316 Ran

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Giulio
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Re: 316 Ran

#176 Post by Giulio » Mon Sep 28, 2009 6:30 pm

stwrt wrote:
perkizitore wrote:DVD Times on the Optimum Blu-Ray.
Some heavy "ringing" going on in those caps, however the French DVD (from where the transfer was sourced) has a much better picture quality than the shoddy Criterion DVD.
are you serious? is it more theatrical-like? could you please show us some screencaps? as I can read and understand french I'll be glad to know it

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Re: 316 Ran

#177 Post by stwrt » Tue Sep 29, 2009 5:30 am

Giulio wrote:
stwrt wrote:
perkizitore wrote:DVD Times on the Optimum Blu-Ray.
Some heavy "ringing" going on in those caps, however the French DVD (from where the transfer was sourced) has a much better picture quality than the shoddy Criterion DVD.
are you serious? is it more theatrical-like? could you please show us some screencaps? as I can read and understand french I'll be glad to know it
There are some screen caps in the post you've quoted directly above mine.

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Wood Tick
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Re: 316 Ran

#178 Post by Wood Tick » Sat Oct 10, 2009 11:44 am

OOP, according to the Criterion website. Amazon still has copies in stock. (Mine has shipped.)

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Re: 316 Ran

#179 Post by brendanjc » Tue Nov 24, 2009 8:12 pm

Blu-ray coming to the US on 2/16/10 from Lionsgate.
“Ran” bonus materials include “A.K.” – the acclaimed feature-length documentary on the making of the film, “Akira Kurosawa: The Epic and the Intimate” – documentary on the director, a Portrait of Akira Kurosawa by Japanese cinema expert and interpreter Catherine Cadou, “The Samurai” – documentary on Samurai art, “Art of the Samurai” – an interview with a Japanese art of war expert plus BD-Live and a 20-page collectible booklet.

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Re: 316 Ran

#180 Post by perkizitore » Wed Nov 25, 2009 10:49 am

Will it be an Optimum port? Probably... :evil:

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Re: 316 Ran

#181 Post by david hare » Wed Nov 25, 2009 12:18 pm

Yes it will. If I choose to I can select the USA as country of origin on my Oz disc, the disc will then default to Region A and it will start up with the Lionsgate Logo.

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Re: 316 Ran

#182 Post by dad1153 » Mon May 10, 2010 9:16 pm

If you're in NYC throughout the month of May J&R Music World has a month-old sale for every Criterion in stock. I just came from there and there are about a dozen copies of "Ran" for $24.99 a pop (plus a few OOP Criterion floating around between $20-25: "Contempt," "Le Corbeau," "Variety Lights," etc.). It's not an online sale though so if you or a surrogate can't make it to Gotham and J&R's basement store then you're out of luck. :?

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Re: 316 Ran

#183 Post by rrenault » Wed Mar 23, 2011 10:30 pm

Just a heads up. J & R in Manhattan still has several Criterion copies of Ran they're selling at retail price, but only in the store, not on their website. I also saw a copy of a Woman is a woman. The manager seemed to be aware of the studio canal-criterion situation and said they somehow ended with a lost cache of Rans recently.

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Re: 316 Ran

#184 Post by Finch » Fri Apr 20, 2012 3:54 pm


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Re: 316 Ran

#185 Post by andyli » Fri Apr 20, 2012 5:23 pm

That's a rather interesting release. I wonder which studio it is. And how come they have access to Criterion's cover design?

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Re: 316 Ran

#186 Post by Finch » Fri Apr 20, 2012 6:36 pm

The distributor is Content Zone who did the decent Korean Blu-Ray of A Bittersweet Life. I'll keep an eye out for reviews of the Ran disc. May well be a different transfer to the Studio Canal disc.

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Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#187 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Aug 17, 2015 10:45 am

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, AUGUST 31st AT 6:30 AM.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#188 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Aug 17, 2015 10:49 am

As a way to provoke discussion, here are some posts I wrote on Ran and nihilism:
Mr Sausage wrote:-Stray Dog is a humanist movie, because what ultimately distinguishes the hero and villain is individual choice: whether to give in to despair and end up a miserable criminal, or to overcome despair and achieve something. Crucially, this is not an inevitable choice; and what bothers the Mifune character for the whole movie is how easily he could've chosen the opposite. In Stray Dog, our destiny is our choice; humans determine their goodness or their badness through moral decisions.

-Ran is not a humanist film. Not just its total despair, not just the compositions that deemphasize individuals next to the monolithic figures of the sky and landscape, but its ultimate expression of the idea that human beings do not control their destiny or forge their own happiness; they are the play things of the gods, or fate, or sheer arbitrariness, and suffer pointlessly. This is nihilism.
Mr Sausage wrote:No, I don't think Ran is a protest. I think its despair is authentic. It is, anyway, so large that it dwarfs human attempts at correction. I wouldn't say the film is endorsing nihilism, but it seems to be saying that there is no other way to feel about the world. It brings us right to the brink of goodness winning out, only for everything to be shattered so pointlessly and meaninglessly: after all the machinations to save Lady Sue, she dies horribly anyway. Hidetora is saved from his madness and reunites with Saburo, his kingdom about to be restored, only to have Saburo pointlessly killed in front of him by some sniper after the war had already ended, after which Hidetora dies of despair. Ruin snatched from the jaws of success. All that's left is for Kyoami to vent his despair about the arbitrary cruelty of the world. We're left with an image of a blind man lost on a cliff, awaiting the sister and guide who'll never come, his last remaining consolation a scroll that he drops down the cliff face.

Kurosawa does not like this idea, but he is not telling us not to believe it, either. It's not a movie to inspire you with faith in human agency. Overwhelmingly, this is not an example of his humanism. I think he had to reach this low point in order to come back from it, and his last three films show his reconciliation with his earlier humanism. Protests ought to make us feel like we can do something to help. Ran does not offer this possibility.
Mr Sausage wrote:I don't know about "nihilist cinema," but I do know that nihilism is not the same thing as an absence of emotion. Nihilism--at least the existential sort--rejects the idea that there is observable or discoverable meaning to life or existence. I think the sheer cruelty and destruction in Ran leaves us in this position--certainly it leaves Kyoami, the fool, in this position, and he expresses it with real eloquence. It's hard not to agree with him. But we are absolutely meant to feel the despair and sorrow of this idea, that life is without value and that we are at the whims of some cruel, unknowable force that sows pain and discord without purpose. Such a world is meant to make us weep, but I do not think the movie is being sentimental or pedagogic here: it's not a scare tactic urging us to betterment; it's emphasizing just how impossible betterment may be. Our destinies are not in our control; the choices of human beings cannot reduce the suffering or the cruelty. It will happen in spite of our best plans.

