Ran (1985; dir. Akira Kurosawa)—Kurosawa’s final samurai epic is a furious, inarticulate howl of anguish that builds for nearly three hours until its irrefutable argument is finally given voice by an angry soldier: “Men prefer sorrow over peace. They revel in pain and bloodshed. They celebrate murder.”
Such a truth would hardly be worth thinking about unless the world was worth saving. And it is; there is a great, severe beauty suffusing the hills, meadows and treeless plains where Kurosawa sets his version of King Lear. These serene visions of nature only heighten the tragedy that unfolds when elderly Lord Hidetoro (Tatsuya Nakadai) declares his wish to divide his kingdom and live out the rest of his days in peace. As one of Hidetoro’s sons points out, this dream is incompatible with the kingdom his father forged by spilling “measureless blood.” Yet Hidetoro continues to believe that his delusional dreams will become reality. He will live long enough to see the ramifications of his foolishness.
Nakadai’s barking, wildly expressionist performance as Hidetoro (who grows more gray and spectral as Ran death-marches on) is contrasted with Mieko Harada’s scarily erotic turn as the scheming Lady Kaede, who sees her father-in-law’s dotage as an opportunity to enact her long-simmering revenge. She drops into Ran like a hawk that finally catches its prey in an unguarded moment, yet the only instance of wit in the entire film comes when she squashes a moth during a fake crying jag.
There are two major battles in Ran, and the first one is worth every fight scene in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a dozen Fury Road sequels. As Hidetoro and his guards are ambushed by two of his three sons, the whirr of insects, the swish of robes and the thunder of horses’ hooves that have dappled the soundtrack so far are silenced. Toro Takemitsu’s score takes over; Kurosawa assembles a montage of blood, dismemberment and devastation punctuated by shots of the sun visible through an ocean of smoke. After nearly six minutes, the sounds of the real world return with a gunshot that uselessly takes another life.
I was fortunate enough to see the 25th anniversary revival of Ran when it played select theaters in 2010. But even if you could see it on a screen wider than the sky, you that are young shall never see so much, nor live so long.