This is the film of a magnificent intellect. It is one of those examples in art of how the understanding of and attention to all detail infuses the greater whole with power. And the film is about power, the combining, as it were, the commemorated legends of the early 16th century Japanese feudal lord Mōri Motonari, and, later in the shaping creative process, Shakespeare’s legendary early 17th century play King Lear. It is not a literal retelling of either, but a new work fashioned by Kurosawa from elements of each, some analogous, some not.
The decision that actuates Ran is the decision of the patriarch to distribute his lands, his kingdom, amongst his three sons. As is common with inheritances, especially those in which primogeniture or unequal allocation play a significant part, rivalry is incited amongst the beneficiaries. But the subject is not the rivalry but the search for the absolutism of the wielding of power. In this absolutism there is neither divinity nor mercy, and the playing out, as remains humanity’s preference and predilection unceasingly, is fully and solely human. In this unfolding, the patriarch becomes more bystander than participant, and blood flows easily and quickly upon the lands. In Ran the search is by subterfuges most significantly animated by warfare. The battle scenes are dramatically and cinematographically breath-taking. Death is merely the by-product. Blindness is the process.