Akira Kurosawa's Ran is based on Shakespeare's King Lear, the Video cassette's blurb said. Otherwise I wouldn't have known having never read King Lear. Kurosawa's love for mounting epical movies, tragedies at that, resulted in Kagemusha and Ran. Both tell us of the futility of wars and how kings' hunger for power and ego have far reaching consequences for people around them.
Tatsuya Nakadai plays the role of Hidetora, The Great Lord, who has lived by the sword for over 60 years defeating many warlords, occupying or burning their castles. Aged, he decides to divide his kingdom among his sons but be the titular head with 30 of his brave and loyal warriors by his side.
Taro and Jiro his two elder sons heap praises on Hidetora for this decision, while the youngest, Saburo, speaks his mind, says its foolish of The Great Lord to expect fealty from his sons after surrendering his throne. A loyal vassal Tango steps up and tells king that there is sense in Saburo's words.Hidetora banishes Saburo and Tango for what he perceives as disloyalty; and gives the kingdom to Taro and Jiro. Soon Taro, egged on by his wife Kaeda drives Hidetora out of the castle. Angry at such treatment The Great Lord goes to Jiro, but is met with similar reception there too. Unable to bear this, and even consider that Saburo would take him - he goes to his third castle.
In the middle of the night the castle is surrounded by Taro's men - and in a battle that goes on for hours - they decimate every last person loyal to Hidetora. Only Hidetora manages to survive the ambush, but he goes mad thinking of his loyal vassals' deaths he had caused by his foolishness. During the battle, powerhungry Jiro kills Taro.
Jiro is now the head of the kingdom, Saburo has taken refuge in a neighboring king's castle and Hidetora is a mad man roaming in a valley in his erstwhile kingdom. More tragedies visit them as Kaeda gains complete control over Jiro.
The movie is lavish in settings and costumes, the battle scenes look very real and ghastly. The valleys, mountains, the skies - all look very beautiful, like set paintings through Kurosawa's camera. Ran makes for an interesting viewing (it moves at a faster pace than Kagemusha) and I think I liked it more because I have seen some of Kurosawa's earlier movies.