Gavin’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Man is born crying. When he has cried enough, he dies."
In Ran, Hidetora, the once powerful warlord of the Ichimori clan who has reached his twilight years, decides to divide his lands between his three sons as a way to keep peace. Two of his sons, the sycophantic and ambitious Taro and Jiro, accept the sudden abdication and begin to plot to seize complete power. His third son, the acerbic but loyal Saburo, is cast out of the realm due to his disagreement with his father's plan. This begins a chain reaction that causes more madness, violence, betrayal, and bloodshed than you can shake three arrows at.
If that sounds familiar at all, that is because Ran is King Lear in feudal Japan and marks the second time Kurosawa adapted a Shakespearean work to the era. Whereas Throne of Blood was Macbeth in feudal Japan by design, Kurosawa actually didn't set out to make this so similar to King Lear. He originally based it on a "what if" version of the daimyō Mōri Motonari and his sons, but when he realized the similarities he actually set out to embrace them and adapt it even further. He also ended up making arguably the greatest Shakespeare adaptation in history. Sorry Baz Luhrmann.
To call Ran a tragedy would be an understatement. King Lear is one of the bleakest Shakespearean works to begin with, and Ran certainly doesn't shirk from its depressing obligations in that regard. Most of the characters are poisoned by their own ambitions or weaknesses, and the morally strong or forward thinking characters that could be considered the film's backbone are rendered powerless because, well, that tends to be how that works - the powerful don't tend to reward those who give them hard truths. This gives the film the best kind of murky morality, and help add to the creeping, almost oppressive feeling of inevitability to the tragedies that are coming. The people in charge are idiots, and the people who aren't idiots are completely helpless against the sheer power of idiotic greed.
Ran doesn't just deal with what can happen when you sell yourself for ambition though. It takes plenty of time to explore the frailty of aging and the struggle of leaving a legacy, mostly through the actions, missteps, and eventual madness of Hidetora. Considering this was a passion project that took Kurosawa ten years to get funded and was one of the last films he made before his death, it is obvious that Kurosawa saw quite a lot of himself in the character, and because of this threw a lot of himself into the film as a whole.
Even with as perfect as the themes of the film are, that wouldn't be enough to sustain a three hour narrative. Luckily, Kurosawa filled the rest of the movie with an unflinching look at the terrible nature of war. It quickly becomes apparent why at 12 million bucks this was the most expensive Japanese film ever for a very long time, as Ran's battles are large scale and incredibly violent. These battles punctuate Ran like lightning strikes, which is apt since the pacing of the story is like a slow, steady storm. It begins with gray clouds in the distance, then the rain begins, and before you know it your trash cans are being blown through your windows.
There just aren't enough positive adjectives in the world to apply to Ran. This is Kurosawa's most gorgeous looking epic - and I mean that is really saying something - and easily one of the greatest movies of the last 30 years.
WATCH if you want an answer other than Seven Samurai when somebody asks you what the greatest film ever is. DON'T WATCH if you prefer movies where good things happen to anybody.