Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ran is a triumphant masterpiece for the modern era. Following the steps that Akira Kurosawa had left behind since 1957 when he had adapted Macbeth in his film Kumonosu-jou (1957), Ran is noticeably different. Both projects are quite commonly compared, yet their respective focus and intentions are highly independent. It is also considered as one of the best and most ambitiously groundbreaking Shakespeare adaptations ever committed to celluloid. Such statement is not derived from the truth, and the main reason can be found in Kurosawa's visionary brilliance and inspirational originality. The attention towards action has considerably increased, imitating the epic samurai films he had created in the past; however, the power of this arguable opus has certain moralistic lessons that can still be applied to the audiences that nowadays abound in the world. That is the main source of Shakespeare's transcendent talent, and that is the main source of Kurosawa's unparalleled direction. With theatrical performances, thought-provoking brutalities and accurately sincere truths, it is one of the best Japanese films ever made, leaving aside its notoriously tragic atmosphere.
Ran is Kurosawa's treatment of King Lear set in sixteenth-century Japan. The Great Lord Hidetora Ichimonji decides to abdicate to his three sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo, dividing his fief among them. His last wish is to live out his remaining years as an honored guest in the castle of each of his three sons in turn. However, the older brothers Taro and Jiro conspire against their father, trying to take advantage of Hidetora's retirement and attempting to even take his title while vying for power. On the other hand, the younger and honest son Saburo warns his father and receives hatred and mistreating for trying to confess the truth. The film received 4 Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography and Best Director, winning the first award and losing the last one against Sydney Pollack for his overrated film Out of Africa (1985). Surprisingly, the film won 25 wins in total and received 15 other nominations in several film festivals around the world.
This could be fairly called as Kurosawa's last masterpiece. During the 80s, he had the specific characteristic of making each subsequent film as if it was his last one. In Ran, we witness the graciousness of a talented adaptation in order to represent the usual human faults that have always plagued the human nature throughout the decades. However, the typical introspectiveness of Kurosawa is lost; we are no longer taken into the middle of the action, and the minimalism of his past projects has been transformed into cinematic ambition. The main thematic elements of the film are mindless governments, the senselessness of careless overpowerment, madness, ambition, the power of family and the tragically negative implications of the lack of loyalty towards the family. Ran incarnates a modern society where the very nucleus of the society, that is the family, is destroyed, ensuing unstoppable and painful chaos and destruction. Tragedy derived from betrayal is portrayed as a monster that does not need any clear motivations whatsoever; the inexplicableness of human cruelty is the main source.
As Kurosawa explained in a 1985 interview, the secret subject of Ran is the threat of nuclear apocalypse, treating such subject matter as a contemporary edge. It is suggested that the totalitarian control of masses and a violent war as the most necessary and supposedly adequate means to gain power, control, influence, admiration and land are the events that have led the characters (and us) to an inescapable catastrophe and a cruder recent reality. The glorious colored cinematography tries to retake the marvelous technical roots that always mostly defined action-oriented films like Shichinin no Samurai (1954) and the more contemporary Kagemusha (1980), fusing the dazzlingly varied colors of the last film mentioned with the tragic self-destruction of Kumonosu-jou (1957). Moreover, such tragic proportions have been ultimately maximized to an almost never-imagined degree, adopting a filmmaking style of noticeable stillness derived from prolonged shots. These shots hide a very discreet, yet very precise editing, this time taking us out from the middle of the action and witnessing the bloodily visual spectacle from an omniscient point of view, like if God was judging every single action of murder, betrayal, deception and developed warfare.
As one may be led to think, the film is heavily oriented to action, and the notorious dose of violence display is visually charged with spellbinding artistry and significant substance. However, audiences curiously looking after this film specifically because of the action will be disappointed because of their interest being based on the wrong reasons. It is mainly composed by two major battle scenes. Usually the most famous scene and the one that usually stands out is the destructive attack at Saburo's castle. Ran is a parable for the actuality set in the Sengoku period of predominant civil wars, contrasting gorgeously-looking blood sprays with undeniable philosophy and hidden layers of complexity. In the process, a perfect balance between analytical character development and breathtaking action is created, spending more time in the first difficult task. However, the film adopted a much more tragic tone, even scratching the typical realm of melodrama. This outcome is not distractive, and the fact that this masterpiece is directly implying that, considering humankind's lust for power, we could be driven today to similar events to the consequences depicted here, is the true source of terror that asks us to consider that the technological advancement is a much bigger threat than it was before. Madness and insatiable power is just trigger's sparkle.
The extraordinary costume design and the spellbindingly colorful art direction are just visual incentives that end up strengthening the ideals of Ran, "Ran" standing for "chaos". Once more, the concept of "antagonist" is subject to debate and the film itself is an extensively provocative analysis of the implications found inside a lustful, bad-intentioned family. Remarkable and theatrical performances decorate the madness and mayhem ensued from the decisions taken by the three sons, including the one that incarnates human's sincerity, not to mention the makeup that enhances Tatsuya Nakadai's desperation. It is also a testament against political insanity and the ridiculousness that the desperate attempts of family and social redemption involves, especially when an unstoppable chain of reactions has already been irreversibly unleashed. Despite the fact that Kurosawa was aiming towards a much more pretentious material, the power of Ran and its influential capacity has remained intact, orchestrating an opera of heavenly collisions between violins and pianos, and warfare of steel, fire and powder. It is one of the best films of all times. This is Kurosawa's furious manifesto.