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Ran by Akira Kurosawa

Considered one of the finest works in Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is a must-see film. Created in 1985, it has won an Oscar for best set-decoration and nominated for best cinematography, director and costume design. Its director and writer, Akira Kurosawa was a septuagenarian when he made Ran, which was his twenty-seventh film. This epic is one of the most expensive Japanese films ever made amounting to twelve million dollars. It is about a wealthy feudal Lord named Hidetora Ichimonji, who gained his wealth by conquering lands and castles. The story revolved around him and his three sons. The movie is about the chaos that followed after he banished his son and loyal servant, who only spoke the truth. Eventually, his other sons who inherited his wealth banished him because they did not want to deal with him and his rowdy troops. As a result, he went insane and wandered with his entertainer, Kyoami. In the end, he was saved by his loving son and loyal servant from madness. Still, it ended tragically because once they have reconciled both of them died at once. The film is patterned after William Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear. The characteristics of the movie was made in such a way that it would compliment western literature’s greatest tragedies ever told. The key elements of Ran which are script, cinematography, production design, editing and acting are all manipulated in accordance to the major themes of King Lear which are brutality, betrayal, greed, power, family ties and reconciliation.

Ran, meaning chaos in Japanese gave justice to its title as it showed ruthless events that occurred after Lord Hidetora Ichemonji (King Lear’s counterpart in Ran) made a bad decision of banishing the people who truly loved him. The cinematography of the film, Ran was greatly manipulated in order to be in accordance with the themes of King Lear. The use of colors in the film was very essential and is one of the most admired aspect of the film. I believe that the vibrant colors played a major role in differentiating the personalities of each character. The movie gave meaning to each of the colors. In each color, there are different themes representing it. Taro, the eldest of brother, would always wear yellow along with his soldiers. The middle son is Jiro, who together with his troops would only wear red with their armors. In the movie, the power hungry brothers who represented Goneril and Reagan in the film were color coded to represent the elements of King Lear which are brutality and greed. They are the antagonists in the film and their colors represented evil and betrayal. On the other hand, Saburo, who was Hidetora’s youngest son and Ran’s counterpart for King Lear’s Cordelia, wore blue in his armor along with his soldiers. This represented good intentions, loyalty and goodness of heart. In terms of the manipulation of color, it was not only limited to the character’s clothing. The movie also manipulated color with the use of scenery. The color techniques helped get the desired mood of the film. It was applied in the very beginning where there was a clear blue sky, white clouds and green pastures. The scenery also had good weather, which meant there was still stability and in their case, a united Ichemonji family. Sudden turn of events can be observed and different elements emphasized when the sky suddenly turned hellish red and a rocky cliff was shown. This scene was showed in the final part of the movie. The reddish effect represented Tsurumaru’s brutal experience in the film and how depressed he was feeling. Weather was also used in order to portray the mood of the characters. The winds were very strong and the sky was mostly dark in the duration where Hidetora had gone mad. This represented his thoughts in emotions in the story which are the feelings of betrayal, confusion and madness because of the brutality of his two sons. Most of the fight scenes had fire and smoke surrounding the castles which emphasized how destructive and tragic the war was. Bloody and ruthless battle scenes were successful in highlighting King Lear’s brutality theme. In terms of camera movement, it varied in each scene. For the peaceful scenes, which were the events before the disunity of the family happened, there was very minimal camera movement. The message this shows is that everything is going smoothly for everyone and there is stability in the kingdom. In relation to King Lear, its theme, family unity is shown. These scenes consist of the beginning part, when Hidetora was still powerful and when he reconciled with Saburo. In contrast to peaceful times, when it is a time of betrayal and brutality, it is evident that there are more camera movements. This shows the chaos and confusion that is happening in the Hidetora’s kingdom in the battle scenes.

