Ran (1985)

Kurosawa once again shows us what a master he was at his craft. It’s a bit ridiculous how the film only broke even in its initial Japanese release and has only with time become more respected, to a point where it is now revered as Kurosawa’s masterpiece. You honestly would have thought something as marvelous as this would have had instant status as a classic.

It’s a very long film, spanning a whopping 162 minutes in its total running time. For me personally, it was a bit exhausting endeavor to sit through, but I couldn’t really point to anything that should have been cut if I was put on the spot. It is a war epic after all, so everything Kurosawa does in the story deserves and needs the full focus it is given. And it’s not like it was ever boring to me, far from it. It just takes a lot out of you, processing the incredible carnage and widespread wave of chaos that the slow destruction of the Ichimonji clan presented. You could say the film is such a tour de force that it takes a toll on you physically to just watch it without any breaks.

As with Kurosawa’s previous war epic, Kagemusha, the visuals and especially the brilliant use of color here are stunning. Kagemusha has been said to have been a trial run (or dress rehearsal) of Ran and it’s easy to see why. Everything this time around is bigger, more lavish, full of zeal, grandiose and intricate as the Maestro molds his multifaceted vision to the big screen in staggering detail. No stone has been unturned when making the film. The themes are powerful, the characters are all surprisingly deep, holding an unconventional amount of complexity in their actions and motivation, the cinematography is stunning and every fibre of the film oozes appropriate level of excessive artistic ambition. The film was simply captivating to behold in all its majesty.

Ran is in essence a true epic spectacle of the highest degree and it’s easy to see why at the time of completion it was the most expensive film in the history of Japanese film industry. The scale is simply enormous and completely insane, only too fitting for the giant tale of betrayal and the enduing chaos that spawns from an internal family feud that the film depicts. Something close to 1,400 extras alone were used for the massive warfare campaigns and apparently not one single miniature was used in the entire film. Instead Kurosawa had an actual building built on the slopes of Mount Fuji, just so he could then burn it down to depict a castle being destroyed when it falls to enemy hands.

I was a bit surprised to learn that the story was partly inspired by a real life parable about a Sengoku-era warlord Mōri Motonari, and that while initially writing the script, Kurosawa was not aware of the similarities with King Lear, that only came later. It’s an astonishing amalgamation of the two stories and makes for one helluva film. You have everything you could possibly wish from a epic of this size: political back stabbing, devious scheming, glorious warfare, impeccable visuals and captivating story filled with twists and engaging, fatalistic themes.

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