Ran, Akira Kurosawa’s devastating King Lear adaptation, feels especially prophetic during a fractious election year in which should-be allies are questioning one another’s credentials as people of color and former world leader Bill Clinton downplays the historical precedent of Obama’s election by claiming that “we are all mixed-race people.”
The cartoonishly aggressive Donald Trump isn’t the only one who should heed Kurosawa’s warning against internecine feuding, especially since Ran‘s doomsday plot isn’t directly precipitated by the sins of “Great Lord” Hidetora Ichimonji (an even-more-possessed-than-usual Tatsuya Nakadai), a charismatic leader whose regime should, as one of his sons suggests, last longer. Hidetora may or may not have inadvertently destroyed his own kingdom by ignoring the signs that his three children were turning into traitorous narcissists. But his dominion’s fate is sealed long before elder sons Taro (Akira Terao) and Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) lay waste to each other’s James Cameron–size army.
Younger sibling Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) hints at Hidetora’s earlier cruelty, as does Taro’s vengeful wife, Kaede (Mieko Harada), the daughter of one of Hidetora’s many devastated rivals. Still, the context for Hidetora’s downfall is mainly provided by materially observable phenomena, like Nakadai’s exaggerated, Noh-influenced body language and composer Toru Takemitsu’s piercing, string-intensive score.
The film’s new 4K restoration only enhances its already impressive color scheme: Blue skies somehow appear brighter, crimson gouts of blood pulse with unholy vitality, and omnipresent gray ashes look even more foreboding. Ran remains gripping because it depicts not only the long-ago past, but also our hellish present.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Opens February 26, Film Forum