Ran (UK - BD RB)
Marcus enjoys his first Kurosawa in HD. Look at all those pretty coloured flags...
Aging warlord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) decides to step down from his rule and pass the power over to eldest son Taro (Akira Terao). Causing outrage from youngest son Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) and general unrest amongst many of the Great Lord Ichimonji’s advisers a falling out between father and son occurs and Taro is banished from the kingdom.
With Great Lord Ichimonji’s request in place, it’s not long before Taro and his father cross paths in the kingdom. When Ichimonji kills one of Taro’s men, Taro asks his father to put his pledge to give his son full control of the kingdom in writing (and blood) and Ichimonji sees this act as one of disrespect and decides to leave the family's first castle and head to the second to stay with his second son, Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu).
Taking no nonsense, Taro decrees that his father's entourage is not allowed entry to his brother's castle. Finding this out upon his arrival, Ichimonji walks away from the last of his sons, bitter with his family's decision and their disrespectful abuse of the power he’d granted to them.
Ran is one in the many classics from Akira Kurosawa and as with much of his best work , delivers a multi layered and epic tale that covers everything from family politics to philosophy. Here he focuses on a family that, while once strong and united, is now falling to pieces because of a disagreement and three sons' intentions for the kingdom that their father is handing over to them. Within this structure we get to see how these characters' decisions affect all of the other family members as well as the kingdom's key players and watch as everything that was once great about this kingdom falls apart.
There’s so much to talk about with Ran that I could go on for ages, but choosing to highlight the elements I love the most I have to say that Tatsuya Nakadai performance as Ichimonji is stunning. Completely over the top, insanely dramatic and just a character that’s a joy to watch. As he goes through his bouts of over-confidence, anger, utter madness, near death and of course that little smile just before all of his turmoil comes to a dramatic end, it's near impossible not to feel the enormity of this story just from his character alone.
The other performance I adore is Mieko Harada's Lady Kaede, who’s a twisted, evil, she-fox of a character and eats up all the scenes she’s in with ease and provides one of the best ‘plotting for her own ends’ characters in the movie history and those painted high eyebrows freak me out a little bit too.
As for the movie itself, Kurosawa’s ability to paint memorable images with film is even more breathtaking when he’s painting everything with all of this colour. Things like the brother’s army colours glowing off of the grassed battle field or how some of the wildly colourful costumes pop off of the screen is just so impressive here, especially when Kurosawa places them so specifically to draw your eyes in to his perfectly crafted iconic images.
Even more than that, the staging of his scenes is just beyond the realms of standard filmmaking. The slow coming together of the horse backed armies is celebrated and not done in shorthand like many other movies. Each row enters the battle and we are left to watch as the numbers grow. Whole armies crossing the river on horses is relished in it entirety rather than going for the dramatic zoom in or the quick edits of today’s movie climate but most astonishing is Kurosawa’s depiction of the battle at the second castle.
How all of this comes together is master filmmaking unravelling before your very eyes. The armies taking each other out in savage frantic war countered with Ichimonji sitting in amongst flying bullets and flaming arrows as he slowly loses his mind is such a powerful set of moments that when the scene comes to its climax and this maddened figure steps out of the burning castle and into the on looking horse backed warriors, the realization that all of this is done practically and feels like it’s a classic painting coming to life before your eyes leaves you wondering why movies ever even bothered to find alternative means of creating this sort of thing in a computer.
I’m not sure if I’d consider this transfer good for a movie made in 1985 (a whole lot later than I’d realised by the way) mainly because there are much better examples of the era in HD out there. Ran has more the look of a sixties movie to me, with bright bold colours, gorgeous locations and a style that seemed lost by the time the eighties rolled around.
The colours are really what make the difference here. They range from natural to striking and all work wonderfully within this HD upgrade. Fabrics of the many brightly coloured robes look incredible, especially when bathed in sunlight and the glowing reds of gun fire or flames on flaming arrows all look impressive. As for little details, they're good but never fine, at least when compared to modern movie transfers, but elements like Lord Hidetora Ichimonji’s intense eye makeup, locations and some of the grass covered hills have never looked better, though it has to be said, in HD those bald caps ain’t fooling anyone.
