Having no prior knowledge or interaction with William Shakespeare’s work, King Lear, my readings and insights into Ran are best described as “limited”. Director Akira Kurosawa provides his adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic literary work, a story of three brothers vying for the attention of their elderly father. A late-career epic from Kurosawa reunites him with familiar faces from his previous works, including Tatsuya Nakadai and Akira Terao. Adaptions of Shakespeare are ten a penny, you can find yourself accidentally stumbling into adaptations of Macbeth, Hamlet or The Taming of the Shrew without really trying these days, so it makes a lovely change to see that Ran is one of the greater, expressive adaptations of such a well-renowned writer.
Pairing a story I know nothing of with a director I have minimal experience with is a sure-fire disaster. But to take the few moments of King Lear that I do know of and couple it with the epic worldbuilding Kurosawa can provide in the likes of Seven Samurai, and you have a tremendous experience on your hands. Some of the meaning is lost on me completely, my aversion to the source material is absolutely to blame for that, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the amazing visuals on display.
Kurosawa’s vivid use of colour direct us through a film that has the confidence and flair to provide a strong take on a story that has been adapted, twisted and malformed numerous times. At this stage in his career, Kurosawa was no stranger to adapting Shakespearian texts, so it’s rather nice to see that we’re in safe hands for such a monumentally great film. Large scale battlefields, beautiful cinematography and truly exceptional camera work pave the way through Ran, its beauty matched only by its engaging performances.
One particular issue though is that the pacing is a tad flawed. There are only so many times Kurosawa can charm me with beautiful landscapes or colour palettes that defy all the odds of such a bleak story. A story that takes form rather slowly is no problem at all, but there are questionable scenes left in, feeling like they could be cut more often than not. At least it’s performed well and directed with strength, it just feels like it re-treads old ground at times.
A creative, well-performed introduction for those who have no clue of what entails the story of King Lear, Ran is a magnificent epic full of style and fury. Brilliant set and costume design paves the way for some amazing set pieces that show off the vivid nature of Kurosawa’s direction. A great reimagining of a classic story, that I’ve not read. What’s the point in reading or seeing any other adaptation when I can see Nakadai act his heart out?