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The Lady Brandishes: Mieko Harada's Lady Kaede wields both swords and power.

'Ran' Around

Akira Kurosawa's epic 'Ran' gets a rerelease on its 15th anniversary

By Richard von Busack

THE OLD LORD HIDETORA (Tatsuya Nakadai) is drowsy, perhaps tipsy, too. During a hot summer's afternoon, he decides to divide up his realm into three parts. His son Lord Taro (Akira Terao), whose troops are arrayed in yellow, gets one third. The same portion is given to son Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), whose army is red-clad. Saburo (Daisuke Ryu), with his sky-blue colored legions, is the Cordelia of the drama. This last son refuses his third, with an unheeded warning to his 70-year-old father against dissipating his fortunes. Akira Kurosawa's 1985 film Ran follows Shakespeare's King Lear closely. Lord Hidetora and his personal guard are turned out of one son's castle and turned away from the next. Hidetora is abandoned and left to wander in the custody of his sardonic fool, Kyoami. Kyoami's played by the single-named Peter, a Japanese pop star of the time. (Kurosawa probably cast Peter for his insolent smirk, similar to Tim Curry's.) The jester says, "We're born crying, and when we've cried enough, we die"--akin to the line in Lear: "When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools."

Ran has one figure not found among Lear's characters, Mieko Harada's Lady Kaede. When film fans speak of evil women in the movies, Kaede is neglected. Kaede, nearly unnoticeable, swaddled stiffly in her regal kimono, seems just to be another one of the concubines who live and die in a herd, like sheep, but she makes herself suddenly known, first with her willpower and then with her sword.

As a pessimistic epic, Ran has no peers. The Japanese classic demands to be seen or reseen on the big screen. For all of its sweep, Ran is also coldly sensible, fatalistic. Director Kurosawa and his writers sharpened the karmic theme by making Hidetora a ruthless unifier of his country. Wherever he turns, then, he finds a victim of the cruelty of his youth. (Even the blind Gloucester character here had his eyes put out by the Lord's command.).

Mostly, the color-coded battle sequences fix Ran in the mind. Flagmen on horses charge through a forest, picked off by volleys from concealed riflemen: a sideways charge of the Light Brigade. The first great battle, the storming of a castle, is Kurosawa's inimitable representation of chaos ("Ran" in Japanese.) A slaughtered bowman drips blood like a cataract, from the rampart where he lies, shot full of arrows. A foot soldier is glimpsed, gone nuts, sitting and weeping and playing with a severed human arm. Kurosawa recreates scenes from the classic western epics, with wide open spaces and armies of horsemen fording a river, but Ran doesn't celebrate the energy of men united in purpose. The last scene--a shot of a blind man about to walk off a precipice--sums up how Kurosawa saw the past, and perhaps the future.


Ran (1985), directed by Akira Kurosawa, written by Masato Ide and Akira Kurosawa, photographed by Asakazu Nakai, Takao Saitô and Masaharu Ueda and starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu and Mieko Harada, plays at the Towne Theatre in San Jose.

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From the October 19-25, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. MetroActive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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