Thursday, May 05, 2005

Ran d. Akira Kurosawa, 1985

Akira Kurosawa's Ran - his take on Shakespeare's King Lear - ends with perhaps the most powerful visual metaphor for humanity ever captured on film: A blind man, standing on a harrowing precipice jutting out from the ruins of a castle and overlooking a broken kingdom, slips, nearly losing his life. In his stead drops a piece of parchment he was clinging to, bearing the image of the Buddha. The camera then cuts to a series shots that, while becoming larger in scope, successively miniaturize the blind man standing on the edge of the ruins, carefully sounding his way lest he fall to his death.

Whereas King Lear was set in England near the beginning of the last millennium, Kurosawa's film is set in feudal Japan. The stand-in for Lear is Hidetora, lord of the Ichimonji clan. Growing old, he intends - as Lear did - to separate his kingdom in three, giving the largest part to his eldest son Taro (Goneril), the second largest to Jiro (Regan), and the smallest piece to Saburo (Cordelia.) Saburo, objecting to this division (based on Hidetora's remaining competence), is assumed by Hidetora to love him less, to be an outsider attempting to destroy the house of Ichimonji. Saburo is banished, along with Tango (Kent) who argues for Hidetora to reconsider. The Lear machinations ensue - brother turns on brother, husbands turn on wives, and sons turn on their father.

As is the case with King Lear, there are many themes at work in Ran. Hidetora's fool cries out:

Are there no gods, no Buddha? If you exist, hear me! You are mischievous and cruel! Are you so bored up there you must crush us like ants? Is it such fun to see men weep?

Tango replies:

It is the gods who weep. They see us killing each other over and over since time began. They can't save us from ourselves [...] it's how the world is made - men prefer sorrow over joy, suffering over peace [...] they revel in pain and bloodshed. They celebrate murder.

While Kurosawa takes a good deal of liberty with Shakespeare's lines ("As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods; / They kill us for their sport" King Lear Act IV, sc. 1, 37-38), he hits on something with Tango's reply. This, while not the core of Shakespeare's play, is the main theme at work in Ran - mankind's destruction of itself.

Where the realization of his nobility in relation to the "baser" kind sent Lear into an insanity-limned tailspin in King Lear, the remembrance of past wrongs is what pushes Hidetora into insanity in Ran. When he encounters Sue, and later her brother Tsurumaru, Hidetora recalls the way in which he destroyed their kingdom. The recollection of this destruction, and the remembrance of robbing Tsurumaru of his vision, sends Lear into a spell of madness, wherein he recognizes not even his friends. Earlier, following the battle between his guards and his sons' army (n.b. as magnificent a battle as ever was captured on film), Hidetora also descends into madness. This first-hand experience of mankind's self-destruction leads Hidetora to return to nature. Amidst the madness of a raging storm, and the madness of his mind, Hidetora collects flowers - an image meant to evoke a time when nature was pure, before it was tainted by the atrocities of humankind. Where King Lear indicates the King's madness through the breakdown of syntax and the loss of verse, Ran indicates Hidetora's madness by adding the sound of an echo to his voice. The echo sets off his voice from others, implying both hollowness and a sort of god-like reverberation. The result is twofold - we understand Hidetora's madness and when that madness is onset, but we also understand that his madness is, in its grandeur, a sign of the gods' or God's displeasure with humankind.

Kurosawa's adaptation is a visually stunning, thematically pregnant version of Shakespeare's King Lear. The ultimate difference is in that final visual metaphor: The blind man on the precipice is still on the precipice. His existence is precarious, but he still exists. Ergo, Ran offers a glimmer of hope. There is a way off of that precipice, that castle can be rebuilt. King Lear, on the other hand, is a complete subtraction, a reduction that terminates at nil. What Kurosawa did with King Lear is admirable - he borrowed the main plot, re-tooled the theme, and made the play his own. The result is a laudable, multi-faceted work, visually brilliant and worthy to stand next to the greatest of Shakespearean film adaptations.


Blogger Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a Super cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Ran Movie Review

14 April, 2007 05:08  

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