Brutal violence, heartbreaking tragedy, political intrigue, slapstick comedy and family betrayal: few films cram in as much as Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 drama set in feudal Japan. Of course, credit is due to one W Shakespeare, whose ‘King Lear’ provides the backbone of this story about an ageing warlord whose decision to step down from power leads to war between his three sons. But ‘Ran’ is every inch a director’s movie, the emotional intensity of its story enriched by Kurosawa’s unique visual mastery. Coloured banners whip in the breeze, armies thunder across the plain and a world of sumptuous green is gradually replaced by shades of ash black and steely grey.
Tatsuya Nakadai gives a performance of silent-movie theatricality as Hidetora, the conqueror lord whose youthful exploits in battle have given way to a sedate, satisfied middle age. The shadows of his past rise up in the form of Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada, nerve-shredding), bent on revenge for the slaughter of her family. But for all its grandstanding, this isn’t just a film of grand gestures. Its true power is found in the small moments: a son angling branches to shelter his dozing father, two lovers hastily straightening their clothes, a jester wondering if he’s the fool – or everyone else.