The Hills Are Alive With The Sounds Of Plastic Swords.
Ran is often considered to be Akira Kurosawa’s best film, by those who have either not seen Seven Samurai or just want to be contrary. And good for them. Joining the long, flat-toned chorus of people singing the praises of Seven Samurai is like saying Psycho is your favourite Hitchcock film. Just admit it’s the only one you’ve seen, then move out of the way and let the adults talk. Ran is still not the best of Kurosawa’s work, which would include Throne of Blood, Stray Dog, and Red Beard, but it’s certainly up there, though it’s not a perfect film.
Adapting King Lear, Ran re-locates Shakespeare’s medieval drama to samurai-era Japan, a transposition that would be innovative if Kurosawa hadn’t done this a half-dozen times before. We get it, you changed the words and stuff around, now stop before you make your filmography look like a Weird Al Yankovich set-list. Ran has some spectacular set-pieces, most notably a lengthy battle montage set to classical music that works so well you almost forget you’ve seen A Clockwork Orange, and the film is quite captivating once you get into it. However, getting into it fully is another story.
The problem is a silly one, but worth noting. Like Kagemusha, Ran is in colour, which is a whole new kettle of raw fish on rice as far as Kurosawa’s concerned. Speaking as a Westerner, the beautiful black and white cinematography always helped to create an alien world as far as the diegesis of the film was concerned. Coupled with the foreign culture, the temporal setting, and a language that sounds like the noise you make when you get punched in the stomach while eating, the black and white images helped create a displaced, unearthly feel to the film, one that occasionally warred with the stark realism that sometimes reared its head in Kurosawa films. Sometimes, like in Throne of Blood, Kurosawa really let fly with the fantasy, and viewers are left with a spooky, ethereal fable. In Ran, the colour brings things down to earth, so all the elaborate costumes and pageantry of feudal Japan looks like a Live Action Role Playing convention. Still, that’s not enough to ruin what essentially and moving and powerful film.
Yup. Looks like fun.
Or is it? Live Action Role Playing is really, really lame. Trust me on this. I know lame. I have schematics of the USS Enterprise in my bedroom. I’ve got a Captain America comic book collection. I’ve got Christopher Lee action figures and I still wouldn’t piss on a LARPer if he’d set his cloak on fire with his torch. If you can get over that obstacle, Ran is a fine picture. If you can’t, then I recommend sticking with something a little less Dungeons and Dragons. Like Star Trek.