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Akira Kurosawa's final epic, Ran (or 乱, which can mean riot, war, disorder, and disturb), released in 1985, is based both on legends of Mōri Motonari and on Shakespeare's King Lear (derived from the legendary king of the Britons named Leir). Ran tells the story of Hidetora Ichimonji (Motonari-slash-Lear, played brilliantly by Tatsuya Nakadai) during the Sengoku period (1573–1603).

The old warlord has a dream, which inspires him to divide his realm among his three sons (as King Lear did among his three daughters). Like Lear, Ichimonji slips into madness, and this is inflamed by the disrespect he perceives his sons are showing him. War breaks out, heads (of a fox statue and two women) are lopped off, and the fool may be the only one seeing things for what they truly are. All the while the whole world seems off-kilter and irreparable.

Watching Ran makes you realize how CGI shattered a facet of the art of film-making. The special effects, costumes and makeup, and painstaking efforts of the crew created battle and other scenes that are incredibly realistic, in their rawness and true-to-life imperfections, and made Ran a visual masterpiece. This includes the colors—rich or dull, dim or bright, ablaze and vibrant or smoky, and so forth—infusing each scene with an atmosphere and mood aligned with the narrative and individual characters. The two scenes I especially enjoyed were the siege and slaughter at the burning Third Castle and the one in which Lady Kaede coerces Jiro, to become the real power behind the throne.

Stop it! Do not curse the gods! It is they who weep. In every age they've watched us tread the path of evil, unable to live without killing each other. They can't save us from ourselves. Stop your crying! Such is the way of the world. Men live not for joy but for sorrow, not for peace but for suffering. Look at those in the First Castle. Even now they vie for the greater share of sorrow and suffering and revel in their mutual slaughter!

Ran, Akira Kurosawa


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