Ran: Collector's 2 Disc Edition (1985)

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Released 15-Sep-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Making Of-AK
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 155:36
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:28)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Akira Kurosawa
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai
Akira Terao
Jinpachi Nezu
Daisuke Ryu
Mieko Harada
Yoshiko Miyazaki
Hisashi Igawa
Peter
Masayuki Yui
Kazuo Kato
Norio Matsui
Toshiya Ito
Kenji Kodama
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music Tru Takemitsu


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
German
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

The ageing warlord Lord Hidetora Ichimonji has reached the age of seventy. After a boar hunt with neighbouring lords Ayabe and Fujimaki and his three sons, he decides that he wants to abdicate, handing over the reins to his eldest son Taro ("eldest son" in Japanese), and live out his remaining years in peace. He gives Taro the main castle, known as First Castle, and his other sons Jiro ("second son") and Saburo ("third son") the Second and Third Castles respectively. Saburo argues against this and accuses his father of being foolish. Hidetora banishes him and his loyal retainer Tango, who also argues against Hidetora's plan.

Soon after his abdication, Taro, urged on by his wife Lady Kaeda, treats his father with less deference than Hidetora expects. Hidetora promptly leaves the castle with his bodyguards and his jester Kyoami, heading for the Second Castle. There Jiro prevents him from entering with his guards, saying that Taro has decreed that Hidetora can only enter the castle alone. Hidetora refuses, and whilst in the wilderness learns that Jiro has decreed his banishment. After entering the vacated Third Castle, Hidetora and his men are ambushed by the combined forces of Taro and Jiro. Hidetora's men are slaughtered, the castle is burned down and the old man is driven mad, wandering out into the wilderness.

Ran is set in the Sengoku period, a time of civil wars in Japan that preceded the Shogunate. The era was characterised by much unrest and lack of stability over the period of a century, hence the title of the film which means "chaos". It is generally stated that this film is an adaptation of King Lear, but it did not start out that way. There is a famous story of 16th Century warlord Motonari Mori, whose sons were revered for their loyalty. In order to demonstrate what would happen if personal ambition overrode filial piety, he gave each son an arrow and asked him to break it. He then gave each son a bundle of three arrows and asked them to break this also, demonstrating how much harder it is to break when all three are bonded together. Kurosawa wanted to turn this story on its head, showing that three ambitious sons cannot be trusted. He uses this incident with variations at the beginning of the film. Kurosawa began the script in 1976, completing a first draft in 1978. At some point in this process, either he or his collaborators realised the parallels with Lear, and so the final version freely adapts incidents and plotlines from Shakespeare to flesh out the story, but it differs significantly from the play.

Hidetora is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, who has been quaintly described as the "Laurence Olivier of Japanese Cinema". He made a number of films for Kurosawa, starting with a tiny bit in Seven Samurai, through to larger roles in Yojimbo, Sanjuro and High and Low. He did not work with Kurosawa after the last of these until he was called in to replace Zatoichi star Shintaro Katsu in the leading role of Kagemusha after Katsu was sacked on the first day of filming. At this time he was in his early fifties, and his makeup initially is designed to make him look older. Later it becomes less natural, until at the end it looks much like a mask. In fact, the intention was to mimic masks of the Noh theatre, which is more obvious in the white face and eyebrows placed high on the forehead on Lady Kaede. Kurosawa had used the imagery of Noh in several of his films, notably Throne of Blood.

Mieko Harada's is the other standout performance as the Lady Kaede, whose family was slaughtered by her father-in-law and her ancestral home occupied. She is quite chilling as a manipulative and ruthless woman, and the scene in which she seduces Jiro is electric. Androgynous Japanese popstar Peter plays Kyoami in a brilliant bit of casting, making the fool who comments on the action in riddles believable.

The film was produced by the French producer Serge Silberman after Kurosawa failed to attract funding from local studios, and this is one reason why the opening credits are in Japanese and French (the other being that the material is sourced from Studio Canal). By all accounts the production was relatively smooth despite numerous weather delays. But during the first six weeks of 1985 Kurosawa suffered three tragedies. His longtime swordplay choreographer Ryu Kuze and sound man Fumio Yanoguchi, who had worked with him since the 1940s, died within a few days of each other. Both had started on the film but were forced to leave due to ill-health. Then Kurosawa's wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and she died in early February. He responded by immersing himself more in the production of the film, and the final product seems far more personal than his previous film Kagemusha. The final shots are quite memorable, with the blind Tsurumaru stranded atop the battlements of the ruined castle and outlined against the sky. The film was shot on the slopes of Mount Fuji, but the snow-capped peak of this famous and sacred mountain is not seen in the film.

This is an astounding epic film, with plenty of action and yet much subtlety that becomes apparent on repeated viewings. And the film is beautiful to look at as well, with superb cinematography. A must-see.

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Transfer Quality

Video

The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

The transfer is quite sharp and clear, with a good amount of detail visible. I felt that some of the details were not so clear, such as the blades of long grass that appear in the foreground and background in the early scenes, but generally this is a fine transfer. Contrast is good, and shadow detail is also more than acceptable.

Colours are bright and vivid with no hint of excessive saturation. Some of the darker browns, particularly in the indoor scenes, are quite grainy. Black levels are good, and whites are quite pure.

For a film which features several scenes in which horses fly quickly past the camera in chaotic scenes, there seems to be nothing in the way of motion artefacts. I could not see any blockiness at all. There is some very mild aliasing in a few scenes, but I could not imagine anyone being seriously disturbed by this. Most noticeable is edge enhancement, which in the frequent scenes in which characters and objects are seen against the sky is visible as a thin halo, especially if the characters or objects are dark in colour.

