Ran (1985): Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa's visual spectacle

Nakadai's haunting portrayal makes Ran an unforgettable experience

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews 

Ran, 4K Restoration, Akira Kurosawa

Our Rating: 10.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.3
Genre: Action | Drama | War
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu
Country: Japan | France
Language: Japanese
Runtime: 162 min
Color: Color

Summary: An elderly lord abdicates to his three sons, and the two corrupt ones turn against him.

Ran, which literally means 'mayhem', is probably cinema's greatest rendition of a Shakespearean Epic, manifested ironically by an Oriental movie-maker. Adapted by Akira Kurosawa from Shakespeare's King Lear, Ran undoubtedly features amongst the best works of the master auteur. Kurosawa, however, got the inspiration for Ran from a Japanese parable about a ferocious warlord that he read in the 1970s. It was only later on that he became aware of the plot’s peculiar similarity to King Lear. He himself found it inexplicable the way the two ostensibly different plots got entwined giving rise to a magnum opus called Ran that would go on to become the epitome of Japanese heritage in the world of cinema.

Tatsuya Nakadai in Kagemusha, The Famous Dream Sequence, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Tatsuya Nakadai in Kurosawa's Kagemusha (1980)
Kurosawa wrote the script for Ran shortly after completing his lyrical ode, Dersu Uzala in 1975, only to let it brew for seven more years. During the hiatus, he painted storyboards for each and every shot in the movie, while simultaneously searching for funds. Kurosawa made his great Samurai masterpiece, Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) in the year 1980. The movie’s gradual success eventually bagged Kurosawa the financial backing of French producer Serge Silberman for his dream project, Ran. It is for this reason that he often referred to Kagemusha as a 'dry run' for Ran. Ran captures with sheer vividness the true essence of human struggle for survival, highlighting the cruelties associated with life. Ran is strictly indicative of the sole consistency of life: change—an attribute that not only makes the humans vulnerable, but also equips them with the courage to rise after a fall.

Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa
Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora in Ran 
The story focuses on a senile warlord, Hidetora, who is on the verge of losing his strength, and his ferocious grandeur that he had earned through years of relentless savagery and ruthless slaughter. Consequently, he renounces to his three sons, hoping them to establish a triumvirate with the eldest one at the helm. His two elder sons accept the proposal with rapturous glee, but his youngest son seems bemused and questions the wits of the patriarch for taking the untimely decision. Though, terribly annoyed by his son's defiance, he still tries to console him only to find him inconsolable. Deeply hurt by his son's impertinence and censure, he reluctantly banishes him, and enthrones the two elder sons. The rest is rather worth a watch than a read, for there is nothing that can match the beauty of Ran as a motion picture.

Delirious Hidetora with the Royal Jester in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Delirious Hidetora with the Royal Jester in Ran
The abysmal decline of Hidetora into delirium is highly reminiscent of Kurosawa’s own slump as a moviemaker during the 70s after his two decade-long tryst with success in the 50s and 70s, during which he made more than twenty motion-pictures, most of which attained the status of a masterpiece. Post Red Beard (1965), Kurosawa struggled to keep abreast with the changing trends in cinema and challenges thrown by the growing popularity of television, or so his critics and rivals deceptively projected. Kurosawa, realizing that he needed a thinking lease to contemplate on his moviemaking prospects, took a five year break. In 1970, the Japanese master directed the highly acclaimed Dodesukaden, his first colour motion-picture. Unfortunately, the movie failed at the box-office, which bankrupted his newly established production studio. Many deemed Dodesukaden’s failure as the end of Kurosawa. Overwhelmed by the bankruptcy and disillusioned by the lack of trust of the very people for whom he had developed his Art and made obvious its infinite realms in cinema, Kurosawa made an unsuccessful attempt at ending his own life by slashing his wrists. 

Akira Kurosawa with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola on sets of Kagemusha
Coppola and Lucas pay a visit to Kurosawa 
It’s indeed astonishing to note that Kurosawa is revered much more in the West than he is in his own country. Eminent Hollywood directors like George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg regard Kurosawa as a role model and revere him as the greatest artist that the world of cinema ever produced. Lucas, whose epic Star Wars franchise took inspiration from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, used his influence on more than one occasion to procure funding for Kurosawa’s later movies like Kagemusha and Ran. Francis Ford Coppola once said of Kurosawa, “He should be the first film maker to be given the Nobel Prize.” Steven Spielberg said of the master auteur, "Kurosawa was the visual Shakespeare of our time. He is the only director who right until the end of his life continued to make films that were, or will be, recognized as classics. He was a celluloid painter—he was as close to an impressionist as you can get in film.”

