This may require a small previous understanding of the plot of King Lear to understand.
Ran, by Akira Kurosawa, is based on the plot of Shakespeare’s 16th
Century play King Lear. The aim of this report is to compare and
contrast the two films, and show how the differences changed the film. It will
also comment on how a previous knowledge of King Lear aided in
understanding Ran and on the effectiveness of Ran, notably in
comparison to King Lear.
The main plotline behind Ran and King Lear are identical.
Besides the adapted, parallel characters in Ran – such as Hidetora,
adapted from Lear – there are also very many plot and them similarities. In
each film a leader of a nation decides to split his kingdom between his three
children. In both stories the youngest child points out their father’s fault;
in each they are banished for doing so.
In King Lear their act of Regan and Goneril going against the own father shows the potential of woman to be evil. This is also shown in Ran with Kaede manipulating Giro, after Taro’s death, to her own ends. “The hen pecks the cock
and makes him grow.” Kaede’s malevolence in Ran is born from her
mistreatment by Hidetora, in the same manner Regan and Goneril are bitter due
to their treatment by Lear – due to his fault of loving one daughter more. This
is not a characteristic Hidetora shows, but all of his other flaws are borrowed
from Lear’s. Most importantly, he cannot accept criticism. Just as Lear
banishes Kent and Cordelia in King Lear, so does Hidetora to Tango and
Saburu. Giving away his power, but attempting to retain the title of Great Lord, is absurd. As Lear says, “Nothing will come of nothing,” No power will
come without land. No respect will come without power. Without this power we
see both King Lear and Hidetora eventually driven to madness; storms gather and
continue to intensify as the natural order of things are thrown into disarray.
This disarray is what is predicted at the beginning of King Lear and Ran
each by each the father’s children: In King Lear England is lost to France;
in Ran the house of Ichimonji lies in ruins.
The difference between the two stories, though not as apparent as the
multiple plot and character similarities, are perhaps more important to Ran’s
development. In King Lear Regan and Goneril inherit the Kingdom. Being
women, their husbands would actually control the lands, with Regan and Goneril
having no real say, other than influence. In Ran, however, Hidetora
having sons rather than daughters overcomes this. Everything that happens in
the main plot of Ran is Taro and Giro’s will alone. This will of the
children is the same in Ran as it is in King Lear: to dispose of
their now redundant father. In Ran, however, along with the decree by
Taro and Giro that anyone helping Hidetora will be killed, the difference is
that they take it a step further and physically attack him with the full force
of their armies.
This colourfully spectacular battle scene predominately – along with
other scenes with such power – aid in Ran’s plot development and help
create a much more powerful film. This film is also a lot more direct. Rather
than the verbose speeches and poetry of King Lear, we see subtlety
discarded for battle scenes and unambiguous dialogue. In this directness,
though, it would be very easy to miss the underlying themes and characters
flaws. A previous understanding of King Lear makes is possible to be
able to watch Ran and appreciate the cinematography and themes without
having to puzzle out the plot at the same time. It is also this directness that
creates a much more effective film with Ran than King Lear. It’s
ironic that a Japanese film based on an English plot is more captivating, and
at times very funny – even with subtitles, than King Lear, although, if
Lear was written today rather than during the 16th Century, it may
be as fascinating.
In conclusion, there are many similarities and differences between
Kurosawa’s Ran and William Shakespeare’s King Lear, in the plot,
characters and themes. The differences that Kurosawa introduces aid in the
development of the film to a greater degree than in King Lear. Ran
is a much more effective for this reason, and due to its innovative, impressive