Ran (1985)




Director:    Akira Kurosawa

Starring:    Tatsuya Nakadai (Lord Hidetora Ichimonji), Akira Terao (Taro Takatora Ichimonji), Jinpachi Nezu (Jiro Masatora Ichimonji), Daisuke Ryu (Saburo Naotora Ichimonji), Mieko Harada (Lady Kaede), Yoshiko Miyazaki (Lady Su), Hisashi Igawa (Shuri Kurogane), Peter (Kyoami), Masayuki Yui (Tango Hirayama), Kazuo Kato (Kageyu Ikoma), Norio Matsui (Shumenosuke Ogura), Toshiya Ito (Mondo Naganuma), Kenji Kodama (Samon Shirane), Takashi Watanabe, Mansai Nomura (Tsurumaru).

Shakespeare's tragic King Lear is set in sixteenth-century Japan, with its feudalism and samurai.  The film is one of the darkest by the famed director Akira Kurosawa.  (Before filming began, his wife died, which probably contributed to his mood.)




Spoiler Warning:

Old man Lord Hidetora Ichimonji is on a boar hunt with his three sons (Jiro, Saburo and Taro) and his rival Lords, Ayabe and Fujimaki.   Lord Hidetora actually makes the kill of the boar, but the animal is too old and tough to eat.  Both of the rivals want their daughters to marry Saburo.  Kyoami (who plays the role of the fool for Lord Hidetora) entertains the group of hunters.  Lord Hidetora is very tired and the Great Lord falls asleep.  The others start to leave.  But suddenly Lord Hidetora awakens and comes bursting out from under the bunting and runs into Kyoami knocking him down. 

At seventeen years of age, Lord Hidetora flew his banner.  He waged war for some fifty years.  He is now age seventy.   The Great Lord's favorite son is Saburo, but at the hunt, he cedes total control over all the lands of his domain to his son Taro.  Saburo is especially upset. He says that this act splits the unity of the three brothers.  Father says to Saburo:   "You are a stranger to me."  The adviser Tango tries to intervene without success.  Lord Hidetora says that he spoiled Saburo.  Tango asks the Great Lord to revoke his "rash decision".   This just angers Hidetora more and he banishes both Saburo and Tango.  The two men banished ride away.  They see that there are being followed and try to make a get-away.  They, however, get cornered when they reach the edge of a steep downhill slope.  But when the followers catch up to them, they find that it is just Lord Fujimaki.  He tells Saburo that he likes his outspokenness and still wants his daughter to marry him.  Furthermore, Fujimaki asks Saburo to stay with him while the young man thinks over the matter.  Tango can come too, but Tango rejects the offer.  He believes that his place is with the Great Lord. 

Lord Hidetora's concubines are moving out of his castle.  Their way is blocked by Taro's wife Lady Kaede and her retinue and the concubines have to yield to her.  This makes the Great Lord very angry:  "My women kneeling to Taro's wife.  Intolerable!"  One of the advisers asks the Great Lord "why".  After all, he himself gave the castle to his son Taro. 

Lady Kaede and Taro talk.  She is upset that he gave away the banner of his father.  He must make sure that everyone knows he is in change:  "Behave as if you are" in command.  She wants the banner back.  A fight breaks out between Taro's and Hidetora's men. 

The fool clowns around indicating that Taro is very indecisive.  One of Taro's men approaches the fool to kill him, but from the tower Hidetora connects with an arrow in the man's back.  The fool then repeats his performance for his master.  Taro prepares a celebration for his father and dad's key adviser Lord Ikoma is invited.  But Hidetora does not like this.  He tells his son:  "I retain my title and my status!"  The son agrees.  But Taro tells his father that he is offended by the song sung by the fool because the song makes fun of him.  And, dad killed one of his guards:  "I cannot allow that."   He says he will overlook it this one time, but that dad has to sign a pledge not to do it again.  This offends the Great Lord who says:  "This is nonsense!"   But Lord Hidetora does sign the pledge.  He complains that Tora's wife is behind all this and that he will not stay in the castle.  He will stay with another of his sons.  There is bad blood between the Great Lord and  Lady Kaede.  Hidetora killed her father and brothers and then her mother committed suicide.  When she learns of her father-in-law signing the pledge, she says:  "How I have longed for this day."  Lady Kaede then complains that her husband is a weakling. 

Son Jiro says to his advisers that it is unfair that he has to grovel to his brother Taro.  One of the advisers says that Lady Kaede is tough and suggests that they steal her from her husband.  The idea is rejected.  Jiro is also concerned that his dad is coming to live with him and is bringing along his thirty expert warriors.  Jiro thinks they will prove unmanageable. 

