Monday, February 8, 2010

A flock of seagulls

Get it? "And I raaaan..."
It's okay, I'm aware of what a lame joke that is.

What do you get when one of the most revered filmmakers of all time decides to make his most expensive production and base it on a mix of true story and one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies?
One fucking hell of a movie.

Ran is in color. It won a Best Costume Academy Award. Kurosawa was influenced by the beautiful robes used in traditional Japanese Noh theatre. The costumes are gorgeous. When you see Lady Kaede sweep into the room, be prepared to drool over her amazing kimonos. Be prepared to appreciate the three sons, each always dressed in the same primary color in a way that must make the Power Rangers hang their heads in shame.

But that's only the beginning of the stunning use of color. This film is so beautiful that it almost contradicts the insanely ugly acts it depicts.

Kurosawa read that a great Japanese warlord once decided to retire and distribute his lands to his three loyal sons. His rationale being that while one arrow can easily be broken, three arrows bundled together are unbreakable. Kurosawa knew this wasn't true, so he started imagining what would happen if the three sons weren't so loyal. That's where King Lear comes in.

This film was a long time coming. Kurosawa wrote it and let it sit until he thought he was ready to make it. It took a very long time to get financing for this film. It's quite the epic.

The film opens on an aging war lord, Hidetora, his sons and his court all out on a boar hunt. After they fell the beast, they sit and have lunch. The war lord seems like a wise and benevolent ruler. His two sons Taro and Jiro seem obediant and loyal. His youngest son, Saburo, seems like a jerk.
The film's title means chaos. Chaos is basically what occurs after Hidetora decides to divide the kingdom amongst his sons. Hidetora's folly is that he believes all the semblances I just described.

If you've read or seen King Lear, you know how this is going to go down. Except that there's a massive battle sequence with more incredibly red blood tossed over extras than you have ever seen. There's no way there was any red dye left in Japan after this movie wrapped.
Kurosawa shows us war at its ugliest. This is a full-on massacre. It's so epic, so bloody, so unbelievably tragic and violent that you're glued to the screen. After a little while you start to wonder "How is there anyone left to kill?". Kurosawa built an exact replica of a Japanese castle by a mountain for this film. We get to see it ransacked and burned to the ground. You wait for mercy, none will come. Mercilessness is at the heart of this movie.

Hidetora became lord of the country by waging a merciless war against his rivals. He raised his sons on this merciless warfare, he stole their wives for them by mercilessly killing their families and burning their castles. He rules through fear. And now, he must reap what he has sewn. Karma will be merciless.

This film is a brilliant meditation on legacy and loyalty. When we are at the end of our lives, we can see our past clearly for the first time. One cannot leave behind a legacy of peace if one lived a life of war. One cannot expect order when one has created only chaos.

Watch the environment around the characters carefully. The elements themselves belie the action of the film. Fore roars, clouds rumble, wind howls and rain pours. The Gods are trying desperately to do something, anything...

(btw- there's lots of seppuku, I figured it made it an appropriate follow-up to Hara Kiri)

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