As expected there is a constant presence of grain, giving the movie a nice classic movie feel and while it never imposes in the naturally lit open fields scenes or well lit sets it can be a bit over bearing in a few of the darker scenes and some of the battle sequences. One example of this is some of the shots during the attack at the third castle. The grain can make everything look pretty grubby what with all the dust clouds and murky lighting and all the more noticeable when contrasting shots show the glorious bright reds and yellows of the army flags as well as the vast amounts of ‘red paint’ movie blood everywhere.
I opted for the Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, though hopped into the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 from time to time. The English dub is a very respectful translation and a whole lot more watchable than most dubs out there (which I tend to avoid at all costs). The 5.1 Japanese track is where the good stuff is at.
Ran comes with a very atmospheric track, filled with many a bird chirping, cricket cricketing and wind blowing subtly around the room. The use of music and abstract sound really has a dominating presence in the overall mix and the intense gruff dialogue shared in many of the arguments all sound clean and strong in the front speakers.
The part I loved most about this track was the small pieces of score, the piece used during the attack of the third castle being the most impressive. Within the movie it's a beautiful contrast to the unravelling carnage and here it just sounds great and very Star Wars-y in its dramatic feeling.
Many of the features here feel a bit dated in their style, they are also French produced and because of that are in French with English subtitles. For the most part, the vintage feel to the documentaries works wonders, for the rest it can be a bit of a slog in places but if you're out to learn about Kurosawa, this is a fine place to start.
The biggest and also the best of the documentaries on offer is ‘AK’ (01:11:00 SD) with has the good sense to let long pieces of footage play out as we watch Kurosawa at work directing Ran. There’s plenty of rehearsal footage and samurai extras wandering around car parks full of eighties cars (which just looks cool) and of course plenty of watching Kurosawa tweak performances with those all important nuances that make his movies so special. The voiceover is subtle and respectful of what’s on display and having this sort of insight tells much more than the more traditional movie documentaries that follow.
‘Akira Kurosawa: The Epic and the Intimate’ (41:49 SD) focuses more on the Kurosawa techniques and innovations. There's lots of input from people who have worked with him as well as those who have studied him and there’s plenty of stories about his camera work, some of those fantastic shots he achieved and many other elements of his approach to film making.
‘Akira Kurosawa by Catherine Cadou’ (14:04 SD) is a straightforward interview with the French interpreter who worked with Kurosawa while he was in Europe and she provides a very personal viewpoint into what the filmmaker was like in everyday life.
‘The Samurai’ (52:57 SD) is a step away from being Kurosawa specific and is quite a typical History Channel-type affair looking at the ancient warriors, their armour, their swords and their way of life. Complimenting this further is ‘Art of the Samurai’ (41:11 SD), which has a French expert on the subject who runs through much of the same aspects of the previous documentary covered but in more of a specific Kurosawa approach.
Lastly, there’s the Trailer (02:00 SD) and BD-Live and even though I didn’t get to see it with this check disc, a booklet in some rather spiffy looking book style packaging.
Even though I’m not someone who watches Kurosawa's movies regularly, I have to say that I love all of his work and when I sat down to watch Ran I wondered why it’d taken me so damn long to come back.
Ran is a classic and this Blu-ray release does a fine job at upgrading it. What’s more, it comes packed with great documentaries that while a little dated in their style they do give you a fine insight into the many elements that Ran has, whether it be movie making at its finest or the historical warriors it celebrates. This release is highly recommended.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 28th September 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Japanese, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 German, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Italian, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Japanese, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Art of the Samuraï: Interview with J.C. Charbonnier (41 Mins), The Epic and the Intimate: Documentary on Kurosawa (50 Mins), Interview with Kurosawa by Catherine Cadou (13 Mins), AK Documentary by Chris Marker (70 Mins), The Samuraï (52 Mins), BD-Live, Booklet: Analysis by David Jenkins, Writer and Critic for Time Out London Magazine/Excerpts from an Interview with Paul Verhoven
Easter Egg: No
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu
Length: 162 minutes
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