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A Movie Masterpiece

A CINEMATIC VIEW

By Robert E. Lauder | October 1986

If we call what is playing in most movie hous­es “films,” then we have to think up a new name for Akira Kurosawa’s classic Ran. So superior is the great Japanese director’s production that it should not be grouped with most cinematic products that are being created today.

Ran is Kurosawa’s retelling of the Lear story. As he has done so often in the past, Kurosawa has created a film that is both morally profound and visually beautiful. The overwhelming impression I had after viewing Ran was that I had experienced some kind of visual poem.

The first Kurosawa opus I saw was Ikiru (1952). In that marvelous film Kurosawa explored the experience of an elderly bureaucrat who dis­covers he is dying of cancer. Though first despair­ing in the face of what he sees as a meaningless death that will terminate an equally meaningless life, the main character experiences a “conversion” and spends his last days doing good for others. I can vividly remember the scene in which the bu­reaucrat, attending a birthday party for a young girl, sees that he can give his life some meaning by helping others. As he rushes from the party, people are singing “Happy Birthday” to the young girl. When I realized that the bureaucrat had just been “re-born” and that the singing of “Happy Birth­day” had an added meaning, I discovered some­thing of the magic of movies in the hands of some­one like Kurosawa. Other outstanding Kurosawa films are Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945), Stray Dog (1947), Drunken Angel (1948), Rashomon (1961), and High and Low (1963). These and other films created by Kurosawa are so superior that some critics think the Japanese artist is the greatest director working in film today.

Near the beginning of Ran, which translates as “chaos” or “turmoil,” Hidetora, a 16th-century warlord and the head of the Ichimonji clan, wants to turn over his lands and wealth to his three sons. Hidetora acquired his vast wealth largely through plundering the lands and possessions of others. Now 70 years old, he is a shadow of the vicious, greedy conqueror he once was. When he makes his desires known to his sons, the two eldest, Taro and Jiro, who are ambitious, agree to their father’s terms and swear loyalty to him. But the youngest son, Saburo, tries to point out to his father that he is setting up conditions that will lead to disaster. The father, furious at this son, sends Saburo into exile. Thus begins the fall of Hidetora and his em­pire.

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