"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!"
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.
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 find ingsupport for his projects in his own country. Futhermore 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.
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 Suè 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 naïve 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.
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.
Downer Ending: Basically, the ending states that God is blind / dead or that he just doesn't care and is purposefully spiteful.
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 Sué's death. When another assassin brings the head of Lady Sué, this motivates Kurogane into such a state of fury that he murders Kaede himself.
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.
Recycled INSPACE: King Lear in feudal Japan. Kurosawa claimed he based the movie on the history of Mori Motonari and he only became aware of the striking similarities of both stories once his project was underway. Be that as it may, Kurosawa had already used the trope in Throne of Blood, Macbeth in feudal Japan.
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.
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.
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.
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.