While Hidetora emerges through the course of the movie as a brutal man who has committed a wide assortment of crimes throughout his life, and his current sufferings are revealed as resulting from his previous actions, such details are not presented in a heavy-handed or excessively didactic way. Rather than condemning Hidetora as an evil man who has inflicted pain on others and then revelling in his apparent punishment when he is himself reduced to a state of wretched misery, Kurosawa uses the character to make the viewer aware of the universality of suffering and to allow him to savor a vision of the sadness of man's endless folly.
In fact, there is hardly a character who appears in the film who is not carefully delineated and utterly fascinating. The motivations, pasts, ambitions, and emotions of each are often exposed only in the briefest of moments, but all are realized with such a sense of truth that each character appears as a complex individual whose perspectives and actions contribute in some way or another to the film's overall richness. From the eldest son's scheming, ruthless wife Kaede (Mieko Harada), who, somehow, emerges as, perhaps, the movie's most interesting and affecting character, to the weak willed but ambitious Jiro to the sad young brother of Jiro's wife, whose eyes Hidetora had ordered be gouged out when he was a child, the film is filled with a wealth of enthralling, sympathetic individuals.
What is more, all these various characters are skilfully brought to life by the cast. Although there are a few times when the actors do give way to histrionics, these moments are brief. The quality of the acting is generally good and is frequently inspired.
The acting, characterizations, and themes are not, however, the film's only virtues. Ran is absolutely gorgeous visually. The cinematography is lovely. The costumes are exquisite, and the sets are universally impressive. The battle sequences with which the film concludes are stunningly beautiful and wonderfully exciting. The movie is so captivating to look at that it easily draws the viewer into the world being depicted and engulfs him in the sorrowful story being told.
Kurosawa might not have created a true masterpiece in Ran, but he has come very close. He has made a film of exquisite loveliness that is able to engender in the viewer a profound sense of grief.
Review by Keith Allen
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