This kind of despair has always been lurking in Kurosawa (the relativistic void of Rashomon is just barely saved by the affirmation behind the Woodcutter's final action; Throne of Blood is ugly and fatalistic; I Live in Fear ends in ruin and madness), but the sequence moving from Kagemusha (in which the most important meanings and values rest on empty totems) to Ran shows Kurosawa giving himself over to that despair without mediation from the humanism that had kept it at bay for so long. But he found his way back from it, and did indeed make a protest film in Dreams.
Context here, here, and here.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#189 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Aug 17, 2015 1:07 pm

I'm not too sure I'd agree on the nihilism of the world of Ran. In a way Kagemusha feels like the more nihilistic of the two with the wiping away of an entire ruling house, though the bigger difference is that Kagemusha is the 'historical' film contrasting against Ran's 'poetic' one. I get the impression that the feuding will end in Ran, even if 'the good guys' have not won. And even the ending of Ran isn't entirely bleak: when has the world ever not been teetering on the edge of an abyss, pushed forward by blind leaders? At least the brother has sense enough to step back from the edge, for the moment at least.

The perspective in Ran feels much more detached than that and I think Stephen Prince describes it well in his commentary over the horrific battle scene (which obviously influenced Saving Private Ryan's D-Day landing horrors. There's even the shot of a samurai sitting dazed in the carnage holding his chopped off arm, which is a moment that Spielberg quotes directly) when he says something to the effect of the horror as being viewed by "the Gods through a veil of tears", as we see the frequent shots of the clouds punctuating the carnage. Kurosawa here reaches the peak of showing industrial scale mass slaughter, something which the end of Kagemusha was alluding to in its decimation of an entire ruling class.

Yet within that horror the structure provided by King Lear allows for, albeit archetypal, humanity to come in. Hidetora really is the most to blame in both wanting to retire yet also retain all of his prestige at the same time. The legacy of his violent wars and conquests are embodied in the marriages of conveniences of his sons, as well as more pointedly in Lady Sue and her blinded brother. Hidetora, after his final hunt that begins the film, is wanting to give all that up for a quiet life, but stopping to assess his legacy suddenly allows everything that has been kept at bay through fear or loyalty to the ruler, or simply just pushed to the back of the mind, to flood in and overwhelm him. Hidetora 'learns his lesson', but it is far too late to put any such lessons into practice. He's like the thief in Kagemusha once the deception has been revealed, looking on at a world he was once a key figure in but fundamentally ignored by everyone as an irrelevance now. The only way to play any further part in the action is to go mad and/or die.

But in some ways this isn't about the characters (Though Lady Kaede is by far the most pro-active and driven character in the film, who achieves all of her goals magnificently! Only matched by Kurogane as the aide who clashes with her a couple of times. The scene with the head of Lady Sue has to be my favourite one of the film, maybe only matched by Kaede's seduction scene a little earlier on!), it is about emotion expressed through action and visuals. The spectacle of colour coded armies of Kagemusha reaches epic proportions here, only matched by the textures of splashing blood, billowing black smoke and yellow flames at the mid-point siege. I've never been able to make it through that massacre scene, piling on masses of individual moments from biggest to smallest, from armies clashing to noble sacrifices to handmaidens committing suicide, until the castle is literally crying with a river of blood, without shedding a tear or two.

Another aspect worth talking about is the way that the film is quite a digressive one, contrasting sharp moments of horrific clarity against long scenes of characters trying to actively run away from facing up to their demons (a great addition to Lear is that the Fool here is so frustrated with his master that he actually beats up Hidetora at one point!). The last third of the film almost collapses into digressive scenes with Hidetora destroyed by war and left in limbo unable to do anything but cling to shreds of his sanity like any number of others that he destroyed over the course of his life, Lady Sue and her brother being just two. I'd suggest this is a deeply, blackly ironic film more than a nihilistic one though, in that the audience is in the position of those 'Gods' watching the human drama in a detached way, seeing the characters constantly making plans that get thwarted (unless they have purposeful revenge on their mind) and only finding comfort in imperfect substitutes for true inner peace: family and images of God, both of which comforts slip from the character's grasp in the final moments.
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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#190 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Aug 17, 2015 2:17 pm

colin wrote:I'm not too sure I'd agree on the nihilism of the world of Ran. In a way Kagemusha feels like the more nihilistic of the two with the wiping away of an entire ruling house, though the bigger difference is that Kagemusha is the 'historical' film contrasting against Ran's 'poetic' one. I get the impression that the feuding will end in Ran, even if 'the good guys' have not won. And even the ending of Ran isn't entirely bleak: when has the world ever not been teetering on the edge of an abyss, pushed forward by blind leaders? At least the brother has sense enough to step back from the edge, for the moment at least.
Well, the destruction of a ruling house is apocalyptic more than nihilistic. I think the nihilism of Kagemusha comes from the way it's revealed that these vast, ordering structures that give meaning and purpose to all the lives within them are built on fabrications. So long as one believes in the fabrication, ie. kingship (whether in a family member to whom it was passed down or a beggar posing as one), the whole structure can continue to function. But ultimately the structure, with all its attendant meaning, cannot be reduced down to some stable, inherent idea or principle. At the centre is a shadow; meanings and values are built on a shadow.

