Exploring the relation of Kurosawa’s Ran to Shakespeare’s King Lear

Par Anthony Davies
Publication en ligne le 28 janvier 2010


“Exploring the relation of Kurosawa’s Ran to Shakespeare’s King Lear”This essay sets out to explore the relationship between Shakespeare’s King Lear and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. Central to the growth of Kurosawa’s interest in the narrative and dramatic structures of Shakespeare is the conflict between authority and challenge within the family. Kurosawa sets his films Kumonosu-Djo and Ran in 16th Century Japan, a more rigidly ritualised social context than is the social frame of King Lear. Dialogue is reduced to a bare minimum in Ran, but the images with which Kurosawa projects the inner world of the characters as well as the outer world of natural space carry their own searing poignancy. Where Shakespeare’s play presents a situation which moves forward into the future, Kurosawa was convinced that the characters’ actions gain credibility if they emerge from a specifically sketched past, a difference which shifts the moral stature of the central character. There are no exact equivalents for the subsidiary King Lear characters in Ran. Rather there is frequently a distribution of character qualities among supporting, sometimes peripheral, characters. Like Shakespeare’s play, Ran  is concerned with the relationship between humankind and animal. The hunt, a central motif in King Lear, is graphically established in Ran, raising questions about the place of man in the natural order. In both Shakespeare’s play and Kurosawa’s film there emerges a view of humankind in which the likelihood of descent into catastrophic darkness is counterpoised against only a glimmer of potential insight.

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1To place Kurosawa's films in the context of his own life and upbringing is revealing because that is where he so emphatically places them himself. On the one hand there was the rigid ritualisation, the rigorous order of Japanese society, in which he grew as a child; on the other, there were scenes of chaos in the aftermath of the great earthquake of 1 September, 1923, scenes which he saw at first hand as a boy of thirteen. “Through the great earthquake,” wrote Kurosawa later, “I learnt not only of the extra-ordinary powers of nature, but of the extra-ordinary things that lie in human hearts1.” Like Shakespeare's view of the world, then, Kurosawa's vision would seem to relate the conflicts within the individual's mind and emotions to an eruption of conflict on a vast, cosmic scale.

2Akira Kurosawa made some 30 films during his life time. Three of these are generally regarded as belonging in that loose category, “Shakespeare films”. In each of the source plays traditional authority is initially vested in a king who is also a father. Kumonosu-Djo (1957) takes Shakespeare’s Macbeth as its source; The Bad Sleep Well (1960) has clear thematic resonances with Hamlet; and Ran (1985) relates the story of the old Head of the Ichimonji clan, Hidetora, and his three sons to Shakespeare’s play about King Lear and his three daughters.

3 “A case could be made,” maintains Kenneth Rothwell,

that even if Akira Kurosawa had never heard of Hamlet, Macbeth or King Lear, he would still have made movies that seem to echo them in their indeterminacy, their tantalising interplay between illusion and reality, their focus on usurped authority2.

4The conflict between authority and challenge certainly interested deeply both Shakespeare and Kurosawa. Authority figures and the unexpected questioning of the assumed power of that authority become central issues, as do conflicts that arise within that most elemental of social units, the family. Kings or feudal lords and fathers represent the authority figures who are inevitably confronted by defiance or subversion on the part of their subjects or children.

5TheBad Sleep Well, which Kurosawa made in order to expose the corrupt business practices in post-war Japan, stands apart from the other two films. It is a modern story film in which a young businessman sets out to avenge the death of his father whose murder was arranged to seem like suicide. The film’s plot is tortuous, and while there are thematic parallels with Hamlet, and there are characters in the film who reflect aspects of Ophelia, Laertes, Claudius, Horatio and Polonius, Kurosawa denied that the film was especially influenced by Shakespeare.  

6Kumonosu-Djo and Ran both engage with Kurosawa’s profound interest in the samurai culture of 16th century Japan, and it was Kumonosu-Djo  (The Castle of the Spider’s Web – or Throne of Blood as it is commonly titled in English) which attracted the critical engagement of Shakespeare scholars. With minimal dialogue the film dramatises in visual terms the deep psychological complexity within Washizu (the Macbeth character). As Macbeth’s inner strife between ambition and loyalty emerges in poetic soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play, Washizu’s conflict between ambition for power on the one hand and his obligations of allegiance to his lord on the other is represented in the film by a dense and disorienting forest through which he and his friend Miki (the Banquo figure) make repeated, increasingly frantic attempts to find a clear path.

