Akira Kurosawa’s 27th movie, his fourth in colour (and what colour!), is his final masterpiece – a startling transposition of Shakespeare’s King Lear to 16th century Japan. Trading a king and his daughters for a lord and his sons, Ran (literally ‘Chaos’) sees Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) divide his land between three offspring (Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu) on his 70th birthday. His first error is to cede responsibility while expecting to retain power. His second is to mistake the misgivings of his youngest son, a loyal ally, for treason. Hidetora banishes him, clearing the way for the older siblings to plunge Japan into civil war.
Intimate and epic, beautiful and savage, Ran glides between astonishing action sequences (armies of thousands clashing on the slopes of Mt Fuji) and forceful drama (protagonists seething and scheming in their castles), with Kurosawa even managing to harness the turbulent weather to his characters’ tortured souls. It’s a work of magnitude in every sense, a film that surpasses the director’s own Throne Of Blood (1957) as the greatest of all Shakespeare adaptations.