RAN (1985)

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Christopher

In high school Jim Jarmusch was always my answer when asked who my favorite director was. In college it was kind of the same but I didn’t really watch a ton of movies then so I would shy away from answering that question. As I get older and the more movies I see, I really think that I would say Kurosawa is currently my favorite director. There are a lot of factors that go into me thinking that but after watching Ran, it really drove that feeling home.

Ran is a film that’s been on my list to watch forever but it’s taken me so long to watch cause I thought it was going to be hard to get through. You always hear about how epic the film is and to me I thought that would translate to falling asleep immediately. When Elizabeth and I saw it was showing at the Drafthouse it was an easy decision to go. I’m glad we went because seeing this film on the big screen really was the way to watch it.

What’s apparent immediately about this film is the cinematography. From the very beginning the main characters are riding their horses among beautiful green mountains of Japan. The colors of the soldiers’ garments are just brilliant in the sun and surrounding greenery. I wasn’t sure what this movie was about other then it was the story of King Lear and that meant nothing to me at the time. I was really walking in blind. I’m glad I did though cause the story was engaging all the way through. The scale of emotions that this movie takes you through from the beginning to the very last shot is staggering.

It’s wild to watch something like Ran and then something like RV, that Robin Williams joint. Could you ever compare them on any kind of scale? Actually now that I write that I really think they could. Ran is just a great film. It feels like a play (source material) but there are so many character relationships, the scenes are so beautiful and the acting has you engaged from the first scene. RV can’t even get through a scene without something not making sense. Because of that I could see both of these moves helping filmmakers see what works and what doesn’t.

After watching Ran I really hope we watch Throne of Blood soon as I feel like people group them together often. And Kurosawa directed 33 movies so one day we’ll definitely have to watch them all.

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

For a long time, I both wanted to see Ran and didn’t want to see Ran. I wanted to see it because of Kurosawa and I always thought the poster was super cool. But then I didn’t want to see it because it’s so known for being a “war epic.” War epics sound A.) Long (duh) B.) Boring C.) Possibly something I won’t understand – even more so if it’s a foreign movie. So that kept me from seeing it for a long time. Of course, had I known that Ran is a loose, but still clear, adaptation of King Lear, that would have overridden my qualms about war epics.

But then Chris and I had the opportunity to see Ran in theaters, and we just couldn’t pass it up. And it really is so great. As a King Lear adaptation particularly, it’s awesome. I love adaptations like this that aren’t so straightforward you’re constantly aware of it, but it’s still there. For example, toward the end of the movie when our Lear, Hidetora Ichimonji, is finally reunited with the only son that didn’t betray him, I was so happy! But then I thought, oh wait, this follows King Lear . . . and the son was killed like two seconds later. Maybe some people wouldn’t like that, but I thought it was really impressive to be able to keep the King Lear thing going when it didn’t seem that clear cut.

Ran is about an old warlord who wants to retire, leaving everything to his three sons. Sounds straightforward enough. Except two out of the three sons hate him, and he banishes the third. As Hidetora goes from son to son, his sons’ lack of loyalty becomes more and more obvious. When he was in power, Hidetora was ruthless and vicious, wiping out whole families for seemingly no real reason. To him, the act of retiring sounds simple enough, but when your career was made up entirely of murder and power grabs, it’s not so simple.

Ran has a lot of amazing scenes, but I think my favorite was at one point, Hidetora recognizes his sons’ betrayals, and in the midst of being attacked and all of his men killed, he decides to perform seppuku. He sort of waits until the last minute until the opposing forces are practically right outside his door. Then he looks around and realizes . . . dude doesn’t even have a sword to commit seppuku. The scene of him desperately looking for something to kill himself with was both sad and crazy to watch. Especially because once he realizes he’s failed even at seppuku, he straight up loses his mind.

The evolution of Hidetora going from old warlord to a crazy old man wandering around aimlessly was both really natural and sort of hard to watch. But anytime I started to have sympathy for Hidetora it seems like all the terrible shit he did was also brought up and that put it into perspective. But really just the makeup here is incredible – by the end, Hidetora looks like the walking dead.

One of the best parts though? Though it’s a war epic, it’s only 2 1/2 hours. That’s a long movie, but I honestly always assumed Ran was like 4 hours long. It doesn’t even come close to feeling like 2 1/2 hours, despite all the crazy stuff that happens. But that’s just Kurosawa for you.

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One thought on “RAN (1985)

  1. I still had the email notification for this review kicking back in my inbox, and the awesome memory of watching this movie, seeing it for the first time in a theater, made me click through and read your reviews again.

    Chris and I talked afterwards in the lobby about that reputation aspect of it and how that kind of feels like the expectations are too high, the movie can’t live up to it, and that this one totally blew past those expectations. One of my favorite movies, and again, like Chris notes, reminds me that Kurosawa could well be my favorite director. I always flip flop on that when I see a Kurosawa movie or an Ozu movie. They are so different, but both similarly mountainous in their artistic depth and vision, perceptiveness and sensitivity to our humanity.

    Kurosawa paints a grander, more overwhelming visuals, but Ozu uses the mundane to such touching effect.

    RAN is cinematic ground zero, a nuclear direct hit on every front, from script to performances to cinematography to music, pretty much every aspect of filmmaking you can think of. You think of other movies that wade into Shakespeare, like Romeo + Juliet, and the gap is astonishing. There are so many that are either bad or just superficial. RAN feels as much like a play as a movie, and delivers the deeply human themes from Shakespeare in a way that almost seems to surpass its medium.

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