Ran Blu-ray review

In a career filled with monumental cinematic touchstones, Ran represents the last great masterpiece from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Following the stunning 4K theatrical release last month, we are now treated to this sparkling new Blu-ray, packed with extras and looking superb in HD.

Having brought Macbeth so memorably to the screen in Throne of Blood, Kurosawa once again draws inspiration from the Bard, with King Lear now fittingly being transposed to feudal Japan. Kurosawa was 75 when Ran was released, and as the grand master of Japanese cinema, he must surely have related to Lear, and the Great Lord who represents him in the film.

Ran tells the story of Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai), an ageing and powerful warlord who bequeaths control of his Kingdom to his three sons. His youngest son Saburo (Daisuke Ryû) mocks this decision, as he is the only one to recognise that his father maintained order through a lifetime of viciousness and ruthless cruelty. He calls the old man a fool for not thinking that his sons will behave in the same way. Saburo is banished for his words, but sure enough they prove prophetic as the older brothers Taro (Akira Terao) and Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) go to war, with Hidetora and his loyal warriors caught in the crossfire.

Ran is a truly dazzling experience, at once intimate and subtle, it then explodes into action. The castle siege, led by the colour-coded armies of Taro and Jiro is a breathtaking sequence. Bloody and beautiful – striking colours shrouded in smoke and fire, arrows flying across the frame, blood spraying the walls – and all set to the stunning score by Tôru Takemitsu, it is one of the great action scenes in all cinema.

This is thrilling and vivid filmmaking. Stylish, confident and epic in ways that modern CGI blockbusters will never come close to replicating. At the same time its exploration into the legacy of war, and a man’s descent into madness is poignant and haunting. A special mention must be given to the film’s most fascinating and pivotal character, Lady Kaede (Maeko Harada). Inspired in no small part by Shakespeare’s most famous scheming wife, she orchestrates the chaos of the title (Ran literally translates into English as “chaos”) in a truly chilling performance.

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This review first appeared on Entertainment Focus

John ParkerComment