Lord Hidetora's castle razed to ground, tatsuya nakadai in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa
Hidetora's castle being razed to ground
The brilliantly captured scenes in Ran are breath-taking to say the least, especially the war scene that depicts fate casting the final blow to the ruthless reign of the warlord. The brutality and the bloodshed depicted in the very scene can make even a cold-blooded appear jittery. Ran portrays poetic justice in such a relentless and abominable fashion that one can't help but sympathize with the narcissistic warlord, who had spent all his life arrogating and annihilating innocent souls. Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora gives a performance of a lifetime. He meticulously takes care of the nuances and subtleties needed to play a multifaceted part like Hidetora’s—a ferocious warlord tamed by the vicissitudes of time. The complex relationship that exists between Hidetora and the royal Jester is not merely fascinating, but it also serves to a great learning experience to all those who tend to forget the leveling aspect of life.

Lady Kaeda seduces (tries to stab) her brother in law, in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa
Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede in Ran  
Mieko Harada as the manipulative, vindictive queen, Lady Kaede epitomizes the dark side of womanhood. Kaede, with her clairvoyant charm and interminable hatred, is an exact antithesis to the prototypical caricature of a female depicted in the world of cinema, and is an extreme exaggeration of the antagonistic caricature of the women of the West. Ran’s plaintive score and highly detailed cinematography gives it a much desired tone, a mood that not only supports its melancholic backdrop, but also immensely adds to its poignant beauty. The final scene depicting a blind boy—deeply clutched by his haplessness and gross solitude—may not feature an utterance of a single syllable, but the playback of the mystical flute makes the scene haunting as well as mesmerizing, and worth a thousand words.

Estonian actor and national hero played by Yuri Yarvet in Grigori Kozintsev's Korol Lir, King Lear mourns the death of his youngest daughter, Korol Lir final sequence
A Still from Grigori Kozintsev's Korol Lir
Over the last five decades, several stalwarts from the world of cinema including Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, and Peter Brook have tried adapting this timeless tale but only Kurosawa's Ran, perhaps with the likely exception of Soviet filmmaker Grigori Kozintsev’s Korol Lir (1971), has succeeded in coming this close to perfection. It's incredible to note that during the filming of Ran, Kurosawa was almost completely blind, and his assistants had to solely rely on his verbal direction and the many canvases he had painted prior to the start of movie's production. Ran is a classic example of Akira Kurosawa's mastery as a movie-maker, and perhaps a consummation of his apotheosis. Ran is a must watch for eclectic viewers, and true admirers of pristine cinema. 

P.S. Ran is now available in the stunning 4K restoration.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated! 

For Best Films by Akira Kurosawa, please click here

For more information on the title, please click on the following links:



Ran (1985) Trailer (Restored in 4K)

For more of Kurosawa on A Potpourri of Vestiges, please click on the following links:

Rashomon (1950)
Dersu Uzala (1975)
Yojimbo (1961)
Seven Samurai (1954)

Previous ReviewDersu Uzala (1975)

Next ReviewOnce Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Complete List of Reviews

The Hunting Party, The Royal Feast, Outing, Lord Hidetora and Sons, Tatsuya Nakadai, in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Lord Hidetora gets delirious as he witnesses his castle being burnt to ground, Tatsuya Nakadai, in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran,  Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, The colorful battle scenes of Ran, Red Army General, Directed by Akira Kuroswa

Tatsuay Nakadai as Lord Hidetora, Battle Scene, Armies Clashing, in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Lord Hidetora passes away while mourning his youngest son's death, royal jester mourns, Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora in Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Oscar winning Japanese war epic Ran, The blind prince and his sister, final scene, standing at the edge of the cliff, Directed by Akira Kurosawa

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  1. I watched Ran back in 1990 for the first time and it was almost cathartic. Since then I have watched it a dozen more times and each time it succeeds in inspiring me in a different manner.

  2. Though, I cannot say that I have watched the movie a dozen times or more, I can safely concede the fact that Ran served out to an experience of a lifetime the very first time I watched it. I had watched Kurosawa's Seven Samurai before I actually watched Ran, and was quite impressed by its unique and entertaining the plot, especially considering that it was widely hailed as an Art movie. After a lot of contemplation, I decided to watch Ran before Kurosawa's other masterpieces, probably because it was in color. It was only after watching Ran that I realized about the true power of cinema, especially as an art-form. Also, I feel that the lasting impact that Ran left on me help me become a better human.

  3. I dont exactly remember when I watched Rn but what I had felt at that time was it was movie of a series of paintings, each so profound, so deep, so moving and frightening--the red in Ran was so powerful just as the white. Your review gives me more information, more insight into the movie. Love your reviews, Murtaza!!! Wish I could see all the movies again!

  4. Thanks Bhavana for those kind words! Ran is indeed about colors and the beauty and pain associated with their different shades. These colors are symbolic of Akira Kurosawa's grand yet tumultuous journey to attaining apotheosis as a movie-maker (his rise, fall and rise), his insatiable lust for cinema, and his understanding of the world. It's incredible to note that during the filming of Ran, Kurosawa was almost completely blind while filming Ran, and his assistants had only his verbal direction and the many canvases he painted prior to production. Considering the visual marvel of Ran, one can only imagine the true mastery of Kurosawa as a Titan who was too gallant to allow himself to be handicapped by his blindness.


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