Ran (1985): Akira Kurosawa’s Oscar-Winning Epic (Shakespeare)

Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 epic, Ran, retells Shakespeare’s King Lear, setting it in sixteenth-century Japan.

It was not the master’s first attempt at adapting Shakespeare. In 1957, Kurosawa’s classic film Throne of Blood similarly retold Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a medieval Japanese setting.

In Ran, Kurosawa again uses the history of the past to comment on the present state of things. He also did this in Throne of Blood, Yojimbo and other films. Kurosawa once expressed his feeling that “If you look at the situation of the world around you, I think it’s impossible in this day and age to be optimistic.” The darkness and violence of Ran reflect his pessimistic outlook.

Kurosawa has also stated, “All the technological progresses of these last years has only taught human beings how to kill more of each other faster. It’s very difficult for me to retain a sanguine outlook on life under such circumstances.” Thus Kurosawa chose the civil wars of sixteenth-century Japan as the setting for Ran so that he could criticize today’s technological progresses and wars.

Ran was a very difficult movie for Kurosawa to execute, and the film was almost never made. He had wanted to make the film for a long time, but no company would back the project. Especially the Japanese studios were reluctant to support such an expensive Kurosawa film. Finally, Kurosawa had to get foreign financing, from France, to be able to make Ran.

Since completing Ran, Kurosawa has finished two more films: Dreams, consisting of eight dream episodes from Kurosawa’s own most memorable dreams, and the recent Rhapsody in August.

Originally a painter, Kurosawa entered the film business at age 26 to support his parents after both his brothers died. He is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest directors of our age. His films include Rashomon (1951), Ikiru (1952), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), and Dersu Uzala (1975).

Oscar Nominations: 4

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Cinematography; Takao Saito, Masaharu Udeo, Asakazu Nakai

Costume Design: Emi Wada

Art Direction-Set Decoration; Yoshiro Muraki, Shinobu Muraki

Oscar Awards: 1

Costume design

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Directing Oscar was Sydney Pollack for “Out of Africa,” which also received the Cinematography Oscar (David Watkin) and Art Direction (Stephen Grimes and Josie MacAvin).

In 1989, Kurosawa received an Honorary Oscar “for accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world.”