Ken Suzuki’s review published on Letterboxd:
The last epic directed by Akira Kurosawa, Ran takes the King Lear story to the Sengoku period (1467-1615), plunges its characters and themes into one of the most chaotic periods in Japanese history, and leaves us devastated by the multifaceted results. Akira Kurosawa read about Mori Motonari, a powerful feudal lord in Japan during the Sengoku period in the 1500s, in the 1970s. He began working on a new film and was influenced by Shakespeare's "King Lear."
Ran was a true last masterpiece for Japan’s most famous and influential director. Kurosawa would direct a few films after that, but none of them have the scope and tragic awe that sweeps over you in this story of a foolish, aging lord. If you know the King Lear story already, you know how that goes. Tatsuya Nakadai is one of the finest actors to ever play the King Lear figure. Ran does not simply transport Shakespeare’s drama about family and the ghosts of poor decisions into feudal Japan. Kurosawa uses the vital story to create something that adds yet another shade to the seemingly endless potential of one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies. Ran is one of the greatest epics ever committed to film.
I didn't know anything about Akira Kurosawa's biography before seeing this film, but after seeing it, I felt compelled to learn more about him. Kurosawa's directing style never changed in 30 years of filmmaking, until Dodes'ka-den (1970), which wasn't doing too good and sent Kurosawa into a deep depression. In 1971, he attempted suicide by slitting his wrists and throat multiple times. He survived and traveled to Russia to make Dersu Uzala (1975) and Kagemusha (1980) with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola for a major Hollywood studio.
Kurosawa's childhood was also not particularly nice. Kurosawa was just in middle school when the Great Kanto earthquake struck in 1923, killing approximately 150,000 people. It must be extremely difficult for a young boy to see victims of the disaster, but this may have served as inspiration for later films such as Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985), both of which are based on events Kurosawa has experienced, and one of the main things those two films have in common is the need to confront and face the situation, as Kurosawa's brother forced him to roam the city and observe disaster victims.
"My brother once forced me to spend a day wandering through Tokyo looking at the victims of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923."
– Akira Kurosawa
Toshio Mifune was originally considered playing Hidetora in Ran, but Kurosawa opted to cast Tatsuya Nakadai instead because Nakadai has developed an interest in Broadway musicals and visits New York City once a year to see them, making him a better fit for the role. And Nakadai demonstrates his talented acting skills in the film by referring to his acting to a major form of classical Japanese dance-drama Noh, by donning makeup and dressing up as 71-year-old Hidetora, just like in Noh, and by using his largo acting. Furthermore, when struck by emotions, his acting goes to another level as if no one could stop him.
Hidetora Ichimonji, a powerful but aging warlord, decides to divide his empire between his three sons: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Taro, the eldest, will be awarded the First Castle and will become the Ichimonji clan's leader, while Jiro and Saburo will be given the Second and Third Castles, respectively. Hidetora will keep his title as Great Lord, and Jiro and Saburo will support Taro. Hidetora then had a conflict with his third son Saburo and when his servant Tango comes to Saburo's defense, he exiles both men. There's one character that if you have never read King Lear you might think he's a little bit weird and that's character is Kyoami the court fool who entertain Hidetora when he's bored but the interesting thing about this character is from his jokes and the things that he says often reflect what Hidetora never accept and he is the most honest character in the film too, being a clown or a fool, people might don't care much about what he says but all he said is all true. And the funny thing is when Hidetora's mentally stable Kyoami is acting like a fool, but once Hidetora goes crazy himself, Kyoami is the stable one who is strict with reality and Hidetora is the one who is a fool.
Taro is the ruler of his empire, and Taro and Jiro's united army are militarily besieging Hidetora and his samurai entourage. Taro and Jiro's men raid the fortress but Hidetora survived, but he can't believe that his own children could betray him like so. With Taro's death from the battle, Jiro becomes the Great Lord of the Ichimonji clan. Lady Kaede, wife of Taro, seemingly unfazed by Taro's death because she grew up in that castle until Hidetora came to dominate and killed her parents and moreover forced her to marry his son Taro, which she has lost everything and now what she is only aware of is her life after this, so she began to moles Jiro and be his partner. Unlike Lady Kaede, Lady Sue's family killed by Hidetora either furthermore her brother was eye-gouging yet she deny to hate Hidetora and started to strictly believe in Buddhist and learned to forgive. Which there's a scene where Hidetora saw Lady Sue on the mountain which represents that she is more majestic and respectable than Hidetora who is a merciless warrior.
The production of this movie is very interesting as well. I think in most scene, they might use rear projection. And they even build a castle just for this movie and really burned it. And in the last fight scene Jiro's army and Saburo's clearly have different color of the armors and flags whcih if you have watched War and Peace you might really get why they did this.
“It often happens in battle scenes, for example in ‘War and Peace’, that you have no idea which are the Russian troops and which are the Napoleonic ones, and it’s not very kind to the audience. So it was very deliberate to attach different colour banners so you knew exactly what was happening. I was also very careful to pay attention to the fact that the armies of Jiro always entered from left to right, and Saburo’s armies were always filmed the opposite way, from right to left."