Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Theatrical Release Year: 1985
US Blu-ray Release Date: February 16, 2010
Running Time: 162 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Japanese), DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (Japanese, English, French, German, Castilian Spanish, Italian)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Castilian Spanish, Italian, Spanish, Nederlands, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish
Movie: 4.5 out of 5
When one mentions Japanese Cinema, three things often come to mind: Godzilla (and the many often silly monster movies that followed), anime (including the films of Miyazaki and Oshii), and Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa is, perhaps, the most well-known live-action director from Japan, and has influenced many prominent American filmmakers, most notably George Lucas (R2-D2 and C-3P0 were inspired by characters from Hidden Fortress), Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, and Sidney Lumet. When Kurosawa had difficulty obtaining financing for his films later in his career, many of these directors came to his rescue. Lucas and Coppola were executive producers on Kagemusha, and Spielberg served as executive producer and Scorsese appeared as Van Gogh in Dreams. Ran was Kurosawa's most expensive and ambitious film, and ultimately became a French-Japanese co-production after receiving financing from France-based producer Serge Silberman.
As Ran opens, Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) relinquishes his throne and divides the kingdom among his three sons, Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryû), expecting to live the rest of his life in retirement but remain in power, if only by name. When Saburo speaks his mind and tells his father that this will likely end in tragedy, he and his servant Tango (Masayuki Yui) are banished. Hidetora later finds himself banished by his sons following power plays by Taro and Jiro. The plot is loosely based on Shakespeare's King Lear, and, obviously, ends in tragedy after some visually stunning action set pieces,most notably the taking of the Third Castle approximately one hour into the film. The sequence is visually stunning, almost devoid of dialogue and sound effects, with only a haunting musical underscore, reminding me of some of the best epics made during the silent era.
Ran is not a film for everyone. It is often brutally violent and graphic, while at the same time beautifully photographed. It is a must-see for any film student and anyone who appreciates world cinema.
Video: 4 out of 5
Ran is one of three films debuting under the Studio Canal Collection moniker (The Lady Killers and Contempt are the other two), also marking the debut of these films on Blu-ray. Lionsgate is handling distribution of these titles here in the United States.
The 1080p transfer in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, using the VC-1 codec, is quite impressive for a film made in the mid-80s. Colors are vibrant and well-saturated without bleeding, especially the reds which have always been problematic in standard definition NTSC. Blacks are deep, as well. Film grain is visible, although sometimes inconsistent (likely due to varying film stocks and changes in light levels), but never overly distracting. This is probably the best Ran has ever looked at home, and possibly the best it has looked since its initial 70mm theatrical engagements 25 years ago.
Audio: 4 out of 5
Studio Canal has provided all of the audio options in DTS-HD Master Audio. The Japanese 5.1 mix is the one to listen to, which exhibits exceptional fidelity, clear dialogue (although I do not speak Japanese), and the music and sound effects fill the room nicely, This is a good representation of the 70mm theatrical mix.
The English 2.0 track should be avoided, as the dialogue sounds very obviously recorded in a studio, and utilized mostly actors with British accents, which just sounded odd. It is not a bad mix, since the music and effects track are blended nicely with the English dialogue, its just that the dialogue sounds too sterile compared to the original Japanese tracks.
Special Features: 3.5 out of 5
There are some interesting featurettes provided in standard definition, but all were produced for French or Japanese audiences.
A.K. (1:11:32): This is an exhaustive and intimate look at the master at work. The documentary allows us to eavesdrop on a rehearsal, as well as see some scenes being prepared and filmed. It is presented in 16:9 widescreen with French narration and English subtitles.
Akira Kurosawa: The Epic and the Intimate (41:49): This is a more typical documentary often produced for catalog titles, featuring interviews with Kurosawa's collaborators on Ran and later films, as well as film correspondent Bertrand Raison. It is presented in 16:9 widescreen with French dialogue and English subtitles.
The Samurai (52:47): A History Channel style of documentary on the history of the samurai warriors. Although originally produced for a French audience, an English narration is provided. Video is in 4:3 standard definition.
Art of the Samurai (41:11): Japanese warfare expert Jean-Christophe Charbonnier discusses the culture of the samurai and the various armor and weaponry used in Ran. Video is in 16:9 widescreen.
Trailer (2:00): The French theatrical trailer is presented in 16:9 widescreen.
BD-Live: At press time (the day after street date), the BD-Live features were not yet activated.
Overall: 4 out of 5
There have been some grumblings around the internet regarding Ran, along with some other titles, having to move from the Criterion Collection now that the titles were acquired by Studio Canal, but I think this disc is a worthy and impressive debut for the Studio Canal Collection label. The film has never looked or sounded better in a home environment, and the features are quite interesting.