Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A decade—and arguably an entire career—in the making, Akira Kurosawa's last great masterpiece, 1985's Ran ("chaos"), is one of the rare spectacles that's more than mere spectacle, a prismatic work containing riches beyond its justly celebrated battle sequences. With 1957's Throne Of Blood, his seminal Macbeth adaptation, Kurosawa proved himself capable of transposing Shakespeare to feudal Japan while seamlessly incorporating Noh and Kabuki traditions. Ditto Ran, which tweaks some of King Lear's plot elements to suit the sprawl of 16th-century clan wars, but still captures its essence with magnificent clarity and, at times, breathtaking visual poetry. With an eye on the indifferent heavens—as sculpted by Kurosawa, who could apparently control the weather—themes of loyalty, revenge, the elusiveness of power, and the futility of war are played out by the fallible humans below. Tragic events are set in motion when an aging warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai) foolishly decides to divide his vast empire among his three sons to rule, under the condition that he keep a small escort and live out his remaining days in the main castle. Sensing the turmoil to come, the youngest son (Daisuke Ryu) objects loudly and is banished from the kingdom, only to become his father's lone ally when the warring brothers cruelly betray him. Meanwhile, the eldest son's treacherous wife (Mieko Harada, in an unforgettable performance) carefully enacts a vengeful plot of her own. With its mammoth ambition and scope, there's no question that Ran is a self-canonizing work, as some detractors have charged, but there's also not a single aspect of the production that fails to live up to the task. At 75, Kurosawa wrangled roughly 1,400 extras and 300 horses for the eye-popping setpieces, but on a more intimate scale, Nakadai's descent into madness is handled with incredible delicacy. Add to that the painterly cinematography, the haunting woodwinds and percussion in Toru Takemitsu's score, the bold color schemes of the period costumes, and many other intricate details, and Ran, reissued for its 15th anniversary, is a film for the ages.