Ran (4K Digital)
Akira Kurosawa's classic Ran has arrived on 4K Digital! Here's our review!
This review is based on our online screening of the new 4K transfer. Our rating for the audio is based on the previously-released Blu-ray, which carries the same sound mix. Images are not from the 4K transfer and do not indicate image quality.
An aging Japanese lord (Tatsuya Nakadai) attempts to pass control of his kingdom to one of his three sons, setting off a bloody power struggle that divides a family. Also stars Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, and Daisuke Ryû. Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
This 1985 masterpiece by the legendary Akira Kurosawa retells William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” as a samurai tale in 16th-century feudal Japan. It managed to score four Oscar nominations, including one for Kurosawa as Best Director, but only won one, for Best Costume Design. The Oscars that year were dominated by Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa, but with time, Ran has managed to gain the appreciation and respect it should have garnered back then.
Elevated by an iconic performance by Tatsuya Nakadai, the film is an emotional and visual feast. Nakadai’s Lord Hidetora suffers an unceremonious fall from grace when he attempts to pass his power on to one of his three sons. Loyalties are betrayed, and past sins come back to haunt Hidetora as he tries to save his kingdom from collapse.
Ran is more than just a samurai tale or an interpretation of “King Lear.” Kurosawa explores the notion of power and loyalty through the tragic figure of Lord Hidetora, whose position on a seat of power left him unaware of the treachery that swirled around him. Although the battle scenes are visually stunning, the most powerful scenes in the film are those involving Hidetora’s realization and contemplation of the betrayals by his sons and trusted allies. They transcend the language barrier and impact the viewer on a much deeper level.
I could go on with my thoughts about Ran, but it seems redundant given the universal praise it receives. Instead, I would rather encourage those who have never seen the film to give it a chance.
If you’ve never seen Ran, don’t dismiss it as just another samurai movie. Don’t let the subtitles dissuade you either; Kurasowa’s tale is a cinematic experience that isn’t hindered by them. It’s a film wholly unlike anything we see from Hollywood today – it’s both personal and epic, the latter in a tangible sense without the use of CGI. Only a couple of composited shots feature a “special effect” – the most impressive visuals are all practical shots. Scenes are filmed with an almost unearthly eye, with a scope that will leave an impression long after the movie ends.
As an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” Kurasowa does The Bard proud by exploring themes of honor, betrayal, regret, and family loyalty against an epic backdrop. Indeed, while the film’s battle scenes are striking, the most indelible images are those featuring Tatsuya Nakadai’s face, as he registers regret in the realization that his kingdom is crumbling from his sons’ betrayal. It’s a haunting image.
Ran is one of those films that film fans must experience before they die, because every fan of film should understand and appreciate Kurosawa’s influence on cinema. Alongside The Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai, Ran stands among the director’s greatest achievements. Watch it as soon as you can.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The film has been restored with a new 4K transfer, with color correction overseen by Shoju Ueda, one of the film’s three cinematographers and the only surviving member of the group. This is important, because this new 4K restoration (available only on Digital in the United States) shows a vast color improvement over the previous high definition release.
I should note that my 4K screener for the film was online only, which itself may not provide the full scope of the quality of the transfer. Watching a film through a streaming service is still at the mercy of your internet connection. Even under the best conditions and the fastest internet speeds, some image and audio compression will occur. A physical 4K release for the film is available in international markets, so hopefully a domestic release is in the future.
Although I had to watch this screener on my laptop, without the ability to watch it on my 4K 65″ display, I found an obvious, marked improvement in the image, even with the limitations of streaming. I compared the new transfer to the previous transfer available on Blu-ray and streaming, and the improved color correction immediately stands out. The 4K transfer features more natural, slightly subdued colors, far better than the oversaturated, overly bright reds and yellows in the old transfer.
While the 4K transfer still features a significant grain presence, it offers far better detail, a vast improvement from the previous softer image seen in the Blu-ray release. Listings for the digital version of the film advertise Dolby Vision and an HDR10 transfer, but I could not confirm that with my screener.
The audio, a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix of the original Japanese audio, could not be reviewed through our online screener.
No special features are included with the digital version of the film.
Release Date: July 6, 2021
Running Time: 160 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Japanese 5.1 Dolby Audio, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Audio, English 5.1 PCM Audio
Subtitles: English Translation