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Ran

Year: 1985
Production Co: Greenwich Film Production
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writer: Akira Kurosawa/Hideo Oguni/Masato Ide/William Shakespeare

Sometimes a style just doesn't agree with you. Knowing what a classic Seven Samurai was and what a long shadow it cast over cinema history – even how its legacy helped shape the movies I grew up on thanks to the fandom of the 80s-era directors like Lucas and Spielberg – I felt a bit like an unsophisticated philistine because I got so little out of it.

But after watching this film and feeling the same way, as well as keeping in mind the way I respond to a lot of Asian movies that reference this type of delivery, I've come to the conclusion that the dramatic school Kurosawa (and plenty of others) came from just isn't my cup of tea.

I don't know if it's because Japanese cinema came from the traditions of kabuki theatre or some similar influence, but there are two essential elements to the aesthetic I just have no patience with.

The first is how everything (from the camerawork to the delivery of dialogue) is so stiffly formal and constructed, every camera angle and line of delivery constrained and precise like a chess move, and the second is how anything with any dramatic heat is thrown right to the back stalls.

It's most plain in the way Toshiro Mifune apparently played every character he ever had (including his signature role in Seven Samurai), screwing his face up and screeching his lines like his balls were being squeezed in a vice at every moment.

It all just rubs me the wrong way, and it's up to me to have peace with that instead of thinking I'm an idiot or have no taste because I don't love this dramatic school as much as other cineastes.

Anyway, if you don't know, it's Akira Kurosawa's version of King Lear in feudal era Japan. An elderly warlord is nearing the end of his career so he sets himself the task of deciding which of his sons he'll hand his empire to to run in his name. But as soon as he carves it all up the way he thinks they'll best handle it, all three brothers fall into a morass of double crosses, scheming and outright war to grasp for power.

It's all shot in some stunning locations, from a grassy mountain range in a Japanese national park to some medieval-era castle keeps, and because it's made up almost entirely of long or medium shots the movie services the staging, battle choreography and cinematography beautifully.

It's just that if you're not a Shakespeare aficionado you probably won't get too much out of the story either, and together with the paradoxical delivery that's both stoic and hysterical, there's not much enjoyment to be had apart from looking at it.

Like Ed Wood, Kurosawa was a little ahead of his time, which was a shame. Along with most of the world I was watching Beverly Hills Cop and Back to the Future at the time – he didn't have many fans around apart from Spielberg, Lucas and their contemporaries. But in today's far more cineliterate world he would have had a much bigger following (I can see a #ReleaseTheKurosawaCut in another universe).

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