Because I was so dumb the last time I tried to watch this movie, I felt excited to watch it today - even though it's so long! It was directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1985. He actually directed it when he was 75, which seems to me to be an impressive feat. I was really tired from work today, but I was still really interested in and fascinated by this colorful and unique movie. I never read King Lear, the Shakespeare play the film is based on, but I still loved the plot and the amazing directing. Kurosawa inspired so many of my favorite directors, and for good reason. His eye for beautiful compositions and amazing fight scenes was simply just amazing, and his films always feel and look like no other.
The movie is about an old Lord, Hidetora Ichimonji, who spent much of his life conquering lands and waging war. He decides that he should step aside and let his sons take control - he wants to just spend the rest of his life relaxing as a guest in their homes. He divides his kingdom into three parts, one for each of his sons. He demonstrates using a stack of arrows that they will be strong if they stand together and support each other. Unfortunately, his sons do not listen to their father's message. They wage war across the land as they battle for control - partially fueled by their own father's violent past, finding it hard to believe in peace when he succeeded because of war.
I think the first thing anyone will notice about this movie is how it looks. The color is stunning. The characters were vivid, beautiful robes that really pop against gray mountains and deep green grass. The first scene where Hidetora divides up his land is so lush and incredible to look at - it just made me yearn to be there because of how amazing it looked. Ebert writes in his essay that it took 3 whole years for the costumes to be hand crafted in the traditional way. It really paid off. The robes are breathtaking. It's really amazing to see the colors in all the wide shots in the film. The battle scenes are even colorful, with each army waving it's own flowing, colored flags.
I loved the plot, as well. Like I said, I'm not familiar with King Lear at all, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie at all. I really liked the idea of how violence and war can sort of get out of control. Hidetora just wants to enforce peace in his old age, but everyone grew up with so much war that it's impossible, it seems, for them to stop. He taught them that life - can he really expect them to suddenly embrace a new one? If you want to read about the King Lear plot, check out Ebert's essay. Despite taking an entire class on Shakespeare and owning a huge, bound volume of all of his works, I don't remember even a passing conversation about what the play is about. Somehow.
Kurosawa is pretty famous for the way he directs fight scenes. I think he has the best mix of creating a feeling like you're a distant observer, but also still connecting you with the action. When I watched this today, I was reminded a lot of Saving Private Ryan. I thought of the Omaha Beach scene, actually. There was a scene where the camera travels through a battle, and Hidetora just sits in shock as arrows fly on either side of him. We move from awful scene to awful scene - men as they are riddled with arrows before they can even react, women killing themselves and each other, a man clutching his own severed arm (which was, as Ebert points out, used in SPR). Like in SPR, I felt like the I moved with the character who was in shock. I had my focus put on certain scenes while I would try to take in the whole picture. Both scenes just give you such an unsettling look at some of the most horrible carnage of war, and I think it's pretty obvious that Spielberg was inspired by Kurosawa's directing. I just found myself so impressed by his style, yet again.
I really recommend checking out Ebert's essay. He knows so much about Kurosawa and the history of this film. I didn't want to just quote half of his essay, or paraphrase it, but I found it to be really amazing to read after watching the film. He has some great insights into why Kurosawa made this film, and a lot of interesting facts about how the film was made. I tried to mostly just write about my personal feelings about the film, but he's got some seriously great information and it's a really cool read. If you haven't seen this movie and find yourself one day with three hours to kill, it's really worth renting. It's long, and I for sure struggled a little tonight, but it was worth it. :)
Have any thoughts on Ran? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Ran
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