7The enthusiasm with which the film generated critical comment from academic – as opposed to journalistic – critics threw up debate on the nature of the film’s relation to Shakespeare’s play. Those who regarded the essence of a Shakespeare play as residing in the poetic language of the dialogue have maintained that the film did not belong in the same category as films which incorporated the Shakespearean dialogue in English or in direct translation. Frank Kermode maintained that the film was “an allusion” not an adaptation, nor even a “Shakespeare film” since the dialogue was not Shakespeare’s3. Peter Brook regarded it as lying outside “the Shakespeare question4”. J. Blumenthal in a celebrated essay championed it as “a masterpiece” in its own right and applauded its liberation from “the dreaded literary media5”.

8Arguing that if play and film are regarded as occupying “entirely different spaces and cannot even be compared, much less evaluated, against one another...”, Graham Holdernesssaw Throne of Blood as “offering the possibility of meaning only in relation to Kurosawa’s other work and to Japanese culture, ideology and society6”.

9While Western traditional academic views of Shakespeare’s plays essentially as literature held their ground through the 1960s and 1970s, the defence of that position has since been overtaken by a recognition of the film’s artistic potential and its capacity for presenting to new audiences and viewers dramatic material from many sources, popular as well as classic.


10If the legitimacy of Shakespearean descent is no longer a relevant subject of debate, the question of just how and where the films might be placed in relation to Shakespeare’s plays continues to provoke rewarding discussion, most particularly of Kurosawa's two Samurai Shakespeare films. Kumonosu-Djo is structurally closer to Shakespeare's Macbeth than Ran is to King Lear, because it reflects more clearly the dramatic peaks in Macbeth. Macbeth's meeting with the witches, Duncan's arrival at Dunsinane, Macbeth's ultimate commitment to murder Duncan, Lady Macbeth's attempt to wash the blood from her hands, the movement of the wood to Dunsinane (heralded by the flying of birds into the castle) – all these turning points are clearly paralleled in the film. All propel the dramatic action of the film as they advance it in Shakespeare's play.

11As he did in Kumonosu-Djo, Kurosawa dramatises his Ran universe historically. The early influences upon him – his education in the martial arts – directed his interests in the sixteenth-century samurai tradition. In both films, the ethics and the social setting are distinctly those of a warrior culture. Shakespeare's Macbeth is a warrior and is established as such early in the play. Shakespeare's Lear, however, is not, and that is an important respect in which the character interactions and the universe of Ran are distanced from those of its Shakespearean source.

12The high points in the first half of Shakespeare's play are those terrible moments in which Lear and his daughters break their natural family ties, those harrowing confrontations between Lear and Cordelia, Lear and Goneril, Lear and Regan, inflicting wounds from which there is no thorough recovery. Lear’s language, both an indication of the violence within him, and a pointer to the displacement of human codes of behaviour by ruthless animal passions, do not all find an immediately accessible equivalent in visual terms.

13The highly ritualised society in which Kurosawa sets his drama means that the energies which surface in the individual conflicts in Shakespeare's play find their outlets in Ran with a more formal mode of dominance and submission. Lear’s parting from Goneril is dramatised through Lear’s devastating language, carrying with it a prayer for the reversal of nature’s primary urge, reproduction:

Into her womb convey sterility,

Dry up in her the organs of increase,

And from her derogate body never spring

A babe to honour her. (1.4.257- 260)

14When Lady Kaede and her husband, Taro, send for Hidetora Lady Kaede politely invites him to sit below his position of seniority. Displaying no emotion, she and her husband coldly rebuke him for the behaviour of his Fool and retinue, and make him sign a pledge conferring all power on Taro. The minimal dialogue and their reposed, dispassionate stillness in the frame contrast with Hidetora’s repressed anger at his humiliation and his sudden decision to leave the castle and move to his second son.

