Film: Ran

He's really having a bad heir day

"You spilled an ocean of blood. You showed no mercy, no pity. We too are children of this age... weaned on strife and chaos. We are your sons, yet you count on our fidelity. In my eyes, that makes you a fool. A senile old fool!"
Saburo Ichimonji

Ran (乱, Japanese for "rebellion", or "disturbed/confused") is a 1985 film by Akira Kurosawa, made late in his career. It was heavily influenced by King Lear, relocated to the Warring States period in Japan.

Warlord Hidetora of the Ichimonji clan, once a feared and powerful man, is now in his twilight years. He decides to divide his kingdom between his three sons Taro, Jiro, and Saburo, while he remains a figurehead. Saburo, the youngest, disagrees with the plan and is banished. Sound familiar?

With Saburo away, Taro and Jiro begin feuding over succession as head of the clan. Egged on by his wife, Lady Kaede, Taro uses Hidetora's insolent jester Kyoami as a pretext for stripping him of his powers. Hidetora is made persona non grata and forced to relocate to Saburo's abandoned castle, which is then sacked by Taro and Jiro's forces. Unable to find a blade to commit seppuku with, Hidetora goes mad and wanders, dazed, from the burning castle, as his world crumbles around him.

Kurosawa wrote the screenplay ten years before its eventual release, during which he meticulously painted storyboards for every scene while he sought funding. At the time of its release —five years after Kagemusha, a film considered by Kurosawa a dress rehearsal for Ran— it had the largest budget of any Japanese film ever made until then. While it garnered praise from critics worldwide, its box office performance was lackluster, and was passed over for the Academy Awards in both the United States and Japan. In the years since, it has come to be seen as one of Kurosawa's best films, and one of the best films of all time.

Not to be confused with a certain nine-tailed kitsune, nor a sex-changing martial artist or a Norse sea goddess.

