Film / Ran

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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 domain 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-Loving Hero: Lady Sue, due to her fervent Buddhism. Ultimately leads to her death when, despite Tsurumaru's begging her not to, she goes back to his house to check on a servant that hadn't come back, running right into one of Jiro's assassins in the process.
  • All There in the Manual: The sons' names (Takatora, Masatora, Naotora), which are almost never used in the film.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Kyoami. His actor Pîtâ is openly gay.
  • 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 the Third Castle.
  • 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.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: During the attack on the Third Castle, Hidetora's concubines are seen killing themselves to avoid being captured.
  • Big Bad: Lady Kaede is manipulating the entire war.
  • 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.
  • Break the Haughty: Hidetora, once a powerful warlord, is reduced to an insane and remorseful shell of himself by the film's events.
  • Brutal Honesty: Saburo's specialty, like when he bluntly points out that Hidetora's succession plan is foolish and calls him a senile old man.
  • 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 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.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Literally with Jiro's riflemen, who kill Saburo at the end.
  • The Chessmaster: Lady Kaede manipulates the entire war to accomplish her revenge.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Hidetora eliminates families to which he is supposedly allied by marriage.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo are yellow, red, and blue respectively (as are their respective armies). Hidetora is for the most part coded with white, and this is reflected in Saburo's flags, which have white stripes in them.
  • Costume Porn: Aristocrats in medieval Japan have fabulous clothes.
  • Crapsack World: Only the crappiest.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Saburo's riflemen completely wipe out Jiro's cavalry despite their lesser numbers, mainly due to Jiro's tactical incompetence.
  • Darker and Edgier: Easily one of the darkest films Akira Kurosawa ever made.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kurogane, while mocking Kaede to her face.
  • Decapitation Presentation: During the final battle, a soldier hands a wrapped severed head to Kurogane. Kurogane expects that it's Saburo's head. It's Lady Sue's.
  • 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.
    • Kyoami gets one from Hidetora's, and moans about how the King has become a fool and the fool has become the rational one.
  • Downer Ending: Hidetora finally reconciles with Saburo, and they ride off to put down the rebellions... then Saburo gets shot, and Hidetora dies of a heart attack. Kyoami is left crying and wondering if the gods exist, and if so, whether or not they're sadists. Kurogane learns of Kaede's manipulations, kills her in front of Jiro as she declares her victory, and they make a last stand in an uncertain fate against the Ayabe army.
  • The Dragon: Four-Star Badass Kurogane serves as Jiro's and is probably the most balanced character of the story.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Taro, after being built up as a big threat, is unceremoniously shot by his own general while triumphantly riding into the Third Castle. His wife Kaede doesn't mind a bit.
    • The same thing happens to Saburo, right after it looks like he might have finally gotten his way.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Kyoami and Tsurumaru. Tango actually mistakes Tsurumaru for a woman at first.
  • 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.
  • Event Title: Translates to "rebellion."
  • Evil Counterpart: Kaede to Sue. Both are the daughters of families that Hidetora slaughtered, who were forcefully married to his sons. However, while Sue takes refuge in her Buddhist faith and bears no ill will towards Hidetora or his family, Kaede seethes with hatred for all of them and plots to have them destroy each other when Hidetora's abdication provides an opening. Hammered home when Kaede has Sue murdered as part of her plans.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Tsurumaru's eyes were gouged out in exchange for sparing his life. Done offscreen, thankfully.
    • One of the extras gets a painful looking arrow to the eye during a battle. Onscreen, unfortunately.
  • The Exile: Saburo is exiled after he forcefully tries to talk sense to his father.
    • Rather than kill him, Hidetora had Tsurumaru's eyes torn out and exiled him into the wilderness.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Attempted twice by Hidetora when the Third Castle is attacked. First he grabs his sword and runs out to meet the attackers, intending to die in battle, but it breaks against the armor of the first person he hits it with. After this he runs back inside and attempts seppuku, but cannot find a sword to do it with, and so he just sits motionless in the burning tower and waits to die. Even then, the men assume him to be dead anyway and don't come to kill him. Hidetora isn't getting off the hook that easily.
  • 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.
    • Saburo's general also counts, managing to defeat Jiro's much larger army in the field without losing a single man.
  • From Bad to Worse: Hidetora sees the dissension among his sons as a risk to his family's power. His solution to that problem annihilates the clan.
  • Gender Flip:
    • The feuding children are male, as opposed to the ones in King Lear.
    • In the opposite direction, Edmund has been turned into a woman.
  • Gorn: The battle scenes are remarkably brutal. The sack of the Third Castle inspired the aftermath of Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: You don't need to see a beheading when the results of it are even more obvious. Results in High-Pressure Blood.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Except for Saburo and Tango, the characters are a morally mixed bunch at best.
  • Henpecked Husband: Taro. Not that Jiro does any better.
