The Greatest Stories Ever Told

The 2010 Paramount Summer Film Classics

The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Rivalry of Kin: 'Ran'

"Father, there are ways to break even three arrows together," warns Saburo, the youngest of the Ichimonji clan in the 1985 epic Ran, using his knee to snap the metaphorical bond between himself and his two brothers, Taro and Jiro. "Consider the times in which we live. To survive, one must discard loyalty and affection. ... Remember father, we too are children of this age, weaned on chaos and strife."

A masterful rumination on the rivalry of kin, Ran is essentially the Shakespeare tragedy King Lear, translated by film sensei Akira Kurosawa to Japan's Sengoku era and the mountains and plains around Mount Aso. After a five-decades-long reign of terror, an aging warlord, Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), decides to divide his kingdom between his three sons. Unable to discern the loyalty of Saburo's counsel, Hidetora banishes him, while the remaining brothers vie for power through deceit and outright treachery. The characters are all villains and victims, with no clear distinction between the two.

Roger Ebert once wrote that Ran "may be as much about Kurosawa's life as Shakespeare's play," a means of addressing his legacy in the film industry and his own mortality. There's one crucial difference, though. The action happens around Hidetora, whose frozen horror at the unraveling of his estate ultimately leads to madness, while Kurosawa, though dealing with partial blindess and personal tragedy (the death of his wife during production), remains at the peak of his powers. The crowning achievement of Kurosawa's third period (1965-85), Ran is one of those rare, late-career triumphs that redefines all that has proceeded it: the epic majesty of 1954's Seven Samurai, the commanding existentialism of 1952's death rattle Ikiru, the Renaissance savagery of 1980's Kagemusha, and the expert pacing of 1962's High and Low, while his vivid use of color is unlike anything else in his catalog (Ran's Emi Wada notched an Academy Award for Costume Design).

There's neither a moment wasted nor a detail overlooked. To wit, when the Third Castle burns at the hands of Taro and Jiro in the film's centerfold battle scene, three arrows protrude from the back of Hidetora's messenger. "The enemy is everywhere, inside and out," he utters with his dying breath. "Hell is upon us!"

Ran screens Saturday, Aug. 14, 2 & 8pm, and Sunday, Aug. 15, 4:20pm.

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