Ran contains the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: The sons' names (Takatora, Masatora, Naotora), which are almost never used in the film.
  • Ambition Is Evil: One of the main themes.
  • Anyone Can Die: Like in historical Japan, the introduction of gunpowder weapons can easily bring down a powerful daimyo through impersonal combat. By the end of the story, very few main characters are left standing.
  • Arrows on Fire: Used in assaulting one of the castles.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Hidetora didn't become the sole head of the Ichimonji clan through sycophantic grovelling. He paved his way to kingship through war and battle. But when he retired...
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Entirely subverted with Taro and Jiro. Jiro is especially cowardly, and his lack of strong back-bone makes him Lady Kaede's obedient little lap dog. He deliberately ignores Kurogane's veteran military wisdom and commits to foolhardy strategies that ultimately lead to the destruction of his kingdom.
  • Author Avatar: Kurosawa remarked "Hidetora is me". He was an aged big-shot moviemaker in his twilight, old-fashioned and with chronic problems finding support for his projects in his own country. Furthermore Kurosawa had a Bungled Suicide episode, reminiscent of the intended seppuku of Hidetora, whose life is saved by his inability to procure a sword.
  • The Atoner: Hidetora sports shades of this by the end.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Despite her Karmic Death, Lady Kaede has successfully destroyed the House of Ichimonji, right down to the castles. She, the undisputed villain and single most evil character in a film loaded with Gray and Grey Morality, is the only character in the film that got everything she wanted.
  • Badass Grandpa: When he was sane, Hidetora was this.
  • The Bard on Board: Apparently written by Kurosawa without any knowledge of King Lear, but then remade to fit even more closely after he found the stories to be similar.
  • Batman Gambit: A villainous version of this is used by Lady Kaede. She effortlessly plays off of both Hidetora's, Taro's, and Jiro's biggest flaws, and despite the fact that her plan could fail at any time by either Taro or Jiro just saying no... it never happens because she's so damn good at what she does.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The First Castle is stormed at the end. It is up to viewer's imagination whether Jiro, Kurogane and Jiro's other retainers survive victorious, are killed in the battle, or commit seppuku off-screen.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Played with, Tsurumaru, brother of Lady Su is recognized by Hidetora, who is the one surprised by the reciprocity. Tsurumaru bitterly points out the impossibility of forgetting the man who burned his castle and removed his eyes when he was only a child.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Saburo rebukes his father reasoning that Hidetora, a warlord who gained his power through perpetual violence, becomes worse than naive expecting a peaceful and harmonious coexistence between his heirs. It gets Saburo and Tango banned, but the predicament turns out to be a Cassandra Truth.
  • Camp Gay: A drag artist plays Kyoami, after the fashion of traditional Japanese Noh theater.
  • Character Tic: Whenever he suspects somebody is trying to be sneaky, Saburo develops an itch.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo are yellow, red, and blue respectively. Hidetora is for the most part coded with white, and this is reflected in Saburo's flags, which have white stripes in them.
  • Crapsack World: Only the crappiest.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kurogane.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: During the final battle. Jiro and his men attack Saburo's men, only to find that the enemy they thought was watching from atop a hill is actually off storming the First Castle. Oops.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Hidetora hits this - then goes crazy.
  • Downer Ending: Basically, the ending states that God is blind / dead or that he just doesn't care and is purposefully spiteful.
  • The Dragon: Four-Star Badass Kurogane serves as Jiros's and is probably the most balanced character of the story.
  • Epic Film: The most expensive Japanese film produced up to that time. A three-hour-long tragedy where the battle sequences involve thousands of extras.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Hidetora and his sons. A subversion (also of Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal) with the outspoken Saburo, who receives a lesser share and is outcast, but he is the one son who remains dutifully loyal.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Kurogane, a man who is no stranger to war, bloodshed and assassinations, is outraged when Lady Kaede orders Lady Su's death. When another assassin brings the head of Lady Su, this motivates Kurogane into such a state of fury that he murders Kaede himself.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Tsurumaru. Done offscreen, thankfully.
    • One of the extras gets a painful looking arrow to the eye during a battle. Onscreen, unfortunately.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Lady Kaede exploits Hidetora's pride, Taro's lack of assertiveness, and Jiro's obsession with virility.
  • Four-Star Badass: Kurogane, see rest of page.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Saburo is simultaneously the most abrasive and one of the most pure-hearted and purely good characters in the film.
  • The Jester: Kyoami's job.
  • Jidai Geki: Set at some nebulous point in the Sengoku era.
  • Karmic Death: Her revenge complete, Lady Kaede is treated by Kurogane to a well-deserved death.
  • Kill 'em All: As described on this page, very few characters survive this film.
  • Kill It with Fire: What happens to the Third Castle.
  • Lady Macbeth: Lady Kaede, who pushes her husbands into conflict with their father and each other.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Hidetora gets a big, heaping helping of it.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Lady Kaede, a captive who winds up marrying into the family of the man who destroyed her family and eventually brings about its destruction by playing her husbands like fiddles.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Invoked by Lady Kaede.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Kurogane. The name literally means "Black Metal."
  • Off with Her Head!: Lady Sue, then Lady Kaede.
  • Offstage Villainy: Hidetora's bloody conquests. We meet some of the survivors, who are, understandably, rather ticked off.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Kurogane plays this role in Jiro's circle. He's the only one maintaining anything resembling a code of ethics. Naturally, his insight - which could have prevented half the tragedy in this movie - is discarded. Instead, Jiro opts to bend over for Kaede.
    • The Jester certainly feels like the Only Sane Man when he has to look after an increasingly maddened Hidetora.
    • Among the three brothers, Saburo does not succumb to any lust for power.
  • Red Sky, Take Warning: See A Storm Is Coming below.
  • Retired Monster: Hidetora is a ruthless warlord and an infamous Living Legend who decides to retire and divide his realm among his sons.
  • Revenge: The driving force behind Lady Kaede. A The Dog Bites Back story.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Two retainers help defeat their master, Hidetora. Hidetora's son rewards them as they agreed, however he then explains that he can't very well have retainers who obviously disregard loyalty to their master, and kicks them out. Later on they wander too close to one of Hidetora's loyal followers and get chased down and killed
  • Samurai: Hidetora's family, its retainers, and their rival clans are all samurai.
  • Sanity Slippage: Hidetora. Kyoami moans that the fool is now acting like a King, and the King is acting like a fool.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • Some of the establishing shots are quite likely amongst the most beautiful in cinema history.
    • The framing is excellent in this film: it would be fair to say that any scene where the camera doesn't move would be just as good a painting.
    • The colors! The colors!!
  • Scenery Gorn: Oh, man, the attack on the Third Castle scene. Oh. God. That will overlap as Nightmare Fuel for a lot of people. The sheer brutality of that scene was even the basis for the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, right down to the soldier holding his torn arm.
  • Seppuku:
    • Lady Kaede's mother after Hidetora took the First Castle; Hidetora's concubines during the attack on the Third Castle. In addition, Jiro, Kurogane, and Jiro's other main retainers presumably do so offscreen when the First Castle is about to be destroyed. Unless, of course, they get killed in the battle or emerge victorious on their Last Stand.
    • Subverted in Hidetora's case. It pays to have an extra sword on hand in times like these.
  • Shoutout To Shakespeare: Again, it's King Lear in Feudal Japan! And considered by critics to be one of the best adaptations of Lear ever made.
  • The Sons and the Spears: Hidetora tries to use this to encourage his sons to stick together. The fable is deconstructed by Saburo managing to break it anyway, but Hidetora takes the intended reality check as a mockery.
  • Speak Truth To Power: Tango defends the validity of Saburo's objections, which gets him exiled.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Both literally and figuratively. The gathering of clouds in the sky is a recurring visual motif.
  • Succession Crisis: Hidetora thinks he's preventing one with his dividing of the realm, but it's only postponed as the three sons esteem there are still two wrongful heirs.
  • Theme Naming: Taro, Jiro and Saburo literally mean "first son," "second son" and "third son."
  • Too Dumb to Live: There are some things worth leaving behind...
  • Tragedy: You're reading this page. Does it sound like a comedy?
  • Trash the Set: The burning of the Third Castle.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Part of Hidetora's Character Development, from ruthless warlord to traumatized, lonely, remorseful old man.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Taro meets his end this way.
  • War Is Hell: Fire, confusion, dead bodies; war is not presented as glamorous in any way once it breaks out. The storming of the Third Castle is particularly hellish.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: His most loyal son gives Hidetora one when he decides to divide the kingdom into three duchys.