  • The Hero Dies: Saburo, the most heroic of the three brothers, is shot unceremoniously by a sniper and Hidetora has a heart attack in the end.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Hidetora has a huge one after the Third Castle is burned. He stops speaking and can barely remember his own name.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Blood sprays all over the wall when Kaede is beheaded.
  • Hope Spot: Saburo finds Hidetora and manages to finally reconcile with him, promising that they can live in peace in Lord Fujimaki's lands. As they ride away together, Jiro's riflemen finally arrive and shoot Saburo dead, causing Hidetora to die of a heart attack.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: After the Third Castle falls, the mighty Hidetora is reduced to an insane fugitive who's barely aware of his surroundings.
  • Human Pincushion: Multiple people get absolutely riddled with arrows at the Third Castle.
  • Human Shield: A group of Hidetora's concubines put themselves between him and a group of Taro's riflemen at the Third Castle. All of them die.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Lady Sue. So much so that Hidetora is a little frightened by her.
  • Jerk Ass: Lady Kaede is cold and abrasive to just about everyone. Hidetora was also a cruel man pre-madness.
  • 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.
    • Hidetora was a cruel warlord who murdered countless people to build his empire and never showed an ounce of pity or mercy to his victims. By the end, because of his own hubris and the machinations of one of his victims, his lands are in ruins, his children dead, and he is reduced to an insane, remorseful wanderer who can barely remember his own name. When he finally dies of a heart attack, it's with the knowledge that all the blood he spilled and the empire he built was meaningless.
  • Kill 'em All: As described on this page, very few characters survive this film.
  • Kill It with Fire: What happens to the Third Castle. Hidetora did this years earlier to Sue and Tsurumaru's castle.
  • Kill the Cutie: Lady Sue, the most innocent and kindhearted character in the film, is murdered by her own husband at Lady Kaede's behest.
  • 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.
  • Last Stand: Jiro as his castle is stormed.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Taro, Jiro and Saburo literally mean "First son, second son and third son".
    • Hidetora (秀虎), their father, meaning "outstanding tiger".
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Invoked by Lady Kaede, to further ingratiate herself with Jiro.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Kurogane. The name literally means "Black Steel." Likewise Hidetora, "Outstanding Tiger".
  • 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.
  • The Pollyanna: Lady Sue, due to her strong Buddhist faith. She doesn't even hate Hidetora for murdering her family and burning their castle, something that disturbs him.
  • Playing the Heart Strings: During the sack of the third castle. The music is cut short by Taro's assassination.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Averted regarding The Jester, the medieval European court jester lacks a clear Japanese counterpart (a low-birth wouldn't dare pestering around nobles), but it was transplanted directly because of his important Foil role.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Kyoami the fool, who gets a reply very reminiscent of Julius Caesar; the fault is in ourselves not in the gods (stars), who are the ones who should be mad at the mortals.
  • Rain of Arrows: The attack on the Third Castle.
  • Recycled In SPACE: 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.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Hidetora sees the error of his ways and the wisdom of Saburo's way of thinking in the end, but dies shortly thereafter.
  • 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.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Lady Kaede's family was murdered by Hidetora, who took their ancestral castle for his own and married her to one of his sons. Years later, when Hidetora's old age provides an opening, she seizes the opportunity to manipulate his house into a civil war, bringing about the deaths of him and all his sons and the ruination of their lands.
  • 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. In fact, some have considered the Scenery Gorn to be Scenery Porn at the same time.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After his army wins a great victory and he has rescued and reconciled with his father, Saburo is shot dead by one of Jiro's snipers, causing Hidetora to die soon afterwards of a heart attack.
  • 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.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Kyoami, compared to Shakespeare's Fool.
  • 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."
  • Token Good Teammate: Kurogane for Jiro's faction, Saburo for Hidetora's sons.
  • Too Dumb to Live: There are some things worth leaving behind...
  • Tragedy: You're reading this page. Does it sound like a comedy?
  • Tragic Hero: Hidetora is a classic example, a great man brought low by his own flaws and mistakes.
  • 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.
  • Undying Loyalty: Tango continues to serve Hidetora even after being exiled by him.
  • 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.
  • Wild Hair: Tsurumaru's hair is appropriately long and unkempt for a blind hermit. Hidetora's gets this way after going completely insane.
  • Wham Episode: The attack on the Third Castle, which kills Taro, drives Hidetora insane, and leads Jiro to gaining power over Ichimonji.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Saburo, his most loyal son, gives Hidetora one when he decides to divide the domain in three parts.
  • Wise Prince: Saburo. Not only is he the only one who realizes that his father's plan to divide the Ichimonji lands is madness, he's also just to his subjects and men (even if he is a bit of a dick in personal interactions).
  • Yandere: Lady Kaede pretends to be one to push Jiro into murdering Lady Sue. It works. In truth, she hates him just as much as the rest of his family.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Subverted. Saburo is assassinated just as he is happily reunited with Hidetora.

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