"Ran," the title of [Akira Kurosawa]'s magnificent new epic, means "chaos" in Japanese. Chaos is the film's destination, the thing it has in common with its two sources - Shaksepeare's "King Lear" and Kurosawa's view of the civil wars that were tearing at Japan at the time Shakespeare was writing his plays. It's a culminating film, in which Kurosawa crystallizes his two lifelong themes - the samurai code and the illusions of power and permanence - with epic breadth, olympian perspective. Pictorially, it's the most opulent film Kurosawa has given us. His reds and yellows and earth tones have never been richer as his warring, color-coded cavalries spill across the screen, drenching it with death.
[Hidetora]'s Fool, played by a transvestite actor called [Peter], is harshly compassionate, hurtling up and down ruined castle stairways and passages in search of his broken master, parodying Kurosawa's Eisenstein-like stone staircase scenes in "The Hidden Fortress" and "Kagemusha." Kurosawa's overlay of images reinforces an acceptance of the futility of asking life to explain itself. The film ends with a blind man playing a flute on a precipice as the sun sets - another apt metaphor for the human predicament. Finally, mercifully, the camera withdraws, but not before focusing on a scroll of a smiling, inscrutable Buddha. Kurosawa's "Ran" is towering, rarified, utterly unsentimental. Call "Ran" Kurosawa's Zen "Lear," and you won't be far off the mark. It's a great film.
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