It’s feu­dal

RAN, drama, rated R, in Ja­panese with sub­ti­tles, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Priyanka Ku­mar

As a young man, Akira Kuro­sawa was haunted by the sui­cide of his older brother. In 1971, at the age of sixty-one, he too at­tempted sui­cide. In the trans­la­tor’s pref­ace to Kuro­sawa’s 1982 book, Some­thing Like an

Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Audie Bock writes that the causes were the fail­ure of his lat­est film, Dodes’kaden (1970), at the box of­fice — his first such fail­ure — and ill health from an un­di­ag­nosed gall­stone con­di­tion. Kuro­sawa re­cov­ered and got med­i­cal treat­ment, in­clud­ing surgery. More than a decade later, he di­rected Ran (1985), his late-life mas­ter­piece. Begin­ning on Fri­day, March 11, the Jean Cocteau Cinema shows a re­cent restora­tion of the clas­sic film. Ran was re­stored based on a 4K scan by the French lab­o­ra­tory Éclair, un­der Stu­dioCanal’s su­per­vi­sion. Us­ing an orig­i­nal neg­a­tive, most of the restora­tion work was done man­u­ally, frame by frame, with Masa­haru Ueda, one of the film’s cin­e­matog­ra­phers, ap­prov­ing the color grad­ing.

Set in 16th-cen­tury Ja­pan, Ran tells the story of an ag­ing war­lord, Hidetora Ichi­monji (Tat­suya Nakadai) who has a vi­sion and soon af­ter re­nounces his king­dom to di­vide it among his three sons, Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro ( Jin­pachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu). Hidetora il­lus­trates for his sons an old adage that a lone ar­row can be bro­ken, but three ar­rows bun­dled to­gether are un­break­able. The youngest son, Saburo, promptly proves him wrong. He pre­dicts that since he and his broth­ers have been reared on war, they will soon be at one an­other’s throats — the blunt speech gets him ban­ished from his fa­ther’s king­dom. Thus be­gins a se­ries of dis­il­lu­sion­ments for Hidetora, who him­self is by no means an in­no­cent. The film’s story was in­spired by a para­ble, and Kuro­sawa won­dered where the nar­ra­tive might lead if the three sons were “bad.” Ran takes us on that dis­cov­ery. It is some­times said that the story is based on King Lear, but Kuro­sawa ap­par­ently learned of the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two sto­ries when he was al­ready plan­ning his film. At $12 mil­lion — French pro­ducer Serge Sil­ber­man fi­nanced the epic — it was Kuro­sawa’s most ex­pen­sive film, and at the time, it was the most ex­pen­sive Ja­panese film ever made.

In his fas­ci­nat­ing au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Kuro­sawa writes about how his youth­ful in­ter­est in paint­ing, lit­er­a­ture, and the­ater turned out to be the best prepa­ra­tion for his ca­reer as a film di­rec­tor. A news­pa­per ad led him to train in the Ja­panese stu­dio sys­tem, at P.C.L. Stu­dios, where he met “the best teacher of my en­tire life, ‘Yama-san’ — the film di­rec­tor Ya­mamoto Ka­jiro.”- Between 1950 and 1965, Kuro­sawa went on to make 12 suc­cess­ful films, in­clud­ing Seven Sa­mu­rai (1954) and The Hid­den Fortress (1958). It’s a pity he ends his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy pre­ma­turely with Rashomon (1950). In fact, he waited un­til he was in his sev­en­ties to write his story be­cause he was con­cerned “it would turn out to be noth­ing but talk about movies. In other words, take ‘my­self,’ sub­tract ‘movies’ and the re­sult is ‘zero.’” He changed his mind when he saw that di­rec­tor Jean Renoir had pub­lished his mem­oir, and he was also moved by his re­gret that di­rec­tor John Ford, whom he idol­ized, had not left be­hind an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

Kuro­sawa opens Ran against a stun­ning moun­tain land­scape. A group of horse­men lie in wait for a wild boar. The an­i­mal ap­pears sud­denly, and they give chase, their bows taut. Later, in a tent with the in­signia of the sun and the moon, the men toast Hidetora, whose ar­row has pierced the heart of the boar. While the men are still in the moun­tains, Hidetora de­cides to re­tire, and we re­al­ize that his sons are about to as­sume the preda­tory role that was un­til now his do­main. The old­est son, Taro, be­comes the new lord. At first he lets his fa­ther keep the fam­ily ban­ner, but then he asks for it to be re­turned and also makes his fa­ther sign a hu­mil­i­at­ing pledge. Hidetora’s fool makes fun of Taro for sway­ing like a branch in the wind. Hidetora had wanted to en­joy his last years in the “outer cas­tle,” and as a guest in his sons’ cas­tles, which he has given them, but things don’t turn out so sim­ply. Kuro­sawa’s ge­nius is such that the pathos and the in­evitabil­ity of Hidetora’s sit­u­a­tion are ev­i­dent

from the start. The film swells into an ex­plo­ration of how greed and war con­sume the once for­mi­da­ble fam­ily. Toru Takemitsu’s pow­er­ful score, in­flu­enced by the work of Mahler, un­der­lines the tragedy of the bat­tle se­quences. For those who find the grue­some war­fare in the sec­ond half of Ran over­whelm­ing, an an­ti­dote might be Kuro­sawa’s 1952 film, Ikuru (To Live), a lesser-known gem in­spired in part by Tol­stoy’s 1886 novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. While Kuro­sawa was film­ing Ran, his wife of some 40 years passed away. It is said that he took lit­tle more than a day to mourn be­fore he car­ried on with film­ing. Kuro­sawa’s per­fec­tion­ism is ev­i­dent ev­ery­where in

Ran. After Hidetora’s two older sons be­tray him, his fool pro­claims: “Heaven is very far away, but hell can be reached in a day.” Ran il­lus­trates, as richly as has been done, how very close hell can be.

Scenes from Ran; op­po­site page, di­rec­tor Akira Kuro­sawa on set

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