Akira Kurosawa, 1985
So I watched Seven Samurai and Ran within days of each other. Kurosawa’s samurai first and samurai last. Seven Samurai was directed by a Kurosawa optimistic and supremely confident in his abilities in 1954. He had about a decade of hits behind him and a decade of hits in front. I haven’t seen Throne of Blood which is Kurosawa’s other jidaigeki Shakespeare adaptation. God knows I love Kurosawa but I can’t imagine that it has the visceral appeal of Ran.
Ran, a semi- adaptation of King Lear don’t you know, is made by a Kurosawa who still knows how to make a movie goddamnit but the intervening years had taken a lot out of him. You could see how he could connect with his protagonist Hidetora; he’s still got it but it’s harder for him to do.
The relationship between Hidetora and his sons could be the relationship between Kurosawa and his audience. Taro is the audience that left cinema in Japan, Jiro is the studios and financial backers who decided after Red Beard that Kurosawa was outdated, sending him spiraling into depression like Hidetora spirals into madness. But Saburo, while mouthy, is the loyal one, representative of the western audience that embraced Kurosawa. Like Lucas and Coppola and the producers that backed his latter-day works. Without Hidetora the empire falls apart. What is Kurosawa saying about himself?
Seven Samurai was a redefinition of the samurai as a hero. For the most part in his early career Kurosawa’s samurai were the masterless ronin. This can be seen as the absolute breakdown of that image by Kurosawa.
But it only kind of works that way.
This isn’t about samurai-they’re warriors sure, but really this movie is about lords. Shogun lust for power and go to war and turn on their brothers. When the samurai are in service to a shogun heroism has a hard time winning out when you’re serving a political agenda. Kurosawa proved himself right in the first place here.
It is said that you have to be of a certain age to do a successful King Lear. Kurosawa was about 70 when he filmed Ran. There is something about it though that seems like a young man’s chances. It’s so visceral, primal. The way I contextualize it to myself, was that it’s like Frank Miller. Who mastered the art form and then decided to try a lot of shit out by burning down his methodology to simple beats. The Dark Knight Strikes Again if it had been done by anybody else might be considered some sort of avant-garde Batman masterpiece. Ran is too meticulously thought out for this metaphor to work entirely, DK2 was half-plan, half post 9-11 weird, and obviously dashed off in parts. It also kind of reminds me of John Romita Jr.’s recent Avengers work. JrJr has figured out how to do a shorthand, broader version of his work that allow bigger chunks of color. Avengers color fucking pops like the colors of Ran do. Subdued but still bright monocolor that pops against gray backdrop.
I really liked this is what I’m saying I guess. I probably have more to write about later.
-Daniel Von Egidy, 2010