The Great Lord arrives with his retinue.  Hidetora tells everyone that first he will seek out Sue, Jiro's wife, to speak with her.  Sue, like Lady Kaede, has a good reason to be angry at Hidetora.  He killed her mother and father and burned down her castle.  Hidetora speaks with her and remarks that she still has that "same sad face".   He commands her to hate him.   But Sue is a devout Buddhist and says she cannot.  Jiro arrives and speaks with his father.  He rats on Taro for causing difficulties in the family.  But he still tells his father:  "I cannot keep your warriors within the castle."  This starts a rift between father and Jiro.  Sounds of fighting are heard.  Jiro's men are pushing the thirty man escort out of the castle.  Seeing this, Hidetora says to Jiro:  "You're just like Taro.  You want to be rid of me."   The Great Lord leaves saying that he will not see his son again.  And now he has no relationship with his sons. 

The Great Lord looks very miserable.  He and his men are more or less stranded.  And the peasants took all the food in the area and fled to the mountains. 

Taro decides to take over the third castle, that of Saburo.  The forces of Taro march on the castle and demand that the main gate be opened.  Because Saburo is not at the castle, but with Lord Fujimaki, his samurai willingly leave the castle.  They say they will join Saburo at Fujimaki's castle. 

Tango shows up at the Great Lord's camp.   With him he brings some food.  He says:  "Though banished, I am your loyal vassal."  Adviser Ikoma says that samurai don't take charity from peasants.  The feeling is that the peasants are becoming to uppity.  Hidetora tells his men:  "Burn their villages."   Tango pleads with Hidetora not to blame the peasants.  They ran because of Taro's decree banishing the Great Lord.  Anyone who helps Hidetora will die.  The Great Lord is shocked. He feels he has been rejected by his children and has no place to go.  Tango urges him to go to Saburo at Fujimaki's castle.  He says that Saburo sent him to protect the Great Lord.  A messenger arrives to say that Saburo's men have left the third castle.  Ikoma pipes up with the thought that this is Fujimaki's plan to get the entire family to battle each other.  Tango denies it:  "That's a lie." 

General Ogura with Taro has the third castle, but the general has only a few troops.  An idea is to take the castle.  The fool makes fun of this idea and Hidetora knocks him down with the flat of his sword.  Hidetora marches into the castle.  The Great Lord goes to sleep but is soon wakened.  There is fighting outside.  It's a trap.  Taro's men let them take the castle.  Thousands of troops descend on the castle.  Taro takes the castle.  Hidetora takes his last stand on the tower steps where he breaks his sword in the fighting.  He has only a few warriors left.  He retires to the tower.  Here he sees two of his concubines kill each other.  Another commits ritual suicide.  The remaining six are mowed down by rifle fire when they stand in front of Hidetora to protect him.  By now the Great Lord looks like a mad man.  There is so little resistance left that Taro feels safe enough to enter the castle area.  But suddenly he is shot in the back by a rifle shot and goes down.   The news quickly goes around that Lord Taro is dead.  Jiro hears the news.  The Great Lord is in shock.  He sits in the tower with arrows constantly flying around him and rifle shots whizzing past him.  He gets up and with his mouth wide open he climbs down the stairs.  He emerges at the top of the steps and walks down without any interference.  Everyone just stares at him

Tango and the fool are riding to the castle.  Hidetori walks on the castle grounds surrounded by soldiers.  He walks out of the gate.  Lord Jiro follows him.  Hidetori walks into the fields where Tango and the fool ride over to him.  The Great Lord is in shock and now gathers bunches of wildflowers.  They see a shack in the distance and make their way over to it.  Tango knocks on the door of the place and announces that he has the Great Lord with him.  Hidetora says:  "I was attacked by my own sons."  He adds that all his men have died a useless death.  The occupant of the shack is the blind Tsurumaru, Jiro's wife Sue's brother. Tsurumaru remembers the Great Lord very well.  In exchange for his life, his eyes were gouged out by the Great Lord.  He plays the flute for his guests.  Hidetora looks as if he is climbing the walls trying to find a way out of the shack.  He suddenly knocks his way out by falling backwards through the shack walls. 

Jiro presents Taro's ponytail to his wife, Lady Kaede.  She asks where is the body of her husband.  It has been burned.  Then Lady Kaede wonders why Jiro is wearing her husband's armor.  He says it is to honor the memory of his brother, but he takes it off not to upset the wife further.   Jiro now takes over the castle.  Advisers Ikoma and Ogura are dismissed because each betrayed a master.  Jiro receives Lady Kaede.  He apologizes to her and says he is ashamed.    He also says that she must be happy to know that his father is absolutely mad.  She observes, however, that Jiro is just as pleased as she.  She then gives Taro's helmet to him.  Then suddenly she grabs Jiro and holds a long knife to his throat saying:  "You murdered your brother."  Jiro tries to blame it on his main adviser Kurogane, but Lady Kaede tells Jiro that it was he himself that gave the order.  But then she just laughs at him and says that now she will tell the truth.  The castle they are in belonged to her father.  She then kisses Jiro and licks the blood from a few small cuts on his neck from the long knife.  (Off screen they have sex.)  Afterwards she tells Jiro:  "I should be your wife.  You're mine, I shall have you."  She wants Jiro to have his wife Sue killed. 