Apart from a few scenes noted above where grain is significant, overall the level of grain is pleasing. I did not notice any film artefacts, apart from some tiny white spots from time to time.

English subtitles are provided. These are not burned-in, but are not removable either, which may be an issue for Japanese speakers who do not need them. I found the subtitles to be quite clear and are timed well with the dialogue. There are alternative subtitles in German and Dutch, but these can only be accessed from the language selection menu on start-up.

The disc with the feature is RSDL-formatted with the layer change positioned at 74:28 at a cut, and is barely disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

There are three audio tracks provided. The default is Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, with an alternative English Dolby Digital 2.0 track. I listened only to the default track. Note that the audio track cannot be changed mid-film. It is necessary to go to the audio selection menu to change the audio. To listen to the German audio, it is necessary to select German on start-up.

The film was originally released in stereo, so we do not have the original soundtrack here. That being said, this is a pretty good realisation of a surround track. Most of the sound is directed to the front speakers. The rears are used at a very low level most of the time, only being noticeable during music and when the howling wind blows across the wilderness. The subwoofer gets quite a workout with the frequent use of drums used in the music score, during the battle sequences and when the heavy creaking castle gates are opened and closed. It also seemed to make some noises that did not relate to the on-screen action, like some low thumps during the windy sequences, which seemed out of proportion to the rest of the sound image.

The audio is clear and distinct, with no noticeable harshness or distortion. The dynamic range seems a little compressed, with the quietest passages being audible even when the sound level is kept low. The sound of the drums is full and deep, and the shakuhachi sounds very realistic as well.

The music score is by Toru Takemitsu, famed as a composer outside of films, and who contributed memorable scores to several Kurosawa films. This one is no exception. Much of the score is traditional, using flutes and those wooden blocks that the Japanese like to bang together. I think these are called hyoshigi. Takemitsu's score is memorably used in the attack on Third Castle, with only the music commenting on the action, the rest of the soundtrack being mute until (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Taro is shot.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

The two major extras are included on a second single-layered disc. Note that the default language on the language selection menu is German, not English., thus requiring an extra click on the selection button on your remote.

Main Menu Introduction, Audio and Animation

The main menu has some of the shakuhachi music from the film, and some very cheesy animation that I found quite annoying. The scene selection menus also show footage from each scene rather than still pictures.

Theatrical Trailer (1:54)

The original French trailer presented in 16x9 enhanced widescreen. The trailer is in good condition, and has only images and music from the film, no dialogue.

Documentary - A. K. (71:13)

This is a film from the French director Chris Marker on the making of the film. This is a poetic essay from the point of view of someone observing a few days of the shooting, not a traditional "making of" film in that it is not a puff piece nor does it have interviews with any of those involved (although Kurosawa can be heard briefly from an audio interview). There is nothing especially deep here, but it is enjoyable in its way and does give some insight into the creative process of the director, and has film of one sequence which was not included in the final cut. The film has an narration in American-accented English with the Japanese dialogue having non-removable subtitles. It is presented in 1.66:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. Unfortunately, there is a lot of sibilance on the audio track. Music comes from a string quartet by Toru Takemitsu.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

There are a number of releases of this film available worldwide.

The first US Region 1 release was from Fox Lorber, and has been roundly condemned as a poor transfer, with burned-in subtitles. This edition featured the US release trailer as an extra.

The second US Region 1 release is from Wellspring, initially released as part of a 3 disc set of Kurosawa films but now available separately as well. It featured the following not included in the new Region 4 edition:

This release had a superior transfer of the film to the Fox Lorber release.

There is a Russian release from Twister Digital Video that has a better video transfer than the Wellspring, but does not have English subtitles. This also included a trailer and biographies. The audio is Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, with an optional audio track which is the same but with Russian voice over.

There is an out-of-print all regions release from Hong Kong. With mono sound and a lack of 16x9 enhancement, and about six minutes of cuts, I cannot imagine this would have been any good.

The French Region release apparently has the same transfer as the Region 4, but with a choice of stereo or surround Japanese audio, plus the same in French. Optional subtitles are provided, but only in French. The extras on this release include the Marker documentary, plus

The documentary Kurosawa is scheduled for a 2004 release in Region 4. The extras on the French release have no subtitles.

The UK Region 2 release from Warner reportedly has a transfer superior to the Twister release. I have this release and I can say that I have never seen the film look better, until I saw the Region 4 which appears to have the same transfer. There are some differences, however. The subtitle translation seems to be almost identical, except that in a couple of places on the Region 2 there are grammatical errors. The font used is different and larger than the Region 4, but the latter is no less readable, and the Region 2 is also non-removable. The Region 2 features a static menu, and the sole audio option is the original stereo mix, which is just as fine as the Region 4 surround mix. The second disc contains the same Marker documentary as the Region 4, except that it is in 1.33:1. It shows less of the image than the Region 4 equivalent, and appears to be from a video master. The video quality is noticeably poorer than the Region 4, which looks to have been taken from original film elements. The subtitles on the documentary are quite different and there are subtle differences in the meaning as a result. For example, on the Region 2 the director tells a mounted vassal to speak with less shrillness as it makes him less authoritative. The Region 2 has him saying to speak with a deeper voice as it gives him more presence.

The Region 2 does not have the trailer, which is only a minor difference in my opinion, but given the comparative quality of the transfer of the documentary extra, and the absence of the minor problems with the subtitles, the balance is tipped slightly in favour of the Region 4. The only drawback to the Region 4 is that the original audio mix is not offered as an alternative.

Summary

A superb film in a release that is worth owning.

The video quality is excellent.

The audio quality is excellent.

The extras are good, but a commentary would have been nice.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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