Ran

Ran ★★★★★

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6.

Ran is not just the best film adaptation of King Lear, it’s the most Lear — the best representation of the violence and madness begotten by greed, and power, and gods making sport with men like wanton boys picking off the wings of flies.

Shakespeare was 42 years old when he banged this out in a miracle year between Macbeth and Anthony & Cleopatra. Kurosawa made Ran when he was 75. He’d been a king and lost his kingdom. He’s eyesight was slipping. He’d attempted suicide. He’d stood at the edge of a cliff and been battered by a storm. He’d seen chaos (“ran”) unleashed and millions killed by his country’s power-seeking leaders and their cult of militarism.

Lear makes us feel an endless cycle of despair through the power of his Shakespeare’s poetry. Kurosawa knew that Japanese translations didn’t have the bearing capacity to support the emotions Shakespeare evokes and that Kurosawa felt as mortality loomed. So he reverse engineered the play and used images to extract these emotions in the viewer.

"All the technological progress of these last years has only taught human beings how to kill more of each other faster.” Kurosawa said. So he shows up musketeers crouched in the trees slaughtering samurai horsemen.

"Some of the essential scenes of this film are based on my wondering how God and Buddha, if they actually exist, perceive this human life, this mankind stuck in the same absurd behavior patterns.” So Kurosawa give us a final final image of a blind man having dropped his image of the Buddha stands on the precipice of a Golgotha.

What’s all the more shocking and miraculous is that this bleakest of films is also on the very short list of most gorgeous movies of all time. You need a thesaurus to try to describe the colors. This makes me think that all this chaos and misery is being perpetuated in the most beautiful of worlds, that man is making a hell out of paradise.

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