Ran (1985) (R)

"Ran" is Akira Kurosawa's interpretation of William Shakespeare's play King Lear. Having not read the play, I can only testify that Kurosawa's film is about fathers, sons, and power.
The movie begins with a hunting party chasing down a boar. They sit around in a field and talk. Some of these men used to be enemies—horrible enemies—but they've come together in the hopes that everything will be peaceful. Three leaders meet, two of them offering up their daughters to the leader of the leaders (if this were a cartoon: Fearless Leader). The problem is, Fearless Leader only has one eligible son, the other two are taken. He will have to pick one of the daughters for his son, which is sure to cause some amount of discord.
But before the arranged marriages can begin, Fearless Leader (whose real name is Hidetora Ichimonji) announces to all present that he retiring from the pillaging, ransacking, and raping business. He gives all the territory that he has accumulated to his oldest son, Taro.
But Hidetora is a vain man, he will not seclude himself to the countryside and wait for death. No, he wants to maintain his title and his seal, keeping a guard of 30 men around him at all times. He will move into one of the towers of his castle and let Taro rule the land.
Yet Hidetora has two other sons and these two don't know where they fit into the picture. They ask as much—they will be given each a small portion of land to control under the authority of Taro.
Saburo, the youngest rejects the idea of submitting to his dim-witted and easily manipulated brother. He speaks his minds and is consequently exiled.
The land suffers under Taro and soon there becomes a rift between father and sons. Jiro, the middle child, bides his time, waiting for an opportunity to strike Taro and take the kingdom for his own.
Then there's a manipulative woman whose power is the only real power seen in the film.
I have made it no secret that I don't love Kurosawa's movies. Everyone considers him the mater, I just don't see it. With "Ran", I am as close to being impressed as I have gotten thus far. It's an epic movie that does stretch on too long, but is filled with small nuances and beautiful imagery.
The costumes alone are staggering and earned a well-received Oscar.
The movie is perfectly Greek with its saga—in that respect, we can see the Shakespeare in "Ran".
The narratives jumps from Hidetora to Taro to Saburo to Jiro—the film has no real main character.
Minor characters appear and are just as important as the three sons.
Each man has his own backstory, a haunted past.
"Ran" is a success because of the drama it creates, not because of the battle sequences that it's remembered for. It doesn't compare with WWII movie and it would later be outdone by the battles from "The Lord of the Rings".
But the drama is great—the manipulation, double-crossing, back-stabbing, lying, lust, and jealousy.
It does come across a bit stagey sometimes, other times the poetry of the movie surprises you.
The reason that "Ran" is so impressive is that Kurosawa never looses his story with the huge sets and the large number of extras. There is always a reason that battles are being waged and brothers are fighting brothers.
Hidetora turns from a man with rigor traditions to a rambling maniac, dumbfounded by the treachery. It's a fine portrayal of a lost mind.
Still, the film went on too long; but, had it been just barely shorter, this could have been a perfect movie.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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