Samurai King Lear
Kurosawa’s last epic – and arguably one of the finest films of his career – turned once again to Shakespeare to reimagine one of the Bard’s least appreciated works, the tragedy of King Lear.When a powerful, once-brutal warlord has a portentous dream about how old he is getting, he elects to leave his throne to his two most reckless, disloyal sons, who soon proceed to engineer the retired warlord’s own exile, all the while bringing the kingdom to the brink of war. Majestically reimagining Lear into the structure of feudal Japan was a stroke of genius, but it was not an easy endeavour.Kurosawa, despite being some forty years into his illustrious career as a filmmaker, was still struggling to find backing to make such an epic piece, looking overseas (as he had with his last film, the equally magnificent Kagemusha) and resulting in a co-French production which – for political reasons – cost Ran a Best International Feature Oscar nomination.
To this day, though, it remains one of Kurosawa’s greatest endeavours, which is pretty impressive praise, given some of the greats he’s come up with: from popular Samural-Westerns (Yojimbo, Sanjuro and Seven Samurai) to noirish thrillers (Stray Dog, High and Low, and The Bad Sleep Well) to reimagined Shakespeare (Throne of Blood and The Bad Sleep Well) to more politically inspired masterworks (Red Beard and Kagemusha).
His films have proven inspiration for countless future gems (most obviously The Hidden Fortress, which inspired Star Wars).
Lear was a fitting final epic to embark upon, with Kurosawa working his magic to bring the vibrant characters to life (reuniting with his Kagemusha lead, Tatsuya Nakadai, who provides the backbone to the piece), perfectly framing the lush Japanese landscapes and skilfully delivering equal parts quiet brooding intensity and jaw-dropping epic battle sequences, all cut to a moving, memorable score. It's pure genius, an all-time masterpiece from one of the greatest directors who ever lived and whether or not you've discovered his work yet, you should push this to the top of your must-watch list.
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