October 20, 2002

Ran, by Akira Kurosawa

Friday night my friend Dave came over, bearing Akira Kurosawa DVDs. We settled down to an evening of fresh-baked home-made chocolate chip cookies and Ran, Kurosawa's version of Shakespeare's King Lear. Dave is a film buff, and Kurosawa's pretty much his favorite director.

I've never been fond of the story of King Lear; the old King is a foolish man, and a bad judge of character. It's always seemed to me that he got what was coming to him (not that his two older daughters were great prizes either). But I have to say, the story makes a lot more sense in Japanese. Kurosawa transforms it into the story of the Great Lord, an elderly nobleman who has conquered a great domain for himself, slaughtering all those who opposed him.

The Great Lord has three sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo, and in his great age he announces (at a party) that he is handing day-to-day command over to his oldest son Taro; and that each of his sons will be given command of a castle. He will live with each of them in turn through the year.

His youngest son, Saburo, tells him that he's acting like a senile old fool to trust his children so. And this is where moving the story to Japan works for me: by challenging his father at a party, before guests, Saburo (who is only telling the truth, after all) has caused his father to lose face. The Great Lord gives his son the chance to recant, but when Saburo remains obdurate the Great Lord banishes him.

Is this a nice way for families to behave? No; but at least it makes more sense to me.

And then there's the Lady Kaede. I don't believe she has any exact equivalent in Shakespeare's play; she's the wife of Taro, and it so happens, she's the only survivor of a noble family wiped out by the Great Lord. It's as though Lady MacBeth was transplanted into King Lear--but instead of being ambitious for her husband, she's ambitious for revenge. One can hardly blame her, but the portrayal is chilling.

So did I like it? Well enough, considering. It's a tragedy, and I usually don't do tragedies; the tragic flaw usually strikes me as avoidable stupidity, and I hate watching that. But I'm not sorry I saw it.

Posted by Will Duquette at October 20, 2002 08:03 PM