BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #48: Ran, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
Ran is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s play King Lear set in medieval Japan. It was interesting to see this version of the story because the problems that I have with Ran are the same problems I have with ‘King Lear’. I am a huge Shakespeare fan but I have never loved ‘King Lear’. It was always over-long, dull in the middle, and unnecessarily tragic and the same can be said for Ran.
The film is a visual feast from start to finish. I was amazed at how crisp and clear the picture was. The colors popped off the screen and the beautiful rolling hills and fields of Japan were stunning in every scene. Not only was the cinematography spectacular but so were all of the costume and set designs. The costumes on the Japanese royalty and their servants were stunning and each main character had a signature color which helped when I came to keeping the armies straight from scene to scene. There is one shot when the old king, Ichimonji, is tricked into staying an abandoned castle only to be attacked by his to two oldest sons when the king walks, stunned and white like a ghost, out of a burning tower and out of the gates as the tower burns down behind him. It is such a beautiful and tragic shot.
I also have to credit the film with some impressive battle footage. The two major battle scenes that we see are choreographed beautifully with soldiers on horses, foot soldiers, archers, and a cast of hundreds of extras all in armor. The time and choreography that went into those battles must have been exhaustive. The blood they used was way too red and sometimes made the violence a little cartoonish but the fight scenes were still amazing to watch.
I think my favorite character in the film is Lady Kaede, the eldest son’s wife. She is a master manipulator from her first scene on and a very Shakespearean villain. She is in control from the first moment we see her on film and she never stops working to get her secret vengeance for a second. The physicality of her performance is impressive. She goes from looking dainty and small to wielding a dagger and cutting a man’s throat in a second and she knows just how to gesture or cry or laugh to play all the men around her. I enjoyed her character the most in the film.
While I do think the film is beautiful, well made, and well-acted, I still don’t really enjoy it very much. I never liked the story of ‘King Lear’ because, even though it is very Shakespearean, it was never very believable story. Also, it doesn’t take long for the old king to be betrayed and left alone with his fool and servant as a feeble old man. As soon as that turn happens I lose a lot of interest in the story. The same is true in Ran. I lost interest once the old king walks out of the burning tower and goes mad.
I also find the make-up on Ichimonji disturbing to look at. Most of the film he has this strange wide-eyed, open-mouthed look on his face that is disturbing. I did some research and learned that it is meant to evoke a certain emotive mask in Japanese theater but I still found it uncomfortable to look at. I also found it hard to keep track of some of the politics. There was a lot happening in the story and I was grateful for the short-hand that the signature colors gave to tell the different armies apart but it was still confusing at times.
Overall, I am glad I finally saw Ran but it really isn’t my cup of tea.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Ran ranking: Cruiser