Violence, Madness and Beauty: 'Ran,' at E Street Cinema

June 2, 2010


It’s difficult to imagine a grander spectacle than “Ran.”

Akira Kurosawa’s cinematic reinterpretation of “King Lear” places the royal tragedy in 16th-century Japan, amid profound civil strife. Legendary actor Tatsuya Nakadai plays the aging Lord Hidetora Ichimonji, who foolishly divides his kingdom between the two sons who flatter him and banishes the one who speaks truthfully.

The unspeakable violence that follows is at once both disturbing and gorgeous. Like Lear, Ichimonji loses both his kingdom and his mind. The increasingly bewildered terror on Nakadai’s face as the downfall deepens is impossible to forget.

Clocking in at just over 160 minutes, the film certainly requires a degree of patience from its audience, but a work so large thrives on the big screen: The oceans of blood are redder, and Nakadai’s ancient face is paler. Kurosawa’s experience as a painter is not lost on his films; in fact, he spent years storyboarding the entire film with watercolors prior to filming.

This clearly comes into play when he frames massive, sweeping shots around solitary figures to underscore the epic scale of the tragedy. Pulling from the same experience, the exquisitely contrived sets and costumes illuminate even the film’s quietest moments with an intense array of color, and the appropriately jarring camera work during the battle scenes adds to the chaos without distracting. In light of the outstanding production quality, it’s no surprise that upon its initial 1985 release, “Ran” was the most expensive film in Japan’s history.

After winning countless awards and critical accolades, the film has only continued to grow in stature over the past 25 years. It’s fitting, then, that the recently restored print of “Ran” be properly presented in theaters for its anniversary. Film lovers simply owe it to themselves to spend a few hours reveling in Kurosawa’s masterful cinematography.

» E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; opens Fri.; 202-452-7672. (Metro Center)

Written by Express contributor Ryan Little
Photo courtesy AFI Silver

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