Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) has lived a long and prosperous life of a feudal warlord, his reign marked by devastating territorial battles, humiliation of the vanquished, and brutal punishment of those who flout his authority. One day, in the presence of neighboring feudal lords and attendants, he announces his decision to step down from power and cede the authority of daily government (while retaining the ostensible title of Great Lord) to his eldest son Taro (Akira Terao) in the hopes that after fifty years of strife, he can live out his remaining years in peace. He transfers ownership of the two regional castles to his younger sons, Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu), and demands their support and respect for Taro. He illustrates the strength of solidarity by handing each son an arrow, which individually, can easily broken in two. However, when banded together, the arrows will not bend so easily. The youngest son, Saburo, criticizes the folly of Hidetora’s plan, exposing the false allegiance of his older brothers towards a unified Ichimonji empire, and warns Hidetora that his actions will result in chaos and civil war. Hidetora is insulted by Saburo’s unflattering candor, and in a fit of anger, impulsively disowns Saburo and sends him into exile. However, as Hidetora attempts to settle into the tranquility of retirement, he realizes that he cannot relinquish power and influence so easily. In repeatedly overstepping the authority of Taro, Hidetora becomes unwelcome at the castle. Hidetora then decides to take up residence with Jiro, only to find that Taro has dispatched a message to his brother, who, in turn, has decided to shut out Hidetora’s entourage behind the castle gates. Unwelcomed at either house and estranged from Saburo, he settles into the third castle, only to find the palace under siege by both Taro and Hidetora’s armies, as the brothers engage in a bloody civil war for control of the empire.
Adapted from the William Shakespeare play King Lear and Japanese folklore, Ran is an epic story of ambition, hubris, and aging. In contrast to the muted battle scenes of Seven Samurai, Ran is a graphic, sensoral depiction of the violence innate in the human soul. Through the use of suffusive colors to delineate opposing armies, Akira Kurosawa figuratively taints the serene landscape with the artificial, surreal hues of human tragedy and senseless destruction. As the conflict intensifies, the sweeping images fuse into a mesmerizing, heartbreaking chronicle of Hidetora’s personal revelation and fall from grace. In the end, cast away by his family and humiliated by the consequences of his misguided actions, Hidetora returns to a state of nascent innocence and wanders the land – away from the madness of violence – and in the process, finds his own fleeting inner peace.
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