The Set of 400: #321 – My Favorite Feudal Asian Shakespeare

Today! Because in a mad world only the mad are sane –

Ran (乱) (1985)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Mansai Nomura

Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Ran was named Best Movie of the Last 25 Years, in a very informal on-campus poll conducted during my second year of college (Keystone, represent!). Sure, maybe we were all being hoity-toity intellectuals at the time – Ran being the only Japanese film on that list, almost for sure – but that’s not to dull this film’s greatness. It’s a sweeping triumph, epic in every sense of the word, featuring hundreds of extras and horses, mammoth location shooting at Mount Aso and Mount Fuji, a budget nearly double that of any previous Japanese production, and a filming/planning process that occupied a decade. And it’s all on the screen, this giant, fatalistic masterpiece of a country and family falling apart in 16th century Japan.

Despite there being plenty of running during the film’s battle scenes – what battle scenes would be complete without it, I ask you? – the title does not refer to footraces of the past, or light jogging accomplished to maintain one’s physique, no. The Japanese word “Ran” translates as disorder or chaos, which makes a lot more sense. This is a story of widespread turmoil and upheaval, a gender-swapped retelling of a kingdom divided among battling sons, and a warlord gone mad.

Holy moley!

Through some serious bullshit, Ran was not submitted to the Academy for potential inclusion as Best Foreign Language Film in ’85, but did garner Kurosawa a Best Director nod, and won an Oscar for costuming. But the movie was hardly overlooked elsewhere – Best Foreign Film at the BAFTAs, the L.A. Film Critics, the London Critics, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics, and Best Film overall from the National Society of Film Critics and the Boston Film Critics.

This – Kurosawa’s induction to the Director’s Two-Timers club – also represents the end of Japanese cinema on this list. We did it! Covered all two films! Sorry, Rashomon fans! I recognize its greatness, but could not find the room! Check back in years to come for future lists that may encapsulate its wonder!

Coming tomorrow! It would be fitting if I were apprehended and punished –

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