Tango and the fool see the scorned advisers Ikoma and Ogura.  Tango rides down to the men to confront them.  He kills Ogura and then wounds Ikoma.  Before dying, Ikoma tells Tango: "Jiro killed Taro."  And the Great Lord was saved only because of his madness.  Then the former adviser dies. Tango decides to go see Saburo. 

Kurogane is given the task of assassinating Sue.  He objects to Jiro saying that the leader is led around by the nose by Lady Kaede.  Then he refuses to kill his master's wife.  Lady Kaede appears and tells him that she wants Kurogane to salt Sue's head so they can see her face after her decapitation.  After a scene where the fool starts to leave the Great Lord, but then decides to stay with him, the next scene shows the return of Kurogane.  He has presumably a head in the package he carries.  Lady Kaede opens the package only to find a pottery fixture of a fox's head.  She is furious at the man's disobedience.  Kurogane tells Jiro to watch out!  Many women are foxes and are very treacherous.  Lady Kaede tells Jiro that she will not see him again until she has Sue's head.  Meanwhile Sue gets her brother Tsurumaru and goes to the old ruins of their father's castle. 

Saburo with his troops crosses the river to find the Great Lord.  Fujimaki and his men are at the border.  Lady Kaede tells Jiro that he is a weakling.  He should tell his brother Saburo that he will see dad, but send out assassins to kill the Great Lord.  Meanwhile, Hidetora jumps from a small cliff.  Then he sees Sue and her brother.  Back in Jiro's castle, news arrives that Lord Ayabe and his men are also on the move.  Sue wants to return to her brother's shack to get his flute, but Tsurumaru wants them to continue on.  He does not want to be left alone.  A woman goes back to the shack to get the flute. 

The fool Kyoami searches for the Great Lord.  He seems to have disappeared.  Saburo arrives and demands to know where is his father.  The fool says that he last saw him on the Azusa Plain.  They leave to go the the plain.  Jiro is also heading to the Azusa Plain with his men.  He tells his men that the killer of Saburo will receive a great reward.  Saburo is warned that enemy gunners are coming.  Saburo's general tells his men to take up defensive positions in the woods by the open plains.  Saburo finds his father.  He says:  "Father, don't you know me?"  Dad answers:  "I had three sons.  Are you one of them?"   Yes, it's Saburo.  Dad is happy at first, but then ashamed and scared.  He says:  "I have no face to show you."  He then asks to be given some poison.  Saburo assures his father that he does not hate him.  Hidetora says:  "Sweet lies."  Saburo ignores this and says that father can come live with him.  Dad asks his son to forgive him. 

Jiro has a great many soldiers and cavalry.  He attacks, but his men are as sitting ducks being easily killed by rifle fire as they cross the open plain.  They take so many casualties that the troops start to head back.  At this moment Saburo's general launches a counter attack.  They start chasing the fleeing enemy, but when Jiro's troops are forced to stop running by the officers, Saburo's men have to pull back.  Jiro's troops attack again with the same result.  Meanwhile Lord Ayabe marches on the first castle.  Jiro finally realizes that Fujimaki's troops on the nearby hill are a decoy.  Jiro tells his troops to pull back.  As more of his men are killed, Saburo's troops begin again to counter charge.  Jiro's troops are routed.  Fujimaki's troops on the hill give two big cheers for Jiro's defeat. 

The atmosphere suddenly changes as one of Jiro's assassins is able to shoot Saburo.  Saburo dies.  His father leans over his body and talks to his son.  The father suddenly drops dead atop of Saburo.  The fool starts to blame God for this terrible turn of events.  But another man tells him not to blame God.  This is the work of man and even God cannot save us. 

Jiro's men rush into their castle with Ayabe's men right behind them.  An assassin brings back the head of Sue.  This terrible route for Jiro is actually welcomed by Lady Kaede.  Kurogane approaches her and she finally tells the real truth.  She wanted revenge on the Great Lord and his sons and now she has finally got it.  Above all, she wanted to avenge her family.  Kurogane responds by cutting off the head of Lady Kaede with his sword.  Lord Ayabe's troops pour into the castle. 

Saburo's troops take the bodies of Saburo and the Great Lord back to the third castle. 

Sue's brother is still alive.  He stands at the edge of a cliff. 


