Watched Kurosawa's RAN yesterday. Feels good to boast about how intellectual I am that I am watching Kurosawa. To confess, I had to make myself watch it for the first half. But the second half was magic!
I generally tend to avoid watching movies of over hyped directors because then it sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone tells you that Kurosawa is a genius director and as you go along watching it you have already pre-decided that whatever you are gonna see from him is going to be good. So there is an element of that biasing in this review too which cannot be helped.
RAN was made by Kurosawa in '85 and it is the last great epic movies and one of his later movies when he was the master of his technique. The movie is really grand. There is no doubt as you watch it that the director is absolutely confident of what he is doing. Each shot has an intensity and a precision and lot of symbolism some obvious, some not so obvious and some only imagined.
The story is an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear and set in the time of Samurai Warlords of 16th century Japan. The story of a powerful warlord Hidetori giving up all his powers to his 3 sons in a moment of fraternal love. The youngest, Saburo protests rudely as he believes that his brothers will not treat his father well. Hidetori banishes Saburo who leaves with his faithfuls but is co-opted by another warlord as his son-in-law and become a warlord in another place.
Hidetori soon realizes his mistake as both of his sons turn against him from the very next day and infact the powerlust even leads to the killing of the eldest son by the second one.
A strong character is Lady Meade who is the elder son's wife but also her father and brothers were killed by hidetori in his bloody days. Meade plots the downfall of the Hidetori clan from inside. After the killing of the elder son, she sleeps with her brother in law to ensure that she still retains her status as the queen.
Meanwhile Hidetori has become mad and wanders about the wilderness, escorted by his fool(another delightful character who is used to deliver wonderful aphorisms). Saburo hearing of his father's plight comes to battle along with his father in law's army to rescue Hidetori. The army manages to rout the elder son and Saburo rescues Hidetori and they reconcile. But as they were leaving from the battlefield victorious, a stray arrow hits Saburo and kills him. The heart-broken Hidetori too finally dies after much suffering.
As they say that there is nothing new under the sun. All stories have been told before, but it is the way it is recreated that matters. Here Kurosawa uses the plot line of Lear but adapts it beautifully in his own way to completely change and make it his very own.
All in all a great movie, but watch it when you think you can handle heavy intellectual stuff. Its not for the light hearted!