By the world teetering on the edge of the abyss, do you mean politically or philosophically? Sure, the brother steps back from the edge, but he's left without sight, guides, or comforting gods. As an image of helplessness before the vastness of space and time, it's a potent one.
colin wrote:Yet within that horror the structure provided by King Lear allows for, albeit archetypal, humanity to come in. Hidetora really is the most to blame in both wanting to retire yet also retain all of his prestige at the same time. The legacy of his violent wars and conquests are embodied in the marriages of conveniences of his sons, as well as more pointedly in Lady Sue and her blinded brother. Hidetora, after his final hunt that begins the film, is wanting to give all that up for a quiet life, but stopping to assess his legacy suddenly allows everything that has been kept at bay through fear or loyalty to the ruler, or simply just pushed to the back of the mind, to flood in and overwhelm him. Hidetora 'learns his lesson', but it is far too late to put any such lessons into practice. He's like the thief in Kagemusha once the deception has been revealed, looking on at a world he was once a key figure in but fundamentally ignored by everyone as an irrelevance now. The only way to play any further part in the action is to go mad and/or die
There is plenty of humanity in the film: this is why it's so terrible when everything all falls apart. The nihilism of the movie is structural as well as thematic. The choices that are made by many in the movie should have returned this broken world to unity. There is no reason for Saburo to've been killed, for Lady Sue to've been executed, for Hidetora to've died of grief. Everything had been righted by human agency and the values of family, honour, and love asserted. The structure was moving from order, to chaos, to order again. But it all crumbles, and crumbles without meaning. Saburo dies pointlessly by a stray sniper shot after the war had ended. Lady Sue dies by the hand of some anonymous assassin after all of the machinations to guarantee her safety. The values and meanings that are broken here are not replaced with competing ones. The final meaning lies in the impossibility of human values and meanings, in the impossibility of human agency achieving unity, value, and happiness. There is no human meaning; the characters are the playthings of an indifferent fate. This is nihilism.
colin wrote:I'd suggest this is a deeply, blackly ironic film more than a nihilistic one though, in that the audience is in the position of those 'Gods' watching the human drama in a detached way, seeing the characters constantly making plans that get thwarted (unless they have purposeful revenge on their mind) and only finding comfort in imperfect subtitutes for true inner peace: family and images of God, both of which comforts slip from the character's grasp in the final moments.
Irony is not mutually exclusive with nihilism. But it's interesting that at the end of the movie, we don't watch our characters' plans come apart through ironic reversals, where their efforts to achieve one thing finds that thing replaced with a second thing that the initial efforts had been set-up to prevent. The reversals in Ran are pointless; they are not the unintended consequence of any particular plan to stop them. They are the consequence of a cruel fate.

So the movie does not even provide an ironic significance to the events, where we appreciate the folly of humanity's attempt to control things (with the attendant meaning that happiness is more likely if you give up some control). The characters should have come out alright--their plans were good ones. That they didn't is the fault of things well beyond them.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#191 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Aug 17, 2015 6:10 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:By the world teetering on the edge of the abyss, do you mean politically or philosophically? Sure, the brother steps back from the edge, but he's left without sight, guides, or comforting gods. As an image of helplessness before the vastness of space and time, it's a potent one.
Yes, both. But I feel we are all on that edge all of the time. It's nothing to be too concerned about! Even the lost God isn't too bad in the sense that the religious element was more closely associated with Lady Sue than her brother (if Lady Sue had lost her scroll of the Buddha, that would have been a far more pointed jab at the failure of religion to provide solace. Here it is as much standing for Lady Sue's gift being lost as much as for losing touch with God in the divine sense for the otherwise more cynical, less naive, brother). The brother has been abandoned less through fate but more through the poor choices of the other characters, such as Lady Sue inadvisably going back to the cottage after they have initially escaped.
Mr Sausage wrote:The nihilism of the movie is structural as well as thematic. The choices that are made by many in the movie should have returned this broken world to unity. There is no reason for Saburo to've been killed, for Lady Sue to've been executed, for Hidetora to've died of grief. Everything had been righted by human agency and the values of family, honour, and love asserted. The structure was moving from order, to chaos, to order again. But it all crumbles, and crumbles without meaning. Saburo dies pointlessly by a stray sniper shot after the war had ended. Lady Sue dies by the hand of some anonymous assassin after all of the machinations to guarantee her safety. The values and meanings that are broken here are not replaced with competing ones. The final meaning lies in the impossibility of human values and meanings, in the impossibility of human agency achieving unity, value, and happiness. There is no human meaning; the characters are the playthings of an indifferent fate. This is nihilism.
The film is allowing that point of view but I feel that fate isn't present in this film so much as people making casual decisions that have far reaching and serious consequences that they have not properly considered. The only character who really seems to have put some thought into her actions is Lady Kaede (and Kurogane in opposing her), and she seems to also be the only character who accepts her death once she has avenged her family. Lady Sue dies through deciding to return home despite knowing that people are looking to kill her and her brother. And I really like the sense that the death of Saburo comes about not because of any particular intervention from fate but simply because the word hasn't spread amongst the outlying ranks of the opposing army yet about the defeat, so as far as the people who shot Saburo are concerned they are just following orders and take an opportunistic shot!

I have the sense throughout that the characters are in control of their fates and trying to make the most of their opportunities. It is just that the choices they make are often poor ones! Or at least poorly thought through! There is that extra layer of detachment from these characters though. Call it irony or theatricality, or a God's eye view, or distanciation, I think by the end that the audience is left with a more complete picture of the anonymous brutality of war and generational in-fighting than even the characters themselves do.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#192 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Aug 17, 2015 8:21 pm

colin wrote:The brother has been abandoned less through fate but more through the poor choices of the other characters, such as Lady Sue inadvisably going back to the cottage after they have initially escaped.
If I remember, Lady Sue goes back to get her brother's lute or biwa or something, the last thing he finds joy in. It's one of those inadvisable but inevitable choices, though; the kind of thing that characters are fated to make in a story like this. Which leads to another point:
colin wrote:The film is allowing that point of view but I feel that fate isn't present in this film so much as people making casual decisions that have far reaching and serious consequences that they have not properly considered.
In a career full of movies about characters forced to make moral choices and live with the consequences of those decisions, it's interesting how Kurosawa deemphasizes character choice in Ran's finale. Take Lady Sue for example: she returns to get the flute and that seals her fate, but but there's no larger moral point to these actions. Same with Saburo riding off to find Hidetora. These choices are so trivial and so unconnected to morality that there is no larger lesson to take from them. The death and suffering happens for reasons larger than individual human choice at this point in the narrative. This is what Kyaomi's outburst reveals, and I take what he says seriously. We can debate whether or not it's fate or the gods or arbitrary nature or what have you; the point is that it's non-human, we are its playthings, and it sows cruelty and suffering for its own reasons. If the lesson were really about choice, the fool would've said so. Kurosawa makes these problems explicit.
colin wrote:And I really like the sense that the death of Saburo comes about not because of any particular intervention from fate but simply because the word hasn't spread amongst the outlying ranks of the opposing army yet about the defeat, so as far as the people who shot Saburo are concerned they are just following orders and take an opportunistic shot!
Perhaps I'm not doing a good job of communicating my point. I don't meant the event is supernaturally organized. I mean that it's constructed in order to seem arbitrary and a waste. It comes just as everything has been righted; it's unnecessary from a plot perspective; and its petty rather than grand. It's not organized to make us feel that Saburo's choices have damned him; it's organized to seem arbitrary and frustrating. It is a meaningless death that exposes a meaningless world (or a world in which meaning lies somewhere else and is not for us).

