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.Tommaso wrote:Well, curiously you already said what I had in mind. If "Ran" doesn't offer the possibility, then indeed Kurosawa's three late films do. I'm not sure whether his films should be seen as individual 'building blocks' of a larger project or not, but even in its despair "Ran" is some sort of passageway to the later films, an extreme darkness which could be seen as a necessary (educational) negative which is overcome by the 'acceptance' of those late films. But even in the darkest moments of "Ran" there is still an enormous emotional commitment and impression on the viewer (think of Hidetora leaving the burning castle, or the scene with the fool in the fields shaken by the wind) that for me is far removed from an unemotional dissection of the going-ons. Even if the characters are helpless victims of destructive forces, we still do feel for them. And certainly, the despair is authentic, but that is what makes it all the more humane (humanistic?) for me.
For me, examples for 'nihilist' cinema (and curiously far more aligned to the notion of enlightenment, and its limitations) would be many films by Greenaway, where the characters and everything else are subject to the inhuman rules of numbers, alphabets or other structures which relentlessly drive the actions to their usually bad ending.
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.