This 27th film of Akira Kurosawa is very good.  In creating his great domain, the Great Lord used great cruelty to obtain his objectives.  He thereby created many powerful enemies among his subjects.  Two of these enemies were members of his own family for he had killed the fathers, mothers and brothers of Lady Kaede (the wife of the Great Lord's son Taro) and Sue (the wife of son Jiro).  Dad also ends up alienating his own sons from him.  The great hero makes a great tragedy because of his flaws of cruelty, pride and overweening ambition.  Tatsuya Nakadai playing the role of Lord Hidetora Ichimonji is great.  He really looks like a corrupted man who becomes a bit mad because of his own flaws.  And he really does look the crazy man toward the end.  Another great performance was by Mieko Harada as the revengeful Lady Kaede.  The great cruelty in the movie gives a glimpse into what the Japanese would do to civilians and prisoners of war in World War II. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:



Muromachi period, 1336-1573: 

1467-1573 --  Sengoku period.  The Warring States period was one of constant conflict between various war lords.  

1497 -- Mori Motonari (1497-1571) of the Mori clan was born as Shojumaru in a small Aki province. He became a prominent daimyo (war lord) in the west Chugoku region.

1500 -- his father, Mori Hiromoto retired as the head of the clan. He moved to Tajihi-Sarugake castle along with Motonari. Motonari's older brother Mori Okimoto succeeded him.

1506 -- Hiromoto passed away because of alcoholism. Shojumaru remained at Sarugake castle.

1511 -- Shojumaru officially becomes an adult (genpuku). He is renamed Motonari.

1516 -- Okimoto passes away. Okimoto's son Komatsumaru succeeded to the leadership of the clan, and Motonari became his overseer.

1523 -- Komatsumaru dies. He is succeeded by Motonari.

Motonari had to be careful in his actions because he was caught between the powerful Amago and Ouchi clans. Motonari succeeds in defeating both clans and comes to control the entire Chugoku area. In his late years, he crushed the Otomo clan of Bungo province.

He had three sons with his wife, Myokyu: Mori Takamoto, Kikkawa Motoharu, and Kobayakawa Takakage. His dream was that the three brothers would work together for the betterment of the Mori clan. Motonari had a total of nine sons and two daughters: the three sons and a daughter by Myokyu; three with a woman from the Nomi clan; and four with a woman from the Miyoshi clan.

1523 -- birth of Motonari's son Mori Takamoto (1523-1563). He became a daimyo of Aki Province.

1530 -- birth of Motonari's son Kikkawa Motoharu (1530-1586). Motoharu was adopted by Kikkawa Okitsune into the Kikkawa clan.

1533 -- birth of Motonari's son Kobayakawa Takakage (1533-1597). Takakage was a samurai retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was adopted by the head of the Kobayakawa clan.

1537 -- at age14, Takamoto is sent to Suo province as a hostage of Ouchi Yoshitaka. This was done to ensure his father's loyalties to Ouchi.

1540 -- Takamoto is allowed to return home.

1543 -- Takamoto is sent to the Mori castle of Yoshida Koriyama.

1545 -- death of Takakage's adoptive father. Takakage becomes head of the Kobayakawa clan. As head he expanded into the Chugoku region (western Honshu). He fought for the Mori clan. In addiltion, he opposed both the great warlords Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He later swore loyalty to Hideyoshi, and was awarded domains in Iyo province on Shikoku and Chikuzen province on Kyushu. Furthermore, Takakage took part in Hideyoshi's invasions of Shikoku, Kyushu, and Korea. He adopted Kobayakawa Hideaki, and named him the clan successor.

c. 1550 -- Kikkawa Motoharu became head of the family.

1555 -- Sue Harukata, one of Ouchi's vassals, stages a coup and forces Ouchi Yoshitaka to commit suicide. He was then attacked and defeated by Mori Takamoto and his father in the battle of Miyajima. The Mori, defeating the Sue/Ouchi forces, rose to power in the Chugoku region (the western area of Honshu). They remained a powerful and influential faction for much of the rest of the 16th century.

1557 -- Motonari retires. Takamoto inherits formal leadership of the family, but father Motonari continued to wield actual control over the clan's affairs.

1563 -- Motonari's eldest son, Mori Takamoto, dies suddenly of a disease, while going to attack the Amago clan. Some thought he was poisoned. His father orders all those responsible to be punished.

1566 -- Motoharu claimed Izumo province after defeating its lords, the Amako clan. Motoharu also fought against the Oda, as in the Siege of Takamatsu.

Azuchi-Momoyama period, 1568 to 1603:

1570 -- Takamoto and Motoharu participated together in the battle of Nunobeyama.

1571 -- death of Mori Motonari.

1582 -- Oda Nobunaga's death. Now Motoharu fights under Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

1586 -- death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Motoharu was succeeded as head of the Kikkawa clan by one of his sons, Hiroie

1586 -- death of Motonari's son Kikkawa Motoharu.

1597 -- death of Motonari's son Kobayakawa Takakage.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)