29 March 2016



Anyone remember their old Willie Shakespeare from their schooldays? MACBETH and ROMEO AND JULIET are the two plays I studied myself. Was forced to study, technically, as they were on the curriculum, but as a matter of fact I thoroughly enjoyed 'em both, believe it or not. That Willie Shakespeare, he surely knows a thing or two about human nature.

Anyway, the point is that I never actually got to do KING LEAR, the play on which this epic Japanese film is based. I'm guessing, however, that those of you who did study this play in school will remember it and notice any similarities to Akira Kurosawa's final masterpiece or indeed contrasts from it or any contradictions.

This is a special year. It's a whopping four hundred years since Shakespeare's death but it's also thirty years since RAN's UK theatrical release. Therefore, to commemorate this double whammy of pure artistic awesomeness, the film's been lovingly restored and is all set to return to cinemas from the 1st April 2016. And no, that's not an April Fool's Day trick, it's for true, haha. Then, courtesy of STUDIOCANAL, you can buy the DVD or Blu-ray from the 2nd May 2016. How cool is that...?

This is a long and complex film, as you might expect from a work of such high artistic merit. I'll try my best to give you a brief overview of the plot without bombarding you with too many intricate details. Basically, we're back in olden times Japan watching warlords kick each others' butts with a stunning ferocity that never lets up from start to finish. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Hidetora Ichimonji is an ageing warlord who one day decides to retire from, um, warlord-ing it over his enemies. Well, it comes to us all, that day when we jack it all in to retire to Sussex and keep bees. You can't hold back the hands of time. Wasn't it R. Kelly who said that...?

Hidetora has three sons, just like King Lear has three daughters, Cordelia, Regan and the one whose name sounds like a popular venereal disease, Goneril. Tee-hee. I still snigger at that. Anyway, Hidetora not unnaturally divides his kingdom between all three of his sons according to their age. The eldest lad gets to be the new top banana, and the two younger sons get the second and third positions (and castles) respectively. You'd think that that was fair enough, wouldn't you, but no. Apparently not.

The third son, Saburu, gets short shrift from his Pops for mentioning that this division of the kingdom might end up causing discord between the three brothers. In fact, the title of the film, RAN, means turmoil, and turmoil is exactly what happens when Taro and Jiro, the two oldest sons, go to war for control of the entire kingdom, including their father's little patch of it.

Their shocking disloyalty to their Aged Parent, aside from being the height of ingratitude, ends up costing many lives unnecessarily. And guess who ironically turns out to be the one son on which poor traumatised Hidetora can rely? Well, I won't tell you, but I'm guessing that you've already worked it out for yourselves from my deliberate use of the word 'ironically,' haha.

The mental and physical deterioration of poor Hidetora as a result of his sons' greed and hunger for power is shocking to witness. Whatever happened to 'Honour Thy Father And Thy Mother,' that's what I'd like to know...?

This is a film best viewed in widescreen. The magnificent scenery and truly awe-inspiring landscapes definitely lend themselves to this format. Even a widescreen TV will do if you can't make it to the cinema. I saw a trailer for the film in the cinema recently and it blew my mind, just like the film itself did. You've never seen such a gorgeous blend of colours, I promise you.

The elaborate rainbow-coloured costumes, the green fields and the blue skies and the luxurious masses and masses of white clouds, either wispy or fluffy! This is cinematography at its finest, surely. I would've been happy to just sit there goggling at the views for hours, to be honest. The plot on top of all of that is like a really great bonus, haha.

In fact, when the Ichimonji family are all sitting cross-legged in the grass at the beginning and, later, when the different warriors are all doing the same waiting for their enemies to arrive, I
imagined I could feel the warm summer breeze lifting my hair and caressing my neck. I could nearly smell the flowers and the pollen and hear the humming of the bees and the music of the birds. Yes, that is unusually perceptive for me, haha, but even I can be perceptive at times!

My favourite character is the Lady Kaede, who has more balls (excuse my French!) than most of the men in the film and I must say I applaud her for it. When she loses one husband (I can't tell you who that is, sorry!), she's determined not to lose any status or riches as a result and immediately sets out to bag another spouse of equal value.

She's a stone-cold momma, the way she goes about it, but she has certain rights and entitlements too and a lot invested in the castle that's been her home her whole life so I guess she's gotta do what she's gotta do. A woman's got to look out for herself...! I didn't like the picture she was painting for us about the miseries of widowhood so I totally understand her wanting to avoid that at all costs.
The character of Kyoami, the 'singing fool,' as it were, is another interesting one to look out for.

An interview with Mieko Harada, who plays the feisty Lady Kaede, is just one of the extra features on the second bonus disc you'll receive if you buy the DVD or Blu-ray, by the way. It would certainly make a great pressie for any fans of Japanese cinema or, indeed, of Akira Kurosawa himself. Or maybe you just feel like treating yourself, which is also allowed. Encouraged, even.

Just as long as you see the film, that's the main thing. Made by Kurosawa when he was a respectable seventy-five years old, this was his last big work before he died in 1988. He certainly had a career to match Willie Shakespeare's own.

I wonder what they each think of this commemorative collaboration, or of each other, come to that? Somehow, I imagine the pair of them getting on like a house on fire, up there enjoying life's big old after-party. Clinking their goblets of mead together enthusiastically in the spirit of friendship and shared interests while nibbling from platters of delicious bite-sized sushi, maybe, and having a laugh. God bless 'em both.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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