This is a movie that starts out like a tragic drama of the folly of human choice, and ends in nihilism, with human choice being dwarfed beneath the cruel forces of the universe.
colin wrote:But I feel we are all on that edge all of the time. It's nothing to be too concerned about!
Well that's an admirably lighthearted view of things. I doubt Kurosawa shares it, though.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#193 Post by Drucker » Mon Aug 17, 2015 8:30 pm

Both of you are making excellent points and Colin, you especially, are saying a lot that was on my mind. I really don't have too much to add thematically. The film undeniably feels like there is a constant sense of doom. While there are certainly moments where it feels good could win out, it is simultaneously foolhardy to honestly expect that to happen. Even in the scene where the King explains his plan to hand power to his sons, he smiles and says "I'll divide my time among the three castles while I enjoy my remaining years." As the storm clouds roll by him, it's clear his plans are doomed.

What stuck out for me most in this film, the only film post-High and Low I've seen of his, is how intense and slow the pacing is. While at first the slow pacing sort of irked me, considering the sense of doom throughout the film, it's wholly appropriate. In his early films, we have many periods of character-interaction and character-building that are broken up by scenes that are more lively and active. But Ran's pacing never picks up. Even the battle sequences has a quiet, calm beauty to it.

Beyond pacing illustrating the sense of doom, the characters are also repeatedly doomed to their true selves. When Tango comes back in the picture, and the King orders the peasants' village burn, it's the best example I can think of where even as his world collapses, and all of his best laid plans fall apart, he still cannot escape his true nature. Taro also turns out to have been right all along when he insisted early on he wasn't fit to follow his father. It seems to epitomize his smallness that his first battle as head of the family, rather than a battle or attempting to take something by sheer force, he makes his father sign a contract to take what is his.

I haven't read King Lear, so I'd love to hear how the film stacks up compared to it.

One question: early on, when Tango first re-encounters the King, he lies, saying that Saburo had instructed him to monitor the King, when it reality it was his idea all along. Was this to begin the start of forgiveness between Saburo and his father? Was there something else going on here that I missed?

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#194 Post by domino harvey » Tue Aug 18, 2015 1:38 am

I know you know this, but you should really carve out two or three hours as soon as you can and read King Lear. You owe it to yourself as an intelligent human being to read one of the greatest works of literature ever written (and in my personal estimation, the greatest). This is the edition I use with my students, it contains unobtrusive definitions and notes at the bottom of each page and no dreaded "translations." It is not a chore, it is a treat you are giving yourself.

As for this film, I didn't care for it at all I'm afraid. I had the same problems you note with pacing, only they didn't turn into any positive virtue for me. I found myself tired almost immediately of this film and the nearly three hours trickled by with little to no response from me beyond watching it all pass on by with limited interest.

I also had a hard time shutting off my brain to the changes Kurosawa makes to the source text. I'm aware that this film, like Lear itself, is based on older tales as well, but while any adaptation can and should make changes, this film makes ones that hobble the very things that make Lear so powerful. Take the proof of love / divvying of land from the First Act (AKA the single greatest first scene of any play). Lear wants to be flattered and punishes his most favored daughter for refusing to participate on the grounds that she believes her love should be self-evident. Here the objection is that the Lear figure's dividing plan is a bad plan. Okay, not huge or interesting dramatic stakes there, and it completely colors this film's Cordelia figure in a less interesting fashion. And it just goes on like that, with the bare bones of the plot present but the aspects which make it matter absent.

I think Sausage is onto something with his recognition of what he identifies as "nihilist" tones, but those are part of the problem. Each of Shakespeare's Tragedies hinge on avoidable mistakes. In this version the "mistakes" are barely prevalent and watered-down. In Ran it seems that even had the land division not occurred, the end result would have been the same soon regardless.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#195 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Aug 18, 2015 5:17 am

I do agree with you Mr Sausage on the wider sense of a heavy hand of the filmmaker guiding the events of the film in order to illustrate the themes of the piece, though I'm not too sure that many of the characters are too aware of their impending doom. Even Hidetora cannot bring himself to commit a noble suicide when it seems like the only option! (Though to back up your notions of fate, the film has made certain that there is no sword to hand with which to do the deed!) And the brothers are too busy strategically planning their next moves to consider failure.

Kagemusha feels like the key companion piece here in the way that in the journey of the thief chosen to double for the dead lord we experience a narrative from both the inside and the outside. We see the thief growing into his role and in some ways losing himself to the fantasy of belonging to a clan, especially in the relationship with the grandson. Then when the deception is uncovered he is ejected from that world and has to look on with the rest of the peasants at the final apocalyptic events of the play, shown in no uncertain terms that he was never a true part of the world despite his belated suicidal charge into battle waving the banner in the final scene of the film before being gunned down, his body pushed along with the flow of the river while the banner remains. In Ran, we only ever seem to be seeing the characters from that outsider perspective, not even really through the (self) banished and broken Hidetora's eyes, despite Hidetora similarly moving from ruler to less than a peasant in the course of the film.
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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#196 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Aug 18, 2015 8:01 am

King Lear is one of my very favorite plays -- and Ran is a dreadful adaptation of King Lear. Consequently I have no ability (or at least inclination) to judge Ran on its own inherent merits, whatever they may be. I definitely recommend reading Shakespeare -- and watching the Kozintsev-Pasternak-Shostakovich (et al) adaptation.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#197 Post by Sloper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:09 am

Mr Sausage wrote:All that's left is for Kyoami to vent his despair about the arbitrary cruelty of the world. We're left with an image of a blind man lost on a cliff, awaiting the sister and guide who'll never come, his last remaining consolation a scroll that he drops down the cliff face.
This is obviously an incredibly bleak film, but I’m not sure I agree that it’s a nihilistic one. What’s missing from the above summary is Tango’s response, which spells out quite clearly, and even rather clunkily, that Kyoami is wrong. These evils have not been inflicted by the gods, or by any non-human force, but by Hidetora himself. Colin and Drucker mention the issue of his past atrocities, and this is central to what the film is about. As Tango points out, the suffering they are going through is the logical consequence of people’s tendency to choose evil over good. Importantly, this is an observation about how things happen to be now – it is not a statement about how things will always inevitably be. The virtue and wisdom displayed by Tango, Kyoami, Saburo, Fujimaki, and even Kurogane, might in theory make for a better, fairer world, but the horrors already committed cannot simply be undone or forgotten. Their consequences have to play out to the bitter end.
Mr Sausage wrote:There is no reason for Saburo to've been killed, for Lady Sue to've been executed, for Hidetora to've died of grief. Everything had been righted by human agency and the values of family, honour, and love asserted. The structure was moving from order, to chaos, to order again. But it all crumbles, and crumbles without meaning.
It seems to me that all of these things, and worse, do happen for a very good reason. Hidetora has spent the entirety of his long life slaughtering everyone who stands in his way, burning castles, gouging children’s eyes out, and generally committing every sort of treachery and cruelty under the sun. At the start of the film, Hidetora refers to his war crimes rather vaguely, but Saburo spells it out for him. He cannot reasonably he himself has brought them up to be merciless war-mongers. The business of this film is to chart the various ways in which Hidetora’s reign of terror returns to haunt him at the moment when he decides he wants to live peacefully. It would be morally obscene for him to ride off happily into the sunset at the end of the film.

