to Kurosawa? His wife of 39 years Yôko Yaguchi, died during the production and he only mourned for one day. His eyesight had also completely deteriorated by the time principal photography began, so his assistants used his paintings as guides to frame each scene.
A new 4K scanned release of Ran is now available from Lionsgate. If you are a lover of film, I urder you to add this to your collection.