UNLIKE THE TAME, courtly scene that opens the familial interactions in William Shakespeare's King Lear, Ran (Akira Kurosawa's filmed interpretation of the play) begins with a hunt--a party of men viciously chasing down a wild boar, then celebrating their kill. With this distinction, the tone of Kurosawa's adaptation of Shakespeare is immediately established. In Shakespeare's version, King Lear governs his daughters through emotional, paternal rule, while Kurosawa uses violence as Hidetora's primary vice. This vice establishes a homosocial bonding between Hidetora and his sons.
Eve Sedgwick defines homosocial desire as the following:
Concomitant changes in the structure of the continuum of male "homosocial desire" were tightly, often casually bound up with the other more visible changes: "the emerging pattern of male friendship, mentorship, entitlement, rivalry, and hetero- and homosexuality was in an intimate and shifting relation to class; no element of that pattern can be understood outside of its relation to woman and the gender system as a whole. "Between Men," from Literary Theory: An Anthology; Blackwell Publishers, 1998 pg. 696-712
Following Sedgwick's definition, Kurosawa defines the pattern of friendship, mentorship, and rivalry in the entire film. The initial hunting scene becomes an introduction to and a vehicle for this homosocial bond. As the hunt continues, Kurosawa introduces Saburo, Hidetora, and his other two sons. He makes his announcement not by christening his daughters with love, but by handing over his rights as chief of the hunt. As he finishes the hunt, he tells the other warriors, "I, Hidetora Ichimonji, was born in that small castle in the mountains, at that time, this entire plain seethed with constant battle I waged war for 50 years. And at last the plain was mine Now the moment has come to stable the steeds of war. And give free reign to peace I hereby cede total authority over all my dominions to my eldest son, Taro."
Hidetora expresses affection for his son, but only through his affection for violence. He explains that it is his desire not to show affection for his son, but to complete the war he has begun--to finish the legend of his rule "giving free reign to peace." When he finally does show his son affection, he does so only by projecting his love of war onto his son.
It is through this initial, violent etiquette that the entire conflict of the film is established. Saburo is the only character who does not submit to his father's command (he expresses fear, rather than obeying social order). In this way, Saburo establishes the film's primary conflict through homosocial bonding: by refusing to adhere to his father's commands, he violates his father's wishes. However, since these wishes are only expressed through the emotional vehicle of violent desire, the film's conflict must be solved within homosocial ramifications.
It is precisely because of these ramifications that the character of the fool is such an important one. Women in the movie play the Enemy--it is the mission of all the film's women to manipulate and destroy the men through sex and psychological warfare. Thus, in the absence of women, the fool plays the traditionally feminine role in the movie. He is a small, almost waifish man who, in the first scene, appears very androgynous. He becomes, for Kurosawa, the feminine counterpart to Hidetora as defined by the homosocial bonds inherent to the film. Silenced by the bonds that define them, the male characters in the film must communicate either through homosocial violence or not at all.