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Shakespeare 400 - Ran

Part of Shakespeare 400 On Screen, presented in association with the University of Ottawa

Shakespeare 400 logo by Sarah TeufeeKurosawa’s masterpiece and his second Shakespeare adaptation (after the 1957 Macbeth-inspired Throne Of Blood) blends the plot of King Lear with Japanese historical elements, sets it among the warlord-dominated Sengoku era of the 16th century, and re-interpretes it into a visually stunning, if philosophically bleak, reflection on chaos, nihilism, and the human potential for self-destruction.

Poster art for RanUnlike the king in Shakespeare’s play, the aging warlord Hidetora has been a ruthless and cruel power player all his life and has three sons instead of daughters to divide his legacy among, but the story still leads to the same bleak conclusions.

The film is a visual feast, using 1400 award-winning historical costumes handmade over many months, and shot amidst ominous weather conditions in bleak volcanic landscapes, real ancient castles and ruins, and a life-size castle replica that was burned down for a one-take shot of the raving mad warlord. In these locations, too important to be labelled as mere sets, the human characters are arranged and pitched against one another as ciphers of cruelty, guilt, revenge, and, ultimately, powerlessness. A beautifully disturbing parable from the era of the nuclear arms race.

– Joerg Esleben, University of Ottawa

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