Ran ★★★★★

Ran is simply one of those films you couldn't believe was made. It's an absolute mammoth, with towering stone castles and full-scale armies marching about with their banners in plains as far as the eye could see. A true operatic epic, Akira Kurosawa's adaptation of William Shakespeare's 'King Lear' breathes vivid life to the chaos and destruction of the human race, lamenting its collective shortcomings and its dreary future. Ran will chew you up and spit you out shaken and speechless.

Kurosawa's final jidaigeki masterpiece might have also been his bleakest vision of humanity. In every film of his, a ray of optimism shines through no matter how desolate the circumstances might be. Whether it was a child's cries as the hope worth living for in an untruthful world in Rashomon, the unity of men in the name of altruism in Seven Samurai, or a playground giving a dying man strength and purpose in Ikiru, hope always finds a way in Kurosawa's works. But in Ran, the light of the sun is blocked by thick clouds of dust and smoke. The world is at war, the kingdom is falling, and the gods have deserted. Perhaps a difficult decade (a career nosedive, a failed Hollywood stint, lack of financial backing, and even a suicide attempt) has reshaped Kurosawa's worldview into one of cynicism. Following a low point in his life, Kurosawa's pessimism is ever-apparent in this film, coming down full-force like a hammer to the chest, crushing the remaining warmth left in the wasteland to a pulp.

Every person acts for his or her own gain, stepping over others with little to no conscience. Lies are honeyed in sweet words, brutality masquerades as power, and pride blinds the wrongdoers. There is no unity and there is no justice for the good. In these arid lands, only the seeds of death and destruction can be grown. Hell has been unleashed on earth. The moral ways of the spirit, like a coveted scroll of Buddha, is lost--a great treasure wanting to be found by a species too busy charging towards its own extinction.

With Ran, Kurosawa has painted a beautiful apocalypse. The master's eyesight has started to deteriorate and by the time the film was in production, he was nearly blind. Working briefly as a painter before finding success in film, Kurosawa personally rendered handmade storyboards to show his crew what he wanted Ran to look like. The results speak for themselves. There is no frame in this film that doesn't belong in an art gallery. It is simply a staggering achievement in visual filmmaking. The colors are intoxicating; yellow, red, blue, white, green--you name it--have never looked so good. Watching this must be like seeing the world for the first time in color. Ugh, my eyes want to make love with this movie! Ran might just be the most beautiful film ever photographed.

Kurosawa, often regarded as the Shakespeare of cinema, didn't just adapt a classic play--he made it his own, blending Eastern and Western elements of storytelling and recontextualizing 'King Lear' within Japan's turbulent Sengoku period. Kurosawa's mythic command of the craft reaches a peak late in his career, making us believe that the only law and order to be found Ran was in his direction of it. The movements are exact and the action is calculated, even the weather cooperates. No second is wasted. I cannot imagine captaining this titanic of a venture but Kurosawa made one of the greatest films of all time in the process. I will run out of adjectives to commend the art direction, the costume design, the music, and all else so let me just say they're all sublime. Sublime!

Tatsuya Nakadai, also known as my favorite actor ever, delivers one of the best performances in the history of cinema. As the old warlord Hidetora Ichimonji, Nakadai's acting is in the style of Noh theater but maintains a level of realism and sincerity. His round eyes and his deep, bellowing voice can tell a story, his ghastly appearance reflecting the pain and despair of the world. The pop singer Peter also turns in an inspired performance as the great lord's fool and entertainer, Mieko Harada's Lady Kaede is the perfect medieval femme fatale. Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nez, and Daisuke Ryu are all memorable for their roles as the warring brothers Taro, Jiro, and Saburo respectively. So many great characters fueled by individualistic goals here, and the actors help make Ran the masterpiece that it is.

Though I felt slowness in a few parts due to the sparse plot stretched out across a large runtime and an epic canvas, my personal experience does not and should not diminish the greatness of Ran. This is still a flawless film. In fact, it's a pretty special station in my journey as a cinephile. In what felt like a long time ago, my English teacher posted about Ran after Parasite's historical night at the Oscars, claiming that the Academy's recognition of Asian cinema was long due and should've bestowed Kurosawa's film with the same honors as Bong's. I watched the restoration trailer and I remember being so taken by the visuals I couldn't believe my eyes. Heck, even now I still couldn't. So basically, Ran was the film that made me actively seek out foreign films, especially Asian films, and I'm all the more thankful for it.

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