An extremely significant element in Ran, which played an important role in showing the themes of King Lear is the script. There are many significant lines that gave the message of family unity and one’s tolerance when it comes to the brutality in life. The theme of family unity was greatly shown in the earlier parts of the film where Hidetora wanted to show his sons the importance of their family unity through the use of sticks. He explained to his sons that breaking a stick is easy but breaking three sticks was hard. He used this metaphor to give importance to the unity of their family, which is a key element of King Lear’s tragedy. Another key scene was when Kyoami, who is Fool’s counterpart in Ran, was complaining about the the death of Saburo (counterpart of Cordelia) and Hidetora. He said to himself that, “Are they so bored in Heaven that they enjoy watching men die like worms? Is it so amusing to see and hear human beings cry and scream?" Tango, who is the counterpart of Kent in Ran answered him saying, "They are the ones who are crying! The evil of human beings and the stupidity of the sinful creatures, who believe their survival depends on killing others, repeated again and again throughout all time. Human beings seek sorrow, not happiness, and prefer suffering to peace." In this line of the film, he explains why tragic things happen to people. He claims that it is through the people’s own bad deeds that they are suffering. Their suffering should not be blamed on the god. These lines help us understand King Lear’s theme regarding brutality, destiny and what one chooses to become. It implies that a person controls his/her own destiny. The brutality that is happening in one’s life is occurring because this is a result of how one has treated others in the past and in the present. One’s fate does not depend on astrology or birth right, it is controlled by one’s own actions.

The intricacies of the editing in Ran proved that this simple task may also play a significant part in showing the themes of a movie. The editing made use of a lot of jump cuts, which are very fast-paced changing of scenes. This technique is usually shown in the war scenes of the film. This gives an effect of even more instability in brutality. Example, in the brutal battle scenes, they would rapidly show different images of different kinds of murdered people. They constantly flipped through different images of soldiers hanging from bridges, beheaded, struck by an arrow or burnt. On contrast to the chaotic scenes, when it comes to the peaceful scenes, which included the start of the movie, which had the family united and when there was already reconciliation between Saburo and Hidetora, the shots were long. It had minimal cuts to show the effect of peace and stability when there is family unity and reconciliation that is occurring.

Along with the other elements, the production design is also an indispensable element in Ran’s adaptation of King Lear. It emphasized the power and root of greed of the characters. King Lear’s prominent theme which is greed for power and wealth is reflected with the exquisite set design. The locations of the movie were in breathtaking sceneries and large castles. I believe that they used these beautiful settings to show the power that Hidetora had over those places which he once had and passed on to his sons. The beauty and wealth of Hidetora’s kingdom that is craved by the greedy brothers, Taro and Jiro were emphasized in the settings of the film. In the end, they had settings in desserts and ugly places like shacks where Hidetora and Kyoami (Fool’s counterpart) wandered to emphasize Hidetora’s madness and downfall. When Hidetora lost all his wealth and when he was banished by his two sons, the set of the movie would also show this unfortunate side of Hidetora.

In terms of acting, they were very successful in portraying the strong emotions of each character in the film. The camera would shoot most of the characters, especially when they are saying emotional lines from afar and not up close in contrast to most dramas. I believe this is done because the actors were successful enough to show the gestures of their emotions from afar so effectively, that the camera needs not to shoot them closer. The most notable performance in the film, which I believe is Tatsuya Nakadai’s who played Hidetora, was extremely essential to show King Lear’s themes. The transition of his gestures from when he had a united family, to when he was betrayed was evident. His performance as a madman was brilliant. One can really see the great change in his facial aura and body gestures from when he was powerful until he went insane. Another important theme in King Lear which is stressed out in the end, is reconciliation. Tatsuya Nakadai had an excellent performance in reconciling with Saburu in the end. One can really see the father’s sincerity of regret in the end scene, before they both died.

In conclusion, the elements mentioned are all essential in the movie, Ran to help the viewers understand the major themes of King Lear which are brutality, betrayal, greed, power, family ties and reconciliation. The eastern movie gave justice to the western tragedy. It incorporated some feudal Japanese characteristics to it, but still managed to emphasize all the key themes of the story. The movie Ran was successful in bringing Shakespeare’s tragedy to life. The main events of King Lear were successfully made into a cinematic visual. The movie portrays the themes by manipulating each aspect of the film especially in script, cinematography, editing, production design and acting. The result is an exquisite film which is considered as one of the best eastern films of all time, which continues to influence the film making industry up to the present time.
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