15Like Shakespeare's King Lear, Ran is the story of an old man of acknowledged estate, who wishes to retire and shed his responsibilities while holding on to his privileges. Early in the play, Lear invites his daughters, one by one, to declare how much they love him. The two elder daughters play his “game” and make their exaggerated claims:


Sir, I do love you more than words can wield the matter;

Dearer than eyesight, space , or liberty […],


[...] I profess

Myself an enemy to all other joys

And find I am alone felicitate in your dear highness’ love. (1.1. 55-56 and 72-76)

16Cordelia’s “I love your majesty/ According to my bond, nor more nor less” is not merely a refusal to play Lear’s “game” on the formal level, but it is received by Lear as a penetrating – in some ways, perhaps, a fatal – thrust into that area of the heart which he cannot defend: a father’s special love for a favourite daughter.

17Kurosawa presents Hidetora’s attempt to convince his three sons that unswerving family loyalty results in invincible strength in dramatic action rather than language. Hidetora hands each son an arrow and makes each break it. Then he makes each son try to break, in the same way, a tightly held bundle of arrows. The elder two play the “game” in the expected fashion, but the youngest, Saburo, reveals both the silliness of the game and the fallacy of confusing rigidity with strength by breaking the whole sheaf against his knee. As a result, like Cordelia, he forfeits his inheritance and is banished from the family realm.

18Christopher Hoile argues that the test of the three arrows

replaces the love test in King Lear, but it is not equivalent to it. It emphasizes the breaking of a bond not between the father and his sons but the bond among the sons themselves. Since primogeniture had already been established by the period Kurosawa has chosen, his Lear’s folly seems to be in dividing his kingdom and expecting harmony rather than in expecting the continued love of his children for him7.

19While these parallels demonstrate how Kurosawa sets up a visual dramatisation of what Shakespeare dramatises theatrically and verbally, there are significant character differences between the two fathers. Having been a warrior lord rather than a king, and having held his power through havoc wrought upon the victims of his lust for supremacy, Hidetora is governed by a distinctly masculine sense of what is proper ritualised behaviour on the part of his sons. Pauline Kael, coming from a different angle, sees Shakespeare's King Lear as being “about primary emotions. Lear […] stands for every abused parent figure who believed in his children's show of love for him8”.

20If she reduces the complexity of the question which Lear himself poses by implication in asserting that he is “more sinned against than sinning” (3.2.59) her view does locate the essence of the dramatic action within the perceptions — and the self-perceptions — of Lear and as being more profoundly rooted within the underlying psycho-dynamics of the family.


21The complexity of any comparison of Ran with Shakespeare’s play is advanced by two narrative shifts. One is the fusion of two sources: the story of the 16th century Japanese father, Mori Motonari, and his three sons and Shakespeare’s play. Then there is Kurosawa’s sense that the characters in the King Lear narrative have to have a past to explain their relationships within the dramatic development of the film. In an interview before the New York premiere, Kurosawa insisted that his own dissatisfaction with Shakespeare’s King Lear arose from what he saw as a character deficiency in Lear, the absence of

any reflection on his past. If he begins in a position of such great power, and then he goes mad because his daughters turn against him, there has to be a reason […] and the only reason must lie in his past behaviour. He must have been a terrible tyrant to get to where he is at the beginning of the play. And his daughters must have learned from him9.

22But there are convincing arguments on the other side. James Goodwin maintains that “A principal consequence of the film’s creation of a detailed past of misdeeds by the character is to make Hidetora not only less tragic but also less heroic than Lear10”. Janet Adelman has found much of the dramatic power of Shakespeare’s King Lear characters in their being

unlocalized in time and unencumbered by those details of personal history that might serve to alienate their concerns from our own, they seem to emerge from some unknown part of ourselves, as if in a dream11.

23Kurosawa’s insistence on giving his characters and their motivations a past does shift substantially the dramatic focus of Ran. The action as it develops is consistently rooted in the past. In King Lear, the concentration of dramatic development, commencing with the king’s urge for his daughters to endorse formally their love for him, thrusts forward into the future.

