Friday, February 29, 2008

Ran directed by Akira Kurosawa (adapted from King Lear by William Shakespeare)

Ran (1985). Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, and Masato Ide from the play King Lear by William Shakespeare.

In most cases, an actor will wait until he is of a certain age before attempting the role of Shakespeare's King Lear. It is odd, though, for a director to do the same. But in this case, I would have to say that it was the right decision. Ran is Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's version of Lear with samurai. He uses the basic story of the play to illustrate a period of Japanese history replete with land wars and feuding families.

Hidetora is the Lear character. As he is getting old, he wants to split his three castles among his three sons: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Saburo, the only one who will not blindly follow his father's orders, is banished during a long, painful scene. The remaining land is split among the two sons. Taro marries Kaede, whose family was killed and their land stolen by Hidetora in her childhood, and who therefore is now living back in her family's original home.

Kaede is the most interesting character in Ran because she has the most pure motive: revenge. She wreaks her vengeance among all the members of the family who cross her, keeping her one goal firmly in her mind: that she will never again be forced to leave this castle. Meanwhile, Taro and Jiro are quick to remind Hidetora that he placed them in charge when he tries to pull rank on them as "Great Lord."

There is a lot in Ran that could have been shortened to make a tighter story, but Kurosawa relishes in the details and gives a far more nuanced picture that takes into account character motivations and individual personalities. Many of the aspects of King Lear are evident, and nearly every character has a counterpart, but this is really Kurosawa's film, not Shakespeare's.

Hidetora goes crazy while the Fool accompanies him on his wanderings, avoiding the only son who would tell him the truth, Saburo. Although the story projects a happy ending, this is, at its core, a Shakespearean tragedy in which, of course, nothing good can come of characters' prideful motives. It's still shocking to see, and Kurosawa makes it both surprising and inevitable. Ran is undoubtedly one of Kurosawa's masterpieces, and the last one of that rank that he made.

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