Release: 2nd May 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
At the age of seventy, after years of consolidating his empire, the Great Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) decides to abdicate and divide his domain amongst his three sons. Taro (Akira Terao), the eldest, will rule. Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), his second son, and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) will take command of the Second and Third Castles but are expected to obey and support their elder brother. Saburo defies the pledge of obedience and is banished.
It is strange to think that Ran is only 30 years old. Akira Kurosawa’s epic tale feels like it inspired the words of Shakespeare, rather than the opposite. Ran is so dense with authenticity, so rich with strife and melodrama, it is like a real life opera that the Japanese director witnessed rather than created. At times, this is a film that feels more like a handsome documentary than a work of glorious fiction. Now, digitised and tarted up to 4K, we can finally watch Ran as its director intended.
Many film historians and critics look at Ran in hindsight as the director’s opus, often calling it one of the “greatest films of all time”. The hones truth is that despite of its unbelievable visuals, Ran takes a good hour or so to actually get interesting; and even then, this is a film which often tests the most patient of individuals. As an experience, however, Ran is like quinoa for the soul; it is a film detox very likely to improve your life expectancy. Cinema this gorgeous, stirring and downright solid just doesn’t exist anymore. This is Lawrence of Arabia, this is Cleopatra, this is Gone with the Wind or Ben Hur or Barry Lyndon; a big old weighty epic, like an ornate solid oak desk for you to sit at in awe.
What Ran also has, which it sneaks in at some of the most unexpected of times, is levity. Hidetora and Kyoami share such a fractured relationship as master and fool, you can almost forgive the former for being such douche, because the latter torments him to no end. Even in Hidetora’s darkest moments of insanity, Kyoami’s zingers never let up; and it’s a real rib tickler. But as soon as we have chuckled, Kurosawa rips us right back into the heart of drama. In fact, Ran’s closing moments are some of the most heart-breaking images ever lensed in the East.
Ran is solid gold filmmaking, a real prestige piece. The battle scenes are unforgettable, the acting spot on, the production and costume design is and was Oscar worthy, and the score will stay with you for a long time after. The world of Shakespeare seems so at home in Japanese culture, it makes you wonder if the Bard wasn’t born into the wrong time zone. Or better yet, if Kurosawa himself wasn’t old Bill reincarnated.
Film Grade: A
First, let us start by saying, If you are going to invest in this 4K restoration, you should probably avoid the DVD. Not just because the Blu-Ray has more features, but for the simple fact that this resolution just doesn’t have much impact on this lesser definition. When you think 4K, think Blu-Ray.
As for the DVD, it comes with a really rather French documentary called AK. This is a splendid look at Kurosawa and his working methods. Watch as the old master hovers around his cast like a pinched up buzzard. It is amazing to see such a talent do his thing, as you realize he was painting with cinema.
The second best features on offer are a couple of intimate interviews with Interview with the Director of Photography – Mr Ueda and the film’s ‘lady Macbeth’ Ms Mieko Harada.
Feel free so skip or sleep through Michael Brooke’s super dry and frankly uninspired ramblings about the film. And catch a glimpse of Restoring Ran if you want to see how they good the movie is such great condition.
Although the Stage appearance at Tokyo International Film Festival 2015 is sweet and filled with wonderful anecdotes (Kurosawa being a piss-head, for example), but probably isn’t as enjoyable as it may sound.
Special Features Grade: B-
Do yourself a favour and get the Blu-Ray over the DVD. But either way, this is a stone cold classic that NEEDS to be in your collection. Now it is in beautiful 4K, you really don’t have any excuses for not owning. Buy.