24Kurosawa has distributed attributes of Shakespeare’s King Lear characters among Hidetora’s sons and daughters-in-law as well as his servants and retainers. There is a character figure for Shakespeare's Kent and also for Lear's Fool. But there is no secondary Gloucester plot in Kurosawa's film, so the vicious vindictiveness which is brought to the Lear world by the illegitimate Edmund emerges at a less intense level in Hidetora’s second son, Jiro’s resentment of his elder brother’s priority inheritance. While Saburo (Hidetora’s youngest son) stands in for Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, some of her quality emerges also in Sue, Jiro’s wife. Most of the destructive force unleashed against Hidetora comes not directly from his sons, but from his daughter-in-law, the Lady Kaede (wife to Taro, the eldest son). Her implacable motivation arises from Hidetora’s earlier conquest of her family castle. Her devouring and manipulative attraction to Jiro in Ran parallels Regan’s passionate sexual appetite for Edmund in King Lear.

25Kurosawa has layered the conflicts on two levels so that the masculine consanguineous level of strife involves the sons – more evidently in war among themselves rather than with their father, “the realm of strife on a physical plane, of battle for earthly dominion12”.

26The feminine, non-consanguineous relations – of whom the Lady Kaede is the essential dynamic source of hostility to Hidetora as surviving senior representative of the Ichimonji – operate on a spiritual level. On the one hand, Lady Sue and her brother Tsurumaru bring an infusion of Buddhism into the drama while on the other, Lady Kaede has pledged to the ancestral spirits her undertaking to bring about the fall of the Ichimonji clan.

27In an enthusiastic and thought-provoking essay which ranges over several aspects of the film, Sam Crowl has dealt in detail with the characterisations in Ran and the extent of their derivation from King Lear, but his over-riding concern is with what Kurosawa’s narrative achieves through “the gender reversal” of Lear’s progeny. He concludes that

In creating sisters-in-law rather than brothers-in-law and by merging Cornwall with Edmund in his creation of Kaede [Kurosawa] managed to raise issues of female power and legitimacy that extend and transcend Shakespeare’s text13.

28It is not clear why the merging of Cornwall and Edmund in Kaede leads to an extension and transcending of Shakespeare’s text when it amounts essentially to a redirection away from Shakespeare’s dramatic focus. If “issues of female power” have been raised, important dimensions in the dramatic function within Shakespeare’s play are lost in the Kaede amalgam. The cruelties of Cornwall and Edmund emerge from different psychological roots, each interesting in its own right. Cornwall emerges as pathologically sadistic while Edmund’s viciousness arises from deep resentments, his exclusion from family inheritance and from legal and social position. Edmund’s particular significance in Shakespeare’s play is related to the central questions about nature, society and the family, and the powerful destructive forces that are unleashed from within it. Kaede’s destructive motivation is generated by a desire for revenge on Hidetora. Neither Cornwall nor Edmund have suffered at the hands of the characters they aim to destroy.

29Blindness, a major theme in Shakespeare’s play, emerges as a physical manifestation in Sue’s brother, Tsurumaru, who inhabits a small hut in which Hidetora and the Fool seek shelter. In Tsurumaru then there is a hint of the blinded Gloucester, but there are more dimensions to him. On the one hand, he more resonantly embodies aspects of Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son; on the other he seems, like Kyoami, Hidetora’s fool, to occupy an ambivalent zone between the masculine and feminine divisions in the film.


30Both Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear depend upon an interaction between the world of nature and the world of man. In Kumonosu-Djo the world of man is symbolised by the castle and its geometrical assertion, while the world of nature is represented by the forest and the mist. The interaction between these elements of man’s architecture and the organic structures of the natural world provides the unifying tension in the film. Kurosawa does not establish so distinct a polarity between the two worlds in Ran. Here, the world of nature becomes a more complex dramatic presence, sometimes seeming to run parallel with – but indifferent to – the human drama, sometimes becoming a commentator on the action, sometimes an ominous reminder of the scale of human affairs in the greater universe within which the conflicts, alliances and calculating schemes of men and women are played out. There are constant assertions of its presence: vistas of grass-covered hillsides, the boar hunt at the start of the film, the sounds of birds and insects accompanying – sometimes with a ringing insistence – certain moments in the action, the recurring shots of darkening storm clouds which punctuate and give cosmic dimensions to the gathering human drama.

