Overwhelming in scope and magnificent in visual style, Ran is less an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear than an amplification of its themes of greed, betrayal, and honor. Though set during the turbulent Muromachi period in Japan, the film achieves a surprising universality by perfectly marrying style and content. Master director Akira Kurosawa distilled the play and stripped it of its numerous lengthy speeches (Kurosawa accused Shakespeare of being too wordy). In their stead, he packed the film with images pregnant with resonance and visual poetry. Deftly employing all of the techniques associated with his long career, Kurosawa creates a powerful portrayal of a kingdom coming apart at the seams through such techniques as dynamic, painterly compositions that emphasize depth of field; striking, expressionistic color; and brilliant sound design. In one scene, Kurosawa confronts the viewer with a silent, dream-like montage of human brutality: concubines committing ritual suicide, soldiers porcupined with arrows, spilling blood, and grisly dismembered limbs. In that same scene, the ghost-like Hidetora, Kurosawa's Lear, witnesses the armies of his two sons, one bedecked in brilliant yellow, the other in equally vibrant red, clash on the black slopes of Mount Fuji. Few films have imbued battle sequences with such beauty and with such horror. Tatsuya Nakadai gives perhaps the finest performance of his long career as the former vainglorious tyrant who slowly fills with shame and regret as his world comes crashing down, while Mieko Harada is flawlessly ruthless as the revenge seeking Lady Kaede. A brilliant cinematic feast ten years in the making, Ran proved to be the last masterwork by one of the greatest filmmakers.
by Jonathan Crow review