I WASN'T ABLE to watch the new 4K restoration of Ran on a big screen, but I feel comfortable recommending you pay money to see it all the same—even watching the Vimeo-hosted press screener on a laptop was fairly awe-inspiring. Ran's title roughly translates to "chaos," and Akira Kurosawa's masterful riff on Shakespeare's King Lear has become a pillar in the lexicon of cinema since its release in 1985.
The film's visual language is astounding: Using bold primary colors and elements of Noh theater, Kurosawa gets to the elemental truth of his disturbing but sumptuous story. He frames his scenes in detailed wide shots, as if the camera is located a few rows back in the audience of a stage play—only it's an impossibly extravagant production that's set throughout various locations on the slopes of Mount Fuji. Verdant, flower-covered meadows and ashen volcanic plains are the backdrops here, and we watch warlord Hidetora slowly lose his mind as he revisits the scenes of his past military conquests.
Kurosawa's theme, a paranoid one, is perhaps fitting, considering the director was losing his vision during the film's production. Ran explores how a man's legacy can be tarnished and twisted once he cedes control, as Hidetora's three sons mismanage the kingdom he bestows upon them (two succumb to greed, while the third outright rejects his father's violent legacy). Two epic battles make up Ran's most monumental sequences, and they're absolutely gorgeous in their bloodthirstiness, an uncomfortable dichotomy that Kurosawa isn't afraid to thrust at the viewer. He posits that the inevitability of chaos makes it part of the essence of existence—its destructive nature, therefore, contains inherent beauty.
In conjunction with Ran—and, like Ran, as part of their "(Re)Discoveries: New Restorations, New Prints" series—this week the NW Film Center screens A.K., an inessential fly-on-the-wall documentary by Chris Marker (La Jetée) about the making of Kurosawa's epic. At less than half Ran's length, it feels more than twice as long.
Captain Ron is not screening.