31Ran opens with four horsemen standing amid a splendid landscape of distant mountains, lush green hillsides under a wide sky. They stand the only visible intruders on the hillside, only the occasional switch of a horse’s tail giving life to the group as they continue to stand behind the credits on the screen, small against the wide backdrop of the natural world that Kurosawa’s camera holds before us with such an enduring impact. The stillness of this opening sequence is abruptly broken by the pursuit of several wild boars. A ceremonial hunt is in progress, the intercut camera shots capturing both the desperate attempts of the beasts to escape and the leading huntsman, Hidetora riding at speed, his bow drawn and the arrow held level. Hidetora’s concentration, his steady eye and sustained aim as he sits astride his galloping mount combine stillness and movement as a contrapuntal climax to the opening sequence of the film. There is no doubt that he will successfully shoot the boar.

32It is not a lengthy sequence, but the dramatic contrasts between undisturbed natural grandeur and the disruptive pace of pursuit, and the seeming assumption that a running animal is legitimate quarry pose weighty questions not only about the natural world and the place of human beings within it, but also about the legitimacy of man’s behaviour to others of his own species.

33In Shakespeare’s King Lear there is a passing reference to hunting. (Goneril: “When he returns from hunting/ I will not speak with him”,  1.3.7), enough to remind us that it is a king’s sport and to hint at some complexity to the question of the place of man in the natural world, and the impulses governed by animal nature in the behaviour of man. But it is a small detail in the text and is often bypassed in the attention that other issues in the play demand. Why then does Kurosawa present the hunt with such a forceful impact at the the start of Ran?

34Grigori Kozintsev pondering on the textual threads in Shakespeare’s play has written of Lear’s new-found leisure activity, despite the brevity of its mention, as the raising of a major theme in the play:

Lear begins his stay with Goneril by going hunting […]. The poetic space [of King Lear] is populated with... enormous wild beasts, fierce predators...There are two main spheres in Lear, the images of suffering human flesh and the figure of the wild beast....The hunt carries through the whole tragedy with ever-increasing pace […].“Come not between the dragon and his wrath” is one of the first threats. “The bow is bent and drawn” – and Kent is banished (and if he is caught “The moment is thy death”). Kent tracked down Oswald; Edmund hunted Edgar; Cornwall snared Kent (in the stocks); they picked up Gloucester’s scent; encircled Lear; the footsteps looped like a hare’s – Lear’s footsteps from locked gates to barred doors; […]. It is a hunt where beasts are not caught, but men themselves turn into beasts. They do not destroy predators but become predators themselves – the whole race of man14.

35Kozintsev has revealed the hunting motif as an essential indicator of interaction in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Kurosawa by opening Ran with it clearly also places it in a position of dramatic primacy.

36Attempts have been made to find common ground in the way nature is treated by Shakespeare and Kurosawa, namely by C. J. Bannon and Julie Kane15. But the placing of nature and animal imagery in the film do not readily reflect that of Shakespeare. David Jortner points out that what we may perceive to be the relationship between man and the animal world from a Western standpoint has limitations in the context of the film’s Buddhist philosophical universe. It is, he suggests, an over-simplification to see the boar as a metaphor for Hidetora’s progress from hunter to hunted:

[…] an alternative Buddhist reading of the same moment acknowledges the possibility that after his death Hidetora may truly become reincarnated in the form of a boar, the cycle of death and reincarnation is linked from the opening moments of the film to the final ones16.

37While the Western Christian tradition views death as a removal to another sphere of existence separate from nature as manifested to earthly life, the belief systems of Shinto and Buddhism place the whole of man’s existence more firmly within the natural world. Kurosawa dramatises the boar hunt at the start of the film as a powerfully memorable sequence which “lets [his] audience know that one of the underlying themes in Ran  will be the role and place of humanity within the natural world”.

