Extra Special

Gift guide

Extra Special

Ran

Criterion, $39.95

Ran is a singular masterpiece, relative more to its visionary director Akira Kurosawa, perhaps, than the neophyte cinephile. A Shakespearean tragedy about a warlord who retires too soon, Ran's staging is largely representative, Kurosawa's continued use of traditional Noh theatrics still acting as a shorthand for realism. The film's lush locations, the epic battle sequences and castle torched on Japan's Mount Fuji – those are real. Kurosawa's dazzling, watercolor storyboards come to psychedelic life both in a second DVD of extras and the film itself; proclaiming Ran one of the great achievements in cinema since the advent of color is like saying Kodak had something to do with film. Noh's ghastly make-up and acting histrionics will try anyone without a 160-minute attention span, yet fans of the director's unparalleled oeuvre will swoon. Though Kurosawa made three more films after this 1985 effort, it bookends a career that took international root in 1951 with Rashomon. Kurosawa's opening here flashes back on his Seven Samurai, while Rashomon is evoked every time the camera looks straight into the sun. Throne of Blood is everywhere: Ran's Lady Kaede, the torrent of arrows, the bloodbaths. "Man is perfectly alone," Kurosawa summarized Ran. What a way to go.

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