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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Ran': Akira Kurosawa's Breathtaking Transposition of King Lear to Japan's Historic Sengoku Period

Movie poster for Ran (1985)

Ran (乱) (1985) is an epic historical drama set on Japan's main island Honshu during the brutal and war-torn Sengoku period (1467-1603). As the storyline begins, the powerful yet aging warlord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) decides to relinquish control of his vast empire by dividing it amongst his three sons: Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu).

Blinded by the flattery of his elder sons, Hidetora banishes his youngest, Saburo, for daring to speak truthfully about his manipulative brothers. This act of rash judgment sets off a devastating chain reaction, as Taro and Jiro form their own alliances while sowing discord, each with the intention of seizing ultimate control for themselves. As the elder sons turn on each other and their father in turn, their thirst for power plunges the landscape into a bloody war of fraternal annihilation—loyalty crumbling to dust and the once-proud family name stained by the blood of kin.

Co-written and directed by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, Seven Samurai), Ran is a visually stunning masterpiece, featuring breathtaking cinematography that explodes across the screen with vibrant color. Kurosawa's battle sequences are a chaotic ballet of clashing steel and desperation, underlying a theme of the destructive power of ambition. Heavily inspired by Shakespeare's "King Lear" along with tales of the legendary daimyō Mōri Motonari, Ran is a profound exploration of the futility of war and a magisterial achievement for one of cinema's greatest visionaries.


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