38The storm – that great chaos of nature which is at the centre of Shakespeare's play and which links the confusion of the individual psyche with the disorder of the universe – is not (in Ran) a thunder storm, but a blistering gale-force wind which flattens the grass on the hillside under a bright sky. It is not Shakespeare's massive convulsion of universal turmoil, nor is it the central chaos of the film – which is unleashed in the battle scenes – but it is a wind from which man has to take shelter. It effectively reminds us that humankind asserts its mark on the world by creating domains within which there is some protection from exposure to nature, whether they be the barest, least substantial shelters like Tsurumaru’s small hut, or massive castles protected like military fortresses.

39All the castles have immense gates which effectively dwarf the soldiers who struggle to open them. The opening and closing of the gates make powerful visual statements about the relationships governing human interaction, and they give emphatic punctuation to fear, trust, protection, rejection and defiance – as the implications in Shakespeare's play make clear. When Hidetora arrives at Jiro’s castle he imposes his authority on the soldiers who guard the castle to pull back the bars and heave open the massive creaking wooden gates. Finding that Jiro is allied with Taro against him, Hidetora exercises his authority for the last time in commanding that the gates be opened for his departure. With their powerful weight of final rejection, the gates close behind Hidetora excluding him from the domain of man and leaving him to live as he can in the indifferent world of nature.

40Yet despite the heaviness of the gates and the apparent finality of their closing, there begins to emerge in the film’s progression a flimsiness, an impermanence in these man-built fortresses. Against the background of the massive world of nature as it is reflected in the film, man’s efforts to proclaim himself through this architecture are revealed as ephemeral. An eco-critical reading of the film focuses attention on the contrast between fortresses with their “tribute to hubris and false hopes”17on the one hand, and, on the other, the power and seeming vastness of the physical landscape which give the film its dimensions of nobility.


41Film is inevitably multi-layered, a document of synchronous historical periods. In the case of Ran, there is the historical period in which the drama of the film is set and simultaneously as we view the film, we are observing the time in which the film was made. It is therefore relevant to consider the issues that were current in the Japan of the 1980s and to see those as surfacing in Kurosawa’s later work.

42Kurosawa’s landscape cinematography in Ran seems not merely to be a dramatic element in the film, but to assert itself with a wider elegiac relevance. There emerges in the film’s treatment of landscape with all its grandeur a sense of its fragility: a drift from the initial placing of man in the natural world to a Japan being mobilised (as it was in the 1980s) as a modern prosperous economy. An observer of modern Japan, Alex Kerr, has noted:

Sometimes when driving through the countryside I come across another mountain being bulldozed or a river being concreted over, and I feel a sense of fear. Japan has become a huge and terrifying machine, a Moloch tearing apart its own land with teeth of steel, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it18.

43The long-repressed jealousies and resentments in the warring factions in Ran spill over into furious battle sequences filmed with fluency and with a sense of uncontrollable descent into chaos (which is what Ran means) immersed in a smokey darkness lit only by roaring flames that engulf the castles. Against the smoke-dimmed colours of this destruction Kurosawa has colour-coded his armies in bright yellow, red and blue, colours which correspond with the costumes initially worn by the respective sons of Hidetora.

44Hidetora is not Shakespeare's Lear. He is an aged warrior who has justified the devastation he has wrought as all warriors do – it is in the nature of war: and so what befalls him is in the nature of revenge. Yet just as there arises in Shakespeare’s play a sombre sense that the values and stability of an ordered feudal world have given way to a modern set of rapacious priorities, so in Ran, the individual courage and fighting skill of the samurai have been overtaken by technological advance. The bow and arrows and the sword of the samurai have been superseded by muskets, weapons capable of more general and indiscriminate destruction. The muskets are but one step forward in the technology of weaponry which will lead, with an ineluctable logic to modern weapons of random, wholesale destruction, to

a world where every man-made structure is either burned or crumbles to dust, a world where fire and dust run through the areas that are marked as “civilized” evok[ing] images of the great devastation wrought by the unleashing of nuclear weapons in Japan19.

