Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Ran Masterworks Edition is only available as part of a boxed set,
but is being reviewed individually.
Wellspsring has just released a fancy boxed set called the Kurosawa DVD Collection, which contains
a restored disc of Ran, together with Madadyo and a docu on the director entitled
Kurosawa. The extras are interesting, and judging by the graphics of the full set, the overall
presentation is very attractive.
But Savant didn't get the set, only a check disc of the individual Ran Masterworks Edition DVD,
an item that undoubtedly carries some interest for Kurosawa fans incensed over the previous poor
Fox Lorber Disc. So my reportage is limited to that single title.
As every fan of Akira Kurosawa knows, Ran is the director's late-career epic masterpiece, a large-scale
adaptation of King Lear. In a feudal century, Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) wishes to
retire, and tries to effect a clean transfer of his holdings, a number of castles and fiefdoms spread
across some beautiful Japanese countryside, to his heirs. Ambition and jealousy interfere, and soon
the white-haired patriarch is a helpless observer to the destruction of his clan from within. Plots
and conspiracies among his sons and their wives lead to a war which engulfs castle after castle, and
all becomes ruin. The bloody havoc is observed from a slightly formal distance, to better appreciate
the bigger pattern of iniquity and folly.
In blazing color, and with a graphic formality that sees behind the pagaentry of court protocol
and military meetings, Ran is a fascinating picture of the ultimate outcome of feudal strife. The
surface of the film is amazing - static one-shot dialogue scenes are followed by fluid coverage of
armed masses clashing - battalions of footsoldiers, riflemen, archers, cavalry. Brothers storm one another's
castles like gangsters, hiding behind feigned outrage and righteous fury. There are battles as
bloody as anything in Japanese cinema, with only Kurosawa's furious direction making sense of
buildings burning and arrows falling like rain. A static confession is suddenly interrupted by a
geyser of blood as the offender is summarily beheaded. Horrible piles of contorted bodies are
strewn like images from a Goya painting. Petite, dainty females suddenly produce knives and commit
suicide in unthinkable ways.
The always - fascinating Toru Takemitsu produces an experimental music score, with its nervous clickings
and isolated notes. During the most outrageous onslaught, the soundtrack drops to near-silence, as if
the killing were too strong to be accompanied by sound. It's so furious, we seem to hear
a track anyway, and flinch at the 'sound' of each arrow hit and sword swipe. The dirge-like music enters
slowly, and when the full battle track finally returns, it strikes with a real jolt.
Fox Lorber's earlier DVD was an ugly mess - Savant ordered it for the use of a language school,
only to be turned off by its ugly colors and lack of 16:9 formatting. The main appeal of this new release,
which will probably spur a lot of grudging purchases of the expensive full Collection, is the
improvement in Ran. A lengthy restoration demonstration proves mostly that the original transfer was a
sloppy job done from mediocre elements. The fuzzy, bleary color has congealed into a sharp image -
sometimes with a totally new color scheme - that's far more satisfying. The 1:85 anamorphic transfer
gives the brightly colored costumes real snap, and makes the smoke and fire of the battles look
great, even on a large widescreen monitor. For audio tracks, there's a thoughtful
choice of DD 5.1 and a 2.0 mono original. The lengthy movie is also given a liberal
40 chapter stops - averaging one every four minutes.
Savant sampled the commentaries by Kurosawa author Stephen Prince, and another by Peter Grilli, the
producer of the Kurosawa docu included in the full Collection. They're fine, academic
pieces. An original European trailer, and a home video promo are included as well.
With Madadayo and the docu Kurosawa of much more limited interest than Ran,
fans are justifiably resentful of Wellspring's decision to create a limited-edition $130.00 box,
and then make the new Ran exclusive to
it. Savant can't help but recommend that Kurosawa aficionados not interested in spending so much,
just wait for Wellspring to release it later on its own. Hopefully their marketers already have
such a plan in mind.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Ran Masterworks Edition rates:
Supplements: 2 Commentary tracks, Production notes, Restoration demo, Trailers
Reviewed as a check disc screener, without packaging, separate from the Kurosawa Collection
Reviewed: September 25, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2002 Glenn Erickson
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