This might seem perverse, but it would also be obscene, in a sense, if the innocents did not pay for Hidetora’s crimes. Lady Sué doesn’t deserve to die, but Lady Kaede has to have her revenge: that this revenge consumes the lives of good people as well as wiping out the corrupt Ichimonji clan is a measure of that clan’s corruption, not of Lady Kaede’s injustice. For all her force of personality, she is essentially just another link in the chain of cause and effect. Hidetora slaughtered her family, so she slaughters his – all of them, without exception – because that, the film suggests, is how evil works. It doesn’t just return to plague those who committed it, but claims countless innocent bystanders too. It cannot simply be forgiven (as it is by Lady Sué); Kaede’s acts of revenge are made to seem inevitable and even necessary. Hidetora himself shows some awareness of this when he implores Sué to hate him and attack him; in a way, the film itself seems to agree that there is something unnatural, and ultimately ineffectual, about Sué’s inert, forgiving outlook. The film’s own point of view is ferociously dark, but it isn’t nihilism because it’s informed by a kind of moral logic.

The use of natural imagery feeds into this idea. You mentioned the way that natural landscapes make the human figures look small and powerless, and that’s very true. The first shot of the film is of four soldiers facing north, east, south and west, and as the credits go by we see various other soldiers in similarly formal, ordered stations. But they look uneasy, and Takemitsu’s brooding score has a disquieting effect; behind this outward show of order, chaos is lurking and waiting to erupt. The final shot of the title sequence shows the soldiers marginalised at the right of the frame, dwarfed by the rolling hills, whereas the first shot had shown them in a more central, dominant position.

Then chaos does indeed erupt, less in the form of the boars being hunted, than in the form of Hidetora himself riding with his bow drawn: we cut from this image to the title of the film, which I understand roughly means ‘chaos’, and this suggests an association between the two ideas. Hunting – especially this kind of hunting – is always on some level about exercising control over the natural world, but here it also suggests the violence from which the chain of tragic events will spring. Hidetora will move from hunting animals to being a hunted animal himself; from the perpetrator of chaos to its victim; from the sun (the emblem of his clan), blazing down mercilessly on all beneath him, to an old man exposed to the elements, including the sun itself (with no Saburo around to shade him from it). Colin mentioned the shots of sky during the Third Castle Massacre, and at many points Kurosawa uses the sun as an image of pitiless, implacable nature, unmoved by humanity’s suffering. That would seem to support Kyoami’s perspective on life, but I think the film is maintaining an association between Hidetora and the sun. The unchecked, abusive power he has exercised his whole life continues to operate without him, beyond him: he has unleashed it on the world and cannot make it stop.

I admit I have a harder time arguing that the final moments of the film are not nihilistic. You can imagine how this might have gone differently, in the style of Rashomon: we could have seen Tsurumaru, alone among the ruins of his castle, clinging to the image of the Buddha, suggesting that he might now find some consolation in this, as his sister did. After Tango’s comments about the gods weeping over human cruelty, it might make sense for the film to propose faith as a source of comfort. But that would have been a betrayal of what Tsurumaru embodies. He has said before that he is incapable of the forgiveness his sister practices, and there’s no reason for that to change now. One might speculate that if Hidetora had not gouged his eyes out, he would probably have ended up like Lade Kaede, waging (probably more overt) war on the Ichimonji clan – which of course is why his eyes were gouged out.

But I think his blindness is primarily symbolic. Like the charred ruins he’s wandering around in, his empty eye sockets are another measure of Hidetora’s cruelty, another indelible monument to past violence; and of course, the absence of his sister is yet another sign of this, since her death has been brought about by Lade Kaede in response to Hidetora’s killing of her family. When Tsurumaru stumbles and drops the image off the cliff, I think the film is saying that religious faith cannot save us if we are this cruel to each other, that there comes a point where the gods can’t do anything but look on and weep – as this film does.

The more redemptive ending I suggested above would have been dishonest. Lost in the treacherous terrain of a burnt castle, teetering on the edge of a cliff, with no one to help him, Tsurumaru is completely fucked; what help could the image of the Buddha be to him now? But to reiterate, what we’re meant to take away from this (I think) is that Tsurumaru is in this position because of willed human cruelty. The film warns us that such cruelty can have consequences so devastating that no amount of kindness and forgiveness can compensate for them.
colinr0380 wrote:I've never been able to make it through that massacre scene, piling on masses of individual moments from biggest to smallest, from armies clashing to noble sacrifices to handmaidens committing suicide, until the castle is literally crying with a river of blood, without shedding a tear or two.
Beautifully put, and I agree this is an astonishing sequence. Sometimes, when I haven’t watched the film for a while, I worry that the massacre might be overly aestheticised, but then I see it again... It’s genuinely horrible to watch, and even Takemitsu’s beautiful music gets the tone just right, lamenting over the violence without becoming misty-eyed and cloying about it.

One point I disagree with you on is the ‘noble sacrifices’ bit. What I love about this sequence is that there is no sense of heroism or glory in the deaths of the attendants and handmaidens. The women aren’t making a conscious moral choice to stand in the way of those bullets to save their master, they’re just doing what they’ve been trained and ordered to do, and you can see they don’t want to die, even as they commit seppuku. The warriors scrabble desperately against impossible odds, and again there is real fear in their eyes as they get mown down one after the other. Jiro says each of them is worth a thousand men, but we see nothing of this heroic ideal during this battle – notice the attendant who hurls his spent rifle at the approaching troops before dashing back into the castle.