45The closing sequences of the film complete a journey from ceremony and imposed order to chaos and destruction. The authority of the father over the sons, the insistence of old age to expect deference and of the obstinate mind to defy the physical indications of exhaustion, all these are established in the opening sequences of the film. The lush green hills of the landscape, the repose of the horsemen immediately before the entrance of the running boar, and the bright colours of the clothing worn by Hidetora’s sons ultimately give way to a general opacity through which is glimpsed in colourless interiors, the hectic search, discovery and killing of Lady Kaede.

46Yet counterpoised against the flames and smoke of the burning castle and the headlong stampede of masses to their slaughter is the concentration of the tragedy in individuals, the reconciliation on rock-strewn ground of Hidetora and his son Saburo. The subtitled dialogue is not poetic, but the emotions are powerfully projected in gesture and movement. Kurosawa knows intimately the medium in which he is working and he visualises the power of emotions in action, in the relation of flesh and blood to earth. Where Shakespeare’s Lear says, “You do me wrong to take me out of the grave” (5.1.38.), letting the depth of the feeling rest in the iambic rhythm and flow of the line, Hidetora’s lines are questions: “Why are you so cruel? Why pull me from my grave?”, and then he turns from them and tries frantically to bury himself under the rocks.

47Hidetora’s “fool” is with his master to the end and his weeping at the reconciliation of Saburo with his father is a poignant commentary on the feelings which underlie the silences punctuated with subtitled dialogue. A single musket shot kills Saburo and on open ground devoid of any growth Hidetora’s final agony in being deprived of his son closes with “It grows dark”. Hidetora’s words are a commentary on the draining away of colour from the closing sequence of the film. Behind a war-weary procession of soldiers is silhouetted the precipitous edge towards which the blind Tsurumaru will totter and from which he, as a representative of nuclear-age humankind, will stumble back, fearful but unaware of his closeness to disaster. In letting fall his illuminated scroll depiction of the Buddha, Tsurumaru is stripped finally of all but the precariousness of chance survival.


1  Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography, New York, Knopf, 1982, p. 23.

2  Kenneth Rothwell, A History of Shakespeare on Screen, Cambridge, CUP, 2001, p. 192.

3  Frank Kermode, “Shakespeare in the Movies”, inGerald Mast and Marshall Cohen (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 322-332.

4  Peter Brook, public lecture, London, 20 Jan. 1982.

5  John Blumenthal, “Macbeth into Throne of Blood”, in Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism, New York, 1974.

6  Graham Holderness, “Radical potentiality and institutional closure: Shakespeare in film and television”, in Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield(eds.), Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1985, p. 182-192, 199-200.

7  Christopher Hoile, “King Lear and Kurosawa’s Ran: Splitting, Doubling and Distancing”, Pacific Coast Philology,Vol. 22, (Nov. 1987), p.29-34.

8  Pauline Kael, Deeper into Movies, Boston, Little, Brown, 1973, p. 354.

9  Kurosawa quoted in Christopher Hoile, op.cit., p. 30.

10  James Goodwin, Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, p. 212.

11  Janet Adelman (ed.), Twentieth Century Interpretations of King Lear, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1978, p. 6.

12  Christopher Hoile, op. cit., p. 32.

13  Samuel Crowl, “The Bow is Bent and Drawn: Kurosawa’s Ran and the Shakespearean Arrow of Desire”, Literature Film Quarterly 22.2 (1994), p. 115.

14  Grigori Kozintsev, King Lear, the Space of Tragedy, London, Heinemann, London, 1977, p. 165-67.

15  Christopher J. Bannon, “Man and Nature in Ran and King Lear, New Orleans Review, 18.4 (Winter 1991), p. 5-11; Julie Kane, “From the Baroque to the Wabi: Translating animal imagery from Shakespeare’s King Lear to Kurosawa’s Ran”, Literature Film Quarterly, 25.2 (1997), p. 146-51.

16  David Jortner, “The Stability of the Heart Amidst Fields of Green: An Ecocritical Reading of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran”, Essays in Film and the Humanities, 20:1 (Fall 2000), p. 82-91.

17  Ibid., p. 90.

18  Alex Kerr, Lost Japan, Melbourne, Lonely Planet Publications, 1996, p. 52.

19  David Jortner, op. cit., p. 90.

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Par Anthony Davies, «Exploring the relation