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Review: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran 4K Restoration

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Ran-1

Ran was the first Akira Kurosawa film this critic ever saw. Buying a 576p DVD copy from a car-boot sale, I went home and watched it on my laptop screen. It opened the gates to Kurosawa for me and, naturally, I was mesmerized. It’s a slightly different viewing experience from watching Ran in a new 4K resolution on the big screen. Which is what I just did. This is the special treatment Kurosawa deserves, who is surely a master of cinema alongside the likes of Hitchcock, Ford, Kubrick, Griffith and Lang. His pictorial sense of composition, form and movement is certainly majestic. In preparation for Ran, Kurosawa hand-painted storyboards for every frame of the film. Big deal? The film is three-hours. And it took him 10 years. To experience these graces of detail in 4000 pixels and have the beautiful art-direction, costume design and music of the film take on a more pronounced presence allows a greater degree of appreciation towards the artistry. Its a superior viewing experience.

This is an adaptation of the play King Lear by a writer called William Shakespeare. Kurosawa had previously adapted Macbeth in Throne of Blood, arguably the greatest adaptation. Clearly Shakespeare’s chronic concern with power, nihilism, duplicity, sex and war struck a chord with late-era Kurosawa. This is certainly his most pessimistic and violent film (a precursor to Kill Bill at some points), concerning the warlord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) who abdicates power, leading to a series of events which pits his sons Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo (Daisuke Ryû) against each other in the pursuit of power. It’s a remarkably simple but effective tale denouncing the role of machismo in war and paranoia. Like the American western, and vice-versa, re-appropriating Shakespeare in the Japanese jidaigeki (historical drama) context works remarkably well. And let’s not forget that this a huge epic – the most expensive Japanese film of the time – the Japanese Gone with the Wind, if you will. So the film is not lacking in huge vistas and enormous battle sequences. In fact, the film refuses to commit to close-up, a sometimes alienating technique but something that gives the film its epic visual distinction and scope. To think of the film is to recall huge castles, endless armies and magnificent landscapes. Humans are miniscule within it all, as if they are all succumbing to the weight of power. This is a very misanthropic film.

And yet, there is certainly joy to be had. If the thematic content proves to be a downer (which it is), find delight in its visual mastery and the theatrical performances. Most certainly, the colours are striking and unlike anything you’ll see. Each frame can be reproduced for gallery purpose and hold up as splendid art. The red is not just red, it is a sort of indescribable, dramatic red. The land is not just green; it is a pure green. You may wonder what the heck I am talking about, but if you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand. These are the details of cinematic glory. How Kurosawa managed to achieve such graphic and distinct colour and arrangements in the celluloid era is a mighty achievement, the type would wouldn’t see in the cinema today. Except, now they’re re-releasing the film, I guess you can.

5-out-of-5

In UK Cinemas April 1st – On Blu-Ray & DVD May 2nd.

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