SIFF is presenting revivals of Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 masterpiece “Ran” (at the Uptown) and Chris Marker’s documentary on the making of “Ran” (at the Film Center).
Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran,” a lavish variation on “King Lear” that is often called the director’s masterpiece, had its American premiere in December 1985 at the Egyptian Theatre.
It’s back, spiffed up for the digital age, at the SIFF Cinema Uptown, where a frame-by-frame restoration is playing for who knows how long (the Egyptian showed the original for a remarkable 20 weeks). The Uptown’s Sony 4K projector is presenting a 4K scan by the French laboratory Éclair, under the supervision of StudioCanal.
The transfer of the negative was supervised by one of the film’s Oscar-nominated cinematographers, Masaharu Ueda. Emi Wada’s Oscar-winning costumes, representing 16th-century fashions and 20th-century perfectionism, were handmade and expensive.
★★★★ ‘Ran,’ with Tatsuya Nakadai, Daisuke Ryu, Jinpachi Nezu. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, from a screenplay by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide, based on Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” 161 minutes. Rated R for violence. In Japanese, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
★★★ ‘A.K.,’ a documentary directed by Chris Marker. 77 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. SIFF Film Center.
Does “Ran” really need all those bells and whistles?
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At $12 million, the most expensive film ever made in Japan, it became the only movie to earn an Academy Award nomination for Kurosawa’s direction. The National Society of Film Critics selected it as the best movie of 1985.
It remains a rousing spectacle that transforms “King Lear” into a battle epic/family drama with all its Shakespearean pity and tragedy intact. Lear’s daughters have become sons; one experimental sequence is daringly drained of natural sounds; a court jester is played by a female impersonator; and somehow it all seems organic.
Behind the scenes
In addition to reviving “Ran,” SIFF is showing “A.K.,” a revealing nonfiction film about the making of “Ran,” at the Film Center. Directed by Chris Marker (who made the time-travel classic “La Jetée”), it’s not just a digest version of the main event but a series of impressions of the chaos of filmmaking.
Very little of what you see looks like the visually elegant movie Kurosawa eventually made. Ancient warriors stop to share cigarettes. They walk past vans and cars. The composer of the film’s score wanders through the sets, looking somber and nodding his head.
Linking clips from “Throne of Blood” (a variation on “Macbeth”) and “Kagemusha,” Marker demonstrates how Kurosawa uses horses and weather and sheer physical exhaustion to explore his themes.
“I’m getting my exercise on this movie,” says Kurosawa, who was in his 70s when he made “Ran.”
Kurosawa continued to work, directing several more films before he died in 1998. He was 88.