The moment before this when one of them, riddled with arrows, announces the disaster to Hidetora, is one of my favourites: the Criterion edition translates his final line as ‘Hell is upon us’, which may be accurate but is horribly awkward compared to the rendition I’m used to from earlier versions, ‘We are truly in Hell’. The timing of his collapse, Hidetora’s horrified recoil against the stairs, and the start of the long music cue that follows, is perfectly judged. And of course, the old man’s exit from the burning castle is one of the most magnificent sequences in all cinema, on a par with the best bits of Cabiria, Intolerance and Die Nibelungen. Words cannot express how much I love that shot from behind the flight of stairs when the smoke billows down, the empty scabbard drops into view, and Hidetora’s feet slowly descend towards the Hell that awaits him.
domino harvey wrote:Lear wants to be flattered and punishes his most favored daughter for refusing to participate on the grounds that she believes her love should be self-evident. Here the objection is that the Lear figure's dividing plan is a bad plan. Okay, not huge or interesting dramatic stakes there, and it completely colors this film's Cordelia figure in a less interesting fashion. And it just goes on like that, with the bare bones of the plot present but the aspects which make it matter absent.
I agree with you and Michael Kerpan that this film (like Throne of Blood) really doesn’t work as a Shakespeare adaptation. It takes so little from the play that it might as well be called an adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth (who wrote the first extant version of this story), and even when it does draw on specific details from Shakespeare’s text, Kurosawa’s version always comes across as banal. However, the changes made to the play do raise some really interesting questions.

In Shakespeare’s play, we first meet Lear when he’s become old and foolish, and the lack of any clear back-story makes it hard (for me) to get a handle on what is at stake in that opening scene. Has he been a good, responsible ruler until now, and is this a play about the potential dangers of a head of state growing old and senile (as opposed to the dangers of childish rulers, dramatised in some of Shakespeare’s earlier plays)? Later, Regan comments that Lear ‘hath ever but slenderly known himself’; the fool tells him that he should not have been old before he had been wise; Lear himself, brought face to face with the deprivations that afflict his subjects, says ‘I have ta’en too little care of this’. So the play gradually suggests that Lear was a somewhat foolish, irresponsible king all along – a sort of Richard II who survived into old age – and is therefore about what happens to such a ruler when he becomes too old and weak to maintain his superficial, illusory authority.

Even once I get to grips with the play on this level, though, I always find myself preoccupied with a lot of other questions. If Lear loves Cordelia more than the other daughters, how is he not already familiar with her blunt, honest style of speech? If the other daughters are so good at seducing him with their flattery, why hasn’t he always loved them more? If he really has always been this foolish, what do Cordelia and Kent love about him? I feel rather sorry for Goneril and Regan: they’re the un-loved elder daughters who have to jump through hoops to win their father’s approval, and Cordelia is the self-satisfied ‘favourite’ who can afford to take her father’s love for granted, and assumes that he takes hers for granted too. (Frances Barber and Monica Dolan did a good job of conveying the evil sisters’ frustration in the film of the RSC production from a few years ago.)

I know these are all vague, subjective questions, and they hint at some of the complexities and ambiguities that make this such a rewarding play to study and teach. I bring them up here because I think Kurosawa tries to address some of them in Ran, though on the whole he ends up raising more questions than he answers.

Now, the Lear-figure has a clear back-story from the beginning: whereas Lear has always been a rash and foolish and king, and is now an old one too, Hidetora has not been rash and foolish so much as genocidal. When Shakespeare’s play works well in performance, it’s usually because the actors succeed in getting us to sympathise with Lear because of his vulnerability – his ranting and cursing need to be pathetic as well as abusive, and this is something I’ve seen Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen do very well. (The part can be played less sympathetically, of course, as by Paul Scofield in Peter Brook’s film – but that’s an exceptional case.) Tatsuya Nakadai gives a magnificent performance in Ran, and at times he achieves pathos through his haunting facial expressions: many, many times throughout the film, Kurosawa just allows Nakadai’s (heavily made up) face to do the work, and it really looks like the face of a man who is staring into Hell, so much so that it’s impossible not to empathise with his pain. But there’s also an obvious problem here, which is that it’s much harder to empathise with an old man whose war crimes are catching up with him than it is to empathise with one whose worst fault has been a lack of wisdom. Lear, even at his cruellest, is unable to embody the ‘dragon’ he considers himself to be, and cannot give real weight to his comical threats:

I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall - I will do such things -
What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.

When Hidetora runs for his sword to kill Tango, Kyoami seems to think he will really do it; and when he orders the peasants’ villages to be burnt, there is (disturbingly, but intentionally I think) no suggestion that this order is recalled.

Hidetora’s back-story clarifies something that Shakespeare left a little vague, namely the cause of the tragic events we see in the film: this isn’t just happening because the king grew old and foolish, this is Hidetora reaping what he has spent the last fifty years sowing. But this also makes a complete mess of the king’s relationships with those who remain faithful to him. Some find Cordelia’s forgiveness of her father hard to understand, even though all she has to forgive is the rash, transient anger of a weak old man. The best bit of Shakespeare’s play, and one of the most poignant moments in all of his work, is when Lear and Cordelia are reconciled:

LEAR
I know you do not love me, for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong.
You have some cause; they have not.

CORDELIA
No cause, no cause.

I think she’s referring partly to her sisters (agreeing with Lear), but mainly to herself. For all the problems I have with the dynamics between Lear and his three daughters, this moment makes all that seem irrelevant. Is there a simpler, more powerful expression of forgiveness anywhere in literature?

Kurosawa repeats this scene in Ran: Hidetora doesn’t believe that Saburo could love or forgive him; Saburo insists that he harbours no ill-feeling towards his father. The moment leaves me cold and sceptical every time. In the opening scene, Saburo was not expressing un-varnished love for his father (as Cordelia was), he was bluntly reminding him of his crimes and warning him that they would have consequences. And indeed, given Saburo’s moral wisdom on that point, it’s hard to see how he could love or respect his father, or how he could fit into this clan at all. Hasn’t he been implicated in at least some of this violence? The same goes for Kyoami and Tango: the former, like Saburo, diverges from his Shakespearean equivalent in that he rebukes his master not just for folly but for mass slaughter, but this means that the unstinting loyalty of both these characters is harder to admire, or feel moved by. Kent sticks around because his master is the kind of man who will eventually say, ‘I have ta’en too little care of this’; if Lear had started burning down villages, I’m not sure he would have remained so loyal.

The most charitable explanation is that Saburo, Kyoami and Tango know all about Hidetora’s crimes but, out of an ingrained, unconditional sense of loyalty, still want him to be able to have a peaceful retirement – for the good of Hidetora, not (it seems) for the good of the realm. It’s hard to root for them on this point, and as I suggested above this does mean that Saburo’s death is a lot less senseless than Cordelia’s. It is a punishment for Hidetora, but also, perhaps, a necessary cleansing of this inherently corrupt clan. (Saburo himself is distanced from the massacre his troops inflict on those of Jiro, but the film signals this battle as another sad chapter in the history of the Ichimonji family; despite Fujimaki’s cheering, this is not simply a victory of good over evil.)

Overall, I’m not sure King Lear was a helpful model for Kurosawa on this film. If anything, it feels more like a sequel to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great, in which the psychotic warlord never got around to murdering his one peace-loving son, and never died of a fever himself, but grew into old age and decided he wanted to ‘go straight’. Kurosawa wants to say something about war, but I don’t think that’s what Shakespeare’s play is really about.
Drucker wrote:One question: early on, when Tango first re-encounters the King, he lies, saying that Saburo had instructed him to monitor the King, when it reality it was his idea all along. Was this to begin the start of forgiveness between Saburo and his father? Was there something else going on here that I missed?
That sounds like a small continuity error to me. Well-spotted; I have to say I’ve never noticed it!

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#198 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Aug 19, 2015 7:34 am

You have better articulated what I was fumbling around trying to say Sloper!
Sloper wrote:It seems to me that all of these things, and worse, do happen for a very good reason. Hidetora has spent the entirety of his long life slaughtering everyone who stands in his way, burning castles, gouging children’s eyes out, and generally committing every sort of treachery and cruelty under the sun. At the start of the film, Hidetora refers to his war crimes rather vaguely, but Saburo spells it out for him. He cannot reasonably he himself has brought them up to be merciless war-mongers. The business of this film is to chart the various ways in which Hidetora’s reign of terror returns to haunt him at the moment when he decides he wants to live peacefully. It would be morally obscene for him to ride off happily into the sunset at the end of the film.

This might seem perverse, but it would also be obscene, in a sense, if the innocents did not pay for Hidetora’s crimes. Lady Sué doesn’t deserve to die, but Lady Kaede has to have her revenge: that this revenge consumes the lives of good people as well as wiping out the corrupt Ichimonji clan is a measure of that clan’s corruption, not of Lady Kaede’s injustice. For all her force of personality, she is essentially just another link in the chain of cause and effect. Hidetora slaughtered her family, so she slaughters his – all of them, without exception – because that, the film suggests, is how evil works. It doesn’t just return to plague those who committed it, but claims countless innocent bystanders too. It cannot simply be forgiven (as it is by Lady Sué); Kaede’s acts of revenge are made to seem inevitable and even necessary. Hidetora himself shows some awareness of this when he implores Sué to hate him and attack him; in a way, the film itself seems to agree that there is something unnatural, and ultimately ineffectual, about Sué’s inert, forgiving outlook. The film’s own point of view is ferociously dark, but it isn’t nihilism because it’s informed by a kind of moral logic.
That also seems to be what makes Hidetora's decision to divide up his kingdom and either retire or at least abdicate responsibility for the running of it, seem even more of a poor one in that he seems so unaware of his previous actions that he probably feels secure in his position and status being assured. But his success as a leader has been fostering resentments that will have dire consequences once the figurehead shows weakness, and he also seems arrogant in thinking that he can supposedly retire and still retain a central role in how his kingdom is managed, now that everyone is scrabbling for a position in the new order. We can see the same kind of thing even these days when political parties are thrown into disarray as a powerful or charismatic leader comes to the end of their term, leaving behind a vacuum that faded-copies of the original acolytes imperfectly struggle to fill with continuances of previously proven successful policies, until something entirely different (not necessarily better or worse, just original) comes along to sweep away the old ways of governance.

There is a thoughtlessness, or callousness that has to come into play in order to reach such a position in the first place, but that then would seem to make a character like Hidetora unaware of the impact his actions have on anyone else, just how it is going to affect him personally. There is also that King Lear element of surrounding yourself with "yes men (or women)" that serve to insulate you from any criticism or self doubt, in order that you can implacably rule. That of course is where the importance of the Fool, or the honest child, or the trusted advisor comes in! But even they are powerless against a fool who doesn't listen to counsel and who can destroy their world through lack of self knowledge and overestimating the extent of their influence.

Kagemusha feels as if it deals with this aspect of advisors even more pointedly, to the extent of suggesting simultaneously that the Lord is both more than human, in that he holds all of the fates of his people in his hands, and relatively interchangeable! Ensuring the stability of the figurehead is more important than any particularly pro-active leader! (I was also reminded a little of El Cid too, at least with reference to Kagemusha's dead-yet-alive Lord!)
Sloper wrote:Sometimes, when I haven’t watched the film for a while, I worry that the massacre might be overly aestheticised, but then I see it again... It’s genuinely horrible to watch, and even Takemitsu’s beautiful music gets the tone just right, lamenting over the violence without becoming misty-eyed and cloying about it.

One point I disagree with you on is the ‘noble sacrifices’ bit. What I love about this sequence is that there is no sense of heroism or glory in the deaths of the attendants and handmaidens. The women aren’t making a conscious moral choice to stand in the way of those bullets to save their master, they’re just doing what they’ve been trained and ordered to do, and you can see they don’t want to die, even as they commit seppuku. The warriors scrabble desperately against impossible odds, and again there is real fear in their eyes as they get mown down one after the other. Jiro says each of them is worth a thousand men, but we see nothing of this heroic ideal during this battle – notice the attendant who hurls his spent rifle at the approaching troops before dashing back into the castle.

The moment before this when one of them, riddled with arrows, announces the disaster to Hidetora, is one of my favourites: the Criterion edition translates his final line as ‘Hell is upon us’, which may be accurate but is horribly awkward compared to the rendition I’m used to from earlier versions, ‘We are truly in Hell’. The timing of his collapse, Hidetora’s horrified recoil against the stairs, and the start of the long music cue that follows, is perfectly judged. And of course, the old man’s exit from the burning castle is one of the most magnificent sequences in all cinema, on a par with the best bits of Cabiria, Intolerance and Die Nibelungen. Words cannot express how much I love that shot from behind the flight of stairs when the smoke billows down, the empty scabbard drops into view, and Hidetora’s feet slowly descend towards the Hell that awaits him.
I would agree entirely with you here, especially on the questioning of my use of 'noble sacrifices'. It certainly seems more about showing individuals within Hidetora's clan getting routed, performing the actions that they 'have' to do, each being humanised as they are simultaneously destroyed not for any personal reasons, but because of their societal place as Hidetora's entourage. It is ironic then in Hidetora himself, surrounded by the dead, being unable to fulfil his end of the death pact as he is called to prepare himself to take his life. Hidetora is fated to live, rather than easily die as a wronged warrior, or yet another usurped leader killed 'nobly' in battle.

On the soundtrack for that massacre scene, the other key element is the way that the beautifully mournful score is suddenly cut short by the fateful bullet killing one of the brothers (pointedly in light of your comments Sloper hitting him directly in the clan's symbol of the sun on his back!), at which point we suddenly hear all of the sounds of war of the horses, the screams and battle cries that had been withheld. Then we move into the burning of the castle, which is almost entirely scored to the sound of the burning building that segues into the wind as Hidetora heads off across this film's equivalent of the 'blasted heath', which looks like an atom bomb crater, or burnt out lunar landscape.

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#199 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Aug 19, 2015 11:25 am

Lovely post Sloper, and I agree with pretty much everything you say. But I don't think you take it far enough. I'm going to cherry-pick some small sentences just to indicate more generally what I'm responding to.
sloper wrote:I think the film is maintaining an association between Hidetora and the sun. The unchecked, abusive power he has exercised his whole life continues to operate without him, beyond him: he has unleashed it on the world and cannot make it stop.
The problem with your argument about Hidetora's abuses is that you treat them as singular. They are so bad, they've exploded out into nature itself and continue without him. But that's a curious thing to say about abuses that are only hinted at, that play so small a part in the narrative (if thy are so singular and the true guiding theme of the narrative). We are to condemn Hidetora for abuses so large that they barely deserve mention? If the movie is a moral judgement of Hidetora's past, there is a huge imbalance. The movie takes a major part of itself for granted, which would make it a failure.

The abuse, suffering, and cruelty of Hidetora's reign only make sense to me if they are not singular (and therefore don't need enumerating). They have not corrupted the world; they are the natural state of the world. The pitiless, arbitrary cruelty of the world itself finds an analogue in the ugliness of Hideotra and others rather than the other way around. He and the rest are in their natural state. What's unnatural is order.

Nihilism is the only way to explain how Kurosawa sets up and then destroys his own trademark moral techniques (and without replacing them with new ones). Kurosawa loves to emphasize moral choice by setting up contrasting pairs of characters. He does this notably with Sue and Kaede, whose backgrounds are more or less the same, yet who've made polar opposite moral choices: to accept and forgive cruelty and live a kind, helpful life; and to reject forgiveness and seek revenge. In a pre-Red Beard Kurosawa movie, this distinction would be the central theme of the film, and we would come to understand how deeply each individual choice matters to the characters and the world. In Ran, tho', this choice is not only on the periphery, it's increasingly irrelevant. Lady Sue's choice ultimately makes no difference to the chaos of the film; and Kaede's choices, for all their horror, do not destroy her as they do the villains of Stray Dog and High and Low. They fulfill her. There is no real duality; Kaede is not the effect of her choices as in a morality play, but the embodiment of them as in a symbolic drama. She has become a type, as Sue herself has become a type; and both represent the way that chaos, ugliness, and sorrow are elemental forces that dwarf pity and forgiveness.

There is a constant theme in the movie: those who try to create order out of chaos fall victim to chaos: Hidetora, Sue, Saburo, Kurogane, ect. I think this pattern is too large to be explained by Hidetora's hinted-at past cruelties. Nor does it conform to the morality of choice since we are not privy to his bad choices (and his good choices are meaningless). I find it makes more sense if you agree with Kyaomi and understand the cruelty and chaos of the characters to be the natural state of the world, a state that has been true long before Hidetora existed and will continue long afterwards. All human attempts to repair such a broken world are doomed to failure.

Sloper wrote:Lady Sué doesn’t deserve to die, but Lady Kaede has to have her revenge: that this revenge consumes the lives of good people as well as wiping out the corrupt Ichimonji clan is a measure of that clan’s corruption, not of Lady Kaede’s injustice. For all her force of personality, she is essentially just another link in the chain of cause and effect. Hidetora slaughtered her family, so she slaughters his – all of them, without exception – because that, the film suggests, is how evil works. It doesn’t just return to plague those who committed it, but claims countless innocent bystanders too. It cannot simply be forgiven (as it is by Lady Sué); Kaede’s acts of revenge are made to seem inevitable and even necessary. Hidetora himself shows some awareness of this when he implores Sué to hate him and attack him; in a way, the film itself seems to agree that there is something unnatural, and ultimately ineffectual, about Sué’s inert, forgiving outlook. The film’s own point of view is ferociously dark, but it isn’t nihilism because it’s informed by a kind of moral logic.
The moral logic is only meaningful, tho', if the world of the film operates by it. The categories of good and evil could possibly hold true for much of the movie. But they can hardly apply to the end, when the directive force of good and evil drop away as Saburo is killed. This is not the death of a grandly orchestrated evil; it's an arbitrary casualty of war. It means something for such a central character to die in that manner and at that moment.

In Kurosawa's morality, both good and evil are present, and good is rendered meaningful and given value by being chosen in spite of the cost. There is all the reason in the world not to be good, yet the very fact that good can be and is chosen, and that it has an real effect no matter how small, renders it meaningful and lends humanity both direction and value. In Ran, the choice of good or evil makes no difference: chaos wins out either way. This is nihilistic because it's removing the possibility that goodness has meaning and that humanity can assert its value against the void. There is no human-centric meaning that can either be created or located in this world. This is why Kurosawa keep giving his characters the pretense of moral option and then takes all options away. This is why Hidetora's cruelties can be taken for granted.

The nihilism of the movie is not that people cannot react to the world with moral horror; it's that moral horror is meaningless and 'evil' or chaos or what have you exists independent of human choice and human morality. It's just there as an elemental force. If the chaos of the movie wasn't above human morality, ask yourself: if the choice to do good achieves nothing, is goodness rendered valueless? And if so, is the value of 'evil' also denied since the two are a necessary binary? And if the categories of good and evil are emptied, are you not forced to consider chaos to be beyond those categories?

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Re: Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

#200 Post by MichaelB » Wed Aug 19, 2015 1:50 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:King Lear is one of my very favorite plays -- and Ran is a dreadful adaptation of King Lear. Consequently I have no ability (or at least inclination) to judge Ran on its own inherent merits, whatever they may be. I definitely recommend reading Shakespeare -- and watching the Kozintsev-Pasternak-Shostakovich (et al) adaptation.
I think that's more than a little unfair, because Ran isn't primarily an adaptation of Lear.

Indeed, Kurosawa wrote the first draft script based on the legend of a sixteenth-century Japanese warlord, and it was only then that he spotted that there were passing resemblances with King Lear, which later drafts then played up. But it's not a direct adaptation of King Lear in the way that Throne of Blood undoubtedly is a direct adaptation of Macbeth.

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