Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kurosawa's Ran: A Master's Take on a Master

Usually I recommend a film to others after I've finished watching it (and the way things are usually after everyone else has already seen it, possibly decades ago...)

Though I'm only part way through Kurosawa's Ran (unfortunate English association with this word, which translates as chaos from Japanese), I feel myself keeping the DVD a week longer to see it again. It is Kurosawa's adaptation of King Lear. There are so few instances in which the master of one medium successfully adapts a masterpiece from another medium. Verdi and Otello come to mind. In that case, some have argued that Verdi even slightly improves on the original. I wouldn't go that far. But I would say that when one master hold's another gem in his or her hands, he may shine light on some facets of the original that were in the shadow (Iago in the case of Otello / Othello.)

To modern eyes, watching Kurosawa is both easy and challenging. The easiest way in is through your eyes, but the the style of acting and story telling, particularly in the epics, takes some time to adjust to. (Many rewards to doing so, of course.) But here the very operatic quality of the subject matter makes this intuitive. We are ready for stylization and heightened reality.

The moment (thus far) when it dawned on me that Kurosawa had done more than adapt Shakespeare, and create his own masterpiece, deals with the fool. In Lear, he is a central figure, but never quite becomes a character. Indeed, would I be going too far to say that is true of many of the characters in King Lear? They are striking, violent, moving, piteous, heartbreaking, but more stylized than human. This probably applies to the Lear character in Ran, Hidetora. But many of the others are built up out of human impulses, even the fool, who wonders at one point whether he should stay with Hidetora, whose nurse says he has been his entire life. Moving to see behind the fool's mask, a moment that Shakespeare doesn't give us.

This film is both an epic and a closeup -- the tragedy both large scale and tragic/heroic and very personal.



If Jane said...

uuuu haven't seen the film...but you have inspired my next dvd run...
and i shall get back to you...

Bombay Beauty said...

Let me know if I've led you astray! bb

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