Akira Kurosawa’s acclaimed adaptation of King Lear set in Japan is re-issued to mark both its own 30th anniversary and Shakespeare’s 400th.




Ran, made in 1985 and following on from Kurosawa’s much earlier Throne of Blood (1957) based on Macbeth, was the Japanese master’s second film to be derived from Shakespeare. The admiration that he felt for our greatest playwright obviously went deep and many regard this adaptation of King Lear as the greatest of all the many films based on Shakespeare’s plays. Consequently, nothing could be more apt than to reissue Ran at this time and it reaches us in a magnificent 4K restoration.

Another view commonly expressed about Ran is that it was Kurosawa’s last masterpiece but, personally, I take the view that Dreams, a very different kind of film made in 1990, deserves that description. Indeed, I am slightly - if only slightly - heretical about the standing of Ran. The first half is undoubtedly splendid in every respect, a reworking of the story of Lear transposed to 16th century Japan which works admirably and is told with great clarity. Changes – such as the aged warlord who is the Lear figure now having three sons and the building up of the role of a daughter-in-law, Lady Kaede, to carry echoes of Lady Macbeth – prove fascinating rather than disturbing and the cutting of certain subplots is no loss.

The second half, however, strikes me as somewhat less successful. The evil Lady Kaede comes across less as a figure in a tragedy than as a magnificent but slightly camp villainess not wholly without echoes of the scheming aunt played by Serafima Birman in Eisenstein’s films about Ivan the Terrible. Furthermore, some of the intensity needed for the late tragic scenes comes to seem undermined by the frequent cuts to superbly staged battle scenes. This struck me the more strongly because another late work of Kurosawa’s, Kagemusha of 1980, builds and builds with a unity of spirit missing here.

But these reservations may be personal to me and everyone who has not seen Ran should seize this chance to assess the film for themselves. That’s not just because it has never looked better but because this breathtaking work is one that can only be appreciated to the full in the cinema. It may not have been shot in ’Scope but Ran is epic cinema in every sense of the word. 




Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Harada Mieko, Terao Akira, Nezu Jinpachi, Ryû Daisuke, Miyazaki Yoshiko, Igawa Hisashi, Pîtâ, Watanabe Takashi.

Dir and Ed Kurosawa Akira, Pro Hara Masato and Serge Silberman, Screenplay Kurosawa Akira, Oguni Hideo and Ide Masato from King Lear by William Shakespeare, Ph Nakai Asakazu, Saitô Takao and Ueda Shôji, Pro Des Muraki Shinobu and Muraki Yoshirô, Music Takemitsu Tôru, Costumes Wada Emi.

Greenwich Film Productions/Herald Ace/Nippon Herald Films.-StudioCanal/ICO.
160 mins. Japan/France. 1985. Rel: 1 April 2016. Cert. 12A