RAN (1985) Blu Ray Mar 6, 2010 19:12:24 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Mar 6, 2010 19:12:24 GMT -5
By 1985 Akira Kurosawa was a filmmaking legend. He was a figure who was, for many, larger than the industry itself. Kurosawa was an elder statesman in the filmmaking community, but he still had gas left in the tank.
The proof? Ran.
His previous film, Kagemusha, was a critical success, but not an overwhelming one. It was a very good movie, but Kurosawa had been in the business of making great movies - brilliant movies; films that were both entertaining and artful.
He had only made 3 films in the previous 15 years, and many thought that it was possible that his day had come and gone.
And in one fell swoop he proved all the naysayers wrong.
Ran is a brilliant artistic achievement, even if the entertainment level isn't quite up to what it was from his 1949-1965 standards were. And even so, it's still a darned entertaining movie - just one with a serious amount of depth (almost too much as it's fairly weighty).
Taking Shakespeare's King Lear and adapting it to feudal Japan Kurosawa reworked the story so well that if you weren't familiar with the original story you'd have no idea that it wasn't a new story written by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, and Masato Ide. It's remarkable just how well the basic story fits within the setting of feudal Japan.
Tatsuya Nakadai (a brilliant actor) plays the aged Lord Hidetora Ichimonji, a man whose age is weighing on him heavily and decides to give his kingdom to his eldest son, and to assign his other two sons to supporting castles of their own (in support of the oldest son, Taro). The youngest son, Saburo, protests, questioning his father's sanity and judgment, and is then summarily banished from the kingdom (there are several kingdoms within Japan at this time, and they are almost constantly at war with each other).
As it turns out, his two older sons, Taro and Jiro, are not quite the loyal, trustworthy sons they appear to be. Especially Taro, who had seemed to be the most loyal of all. He turns out to be a bit indecisive, and has a wife with ambitions. Ambitions that stem from Hidetora's murder of her family when he conquered their castle and took their land.
Hidetora's descent into madness is shown one step at a time. He is shocked by the betrayal of his sons as they position themselves to be the unquestioned leaders of the region. Hidetora's mere presence diminishes their authority somewhat, and the fear of not having enough authority and power to control their kingdom drives them to turn on their father. That was something that he had not forseen. But the youngest son, Saburo - the one who defied Hidetora in the first place - had forseen this kind of end result. Saburo, as it turns out, was the most loyal and honorable of Hidetora's sons, despite his hotheaded, rebellious nature.
Kurosawa's handling of the story is nothing less than remarkable. The photography is stunning as the colors and the composition of the shots is simply phenomenal. The actors are also handled well as they give outstanding performances. Kurosawa almost always seemed to get the best performances his actors could give.
Tatsuya Nakadai, the best known and most respected in the cast is actually the only one who could really be accused of overacting, as he really chews up the scenery while showing Hidetora's slide from wise, strong authority figure to a sad, pathetic, broken old man. It's a performance, though, that has it's roots in Japanese theater, so consider it something of a cultural difference from Japan to the West. And even if by American or European standards it could be considered overacting it isn't overacting by all that much, and it is a great performance. His handling of Hidetora's moments of lucidity is flawless.
Where Kurosawa's Seven Samurai moves by at a great pace (not rushed, not slow - just right) and feels like a 2 hour and 15 minute movie (despite it's run time of 3 hours and 27 minutes), Ran feels like a 3 hour movie. And it's run time is only 2 hours and 42 minutes. Even so, it's a great 2 hours and 42 minutes.
Kurosawa made three more movies after Ran, but this was his last epic movie. He never again made a film on this scale, and it's just as well. He left that genre behind on a very high note.
Lionsgate and Studio Canal's Blu Ray for Ran is outstanding as well. While Criterion lost the rights to the film (thus ending their planned Blu Ray release last year), Lionsgate and Studio Canal did a fine job with this release. The picture quality on this release is the best the film has looked to date. The blacks are blacker, the picture sharper, and the colors are more accurate than on any other release of the film to home video. There is noticeable film grain - but fine film grain, and the picture is not slammed with digital noise reduction (DNR). There is some occasional film reel wobble (up and down as opposed to the more common side to side wobble), but it was there on the Criterion DVD as well, and after about 15 minutes or so it diminishes greatly for most of the rest of the film. It's not a perfect transfer, but it is an improvement on what has been seen on home video for this film previously.
There are plenty of extras on the disc as well, as Lionsgate and Studio Canal did their best to live up to the standards that Criterion set years ago for the handling of classic, artistic achievements like Ran.
While not quite Kurosawa's finest work, Ran is still a fantastic film and a remarkable achievement for a great director near the end of his career.
Movie - 4.5
Picture/Sound/Extras - 4.0 (for Blu Ray, 5.0 if it were DVD)