Ran Akira Kurosawa (Japan 1985)

Ran Akira Kurosawa (Japan 1985)

Ran Akira Kurosawa (Japan 1985) Tatsuya Nakadal; Mieko Harada Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 17 June 2012; Ticket £5.00

Ran meaning: riot – uprising – disorder; disturbed – confused

Ran is a masterful exercise by AK in synthesising culturally opposing expressive forces in the exposition of his theme. Ran is riotous filmic feast in which traditional Japanese plastic arts are promiscuously are entangled with Hollywood’s; in larger writ plastic values of US and Japanese society and culture are seamlessly interwoven.

Ran’s confusion of stylistic and expressive affects structures the core underlying motif: a statement by AK about the disintegrative effects caused by the penetration of American values and practice into Japanese culture. A culture no longer protected by self policed isolation; a society and culture in turmoil but inventive and creative enough, to absorb and replicate on its own terms, to reinvent itself as a hybrid.

Ran (R) is a conscious play on form, a confusion of genre and expression. It is a triumphant mangling of Hollywood and Japan a sort of filmically structured paean to post war cultural buggery. Ran is witness to AK’s self evident delight in shuffling together: samurai and cowboy; ‘NOH’ acting tradition and US daytime soap convention; classical Shakespeare and Hollywood; the mobile and the immobile, the vertical and the horizontal.

The large set piece battles are majestically staged but the form of the battles strongly suggests John Ford. As the army of the King’s son charges on horse and foot across the field it is ambushed by devastating volleys of raking firearm fire decimating the attackers. The opposition of sword spear and bow and arrow against the gun, suddenly re-casts the battle as the traditional Hollywood spectacle pitching primitively armed Native Americans (Red Indians) against the superior arms of the US cavalry with their Colts and Springfields. The clash of the Samurai warriors instead of being represented as a traditional sword/spear based ritual, is filmed as a Hollywood slaughter vehicle, a massacre ensuant on the mismatch of unequal forces. The battles in Ran don’t pander to traditional notions of the Japanese Samurai Code. Death strikes anonymously without honour from a distance. When the cowboy shoots the lesser armed Sioux or Cheyanne, the gun acts as more than a tool. It is also a valedator. Its technological supremacy legitimises the victory of the White Man’s culture. In the same way, atomic weapon technology justified American cultural supremacy.

In Ran AK also exploits the dynamic and expressive possibilities of intermixing two styles of acting tradition which draw on very different formal expressive ideas and tradition. Noh tradition: the use of the mask, little or no facial expression; this is not a theatre of expressive faciality, rather of codified gesture where hand and body combine to create a system of signed meanings. The American soap style in contrast emphasises the face as the expressive medium, with full use of eyes mouth lips and teeth used to convey the required emotion. The signage in soap is mostly primary animalistic response, like a dog bearing its fangs you don’t need to be conversant with a code of cultural signs to get the meaning. Likewise the delivery of lines is emotively charged to convey unambiguous intent, even if the words are not explicitly understood. In the playing of characters such as Lord Hidetora and Lady Kaede, AK synthetically fuses these two opposing acting styles. The affect is an intensification of tension between the mobile and the immobile. The audience is caught suspended in anticipation of the character’s response: whether it be control or loss of control. Lady Kaede initially is all mask, a complex of archaic gestural signage, every movement initiated out of the depths of theatric stillness. In one sinewy terrifying moment like a snake pouncing she is at the throat of her brother in law and suddenly all Noh convention is completely abandoned and like a suburban housewife contorting her face she screams at her brother in law to marry her and bring her the head of his wife. Lady Kaede then with equal suddenness switches back to the still Noh mode of expressive presentation.

Ran is sometimes described as a Japanese version of King Lear. Ran is not pure as a narrative form. AK as part of a culture that traditionally has purity of form at its core, abandons this idea in Ran, and has recourse to the Hollywood idea of adaptation of the material: stripping the scenario down to a simple base line. Ran’s story is a conflation of Macbeth (with which K was very familiar) and a Lear type story, with sons substituted for daughters. Two ideas welded together: the conceit of power that is unable to see behind the formulaic countenance of love, behind which lurk simmering contempt and desire to usurp; and the mythic disaster caused by a weak usurper unable to resist the destructive forces of the feminine.

Fire seems to me to be the defining filmic element of Ran. Visually it periodically intrudes and finally dominates the visual field. In the first sections of Ran AK’s fills frame with horizontal movement. Bautifully staged pans, the flow of horses and people through and across frame. This is movement that in all its magnificence suggests continuities, as if it were the template of a timeline. In the final sequences but also intermittently through the final sections, ‘fire’ fills frame vertically. Cutting in disrupting on the vertical axis the easy harmony of flow. AK has structured into the visual syntax of Ran the core notion of disruption; time itself is subject to being broken, its flow smashed up, disrupted. This idea built into the grain of Ran is the deepest level of communion with his times as AK understands them. adrin neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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