Akira Kurosawa
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Lord Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) at the head of his army, marked by the red banners, from RAN.
RAN . 1985

A work of intense bitterness and melancholy, RAN shows where Kurosawa went after RED BEARD. As he did in THRONE OF BLOOD, Kurosawa transposes a Shakespearean source (here, "King Lear"; "Macbeth" in the earlier film) to 16th-century Japan and uses the bloody samurai wars and social disintegration of the medieval period as a framework for constructing a Buddhist vision of hell. Kurosawa said that all of the technological progress of the 20th century had only taught people how to kill each other more efficiently, and in this film he shows that forces of violence and destruction, once unleashed, destroy all in their path.

The film's tone is remote, cold, epic. Kurosawa depicts a world devoid of heroes or hope, and the grand majesty of his pessimism gives the film its power and bite. RAN is the culminating work of the melancholy period in his art that lasted from 1970 to 1985. While he moved beyond this pessimism in his last three films, he never again worked on the kind of grand and lavish scale that he did here. RAN contains sequences that only a master director, a giant of cinema, could conceive and design. The most impressive of these is the huge samurai battle and massacre, climaxing with a burning castle, and filmed by Kurosawa as if it were a scroll of hell. This film has the unmistakable aura of greatness.

-- Stephen Prince
"What has always troubled me about 'King Lear' is that Shakespeare gives his characters no past. ... In RAN, I have tried to give Lear a history."
Akira Kurosawa
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Photo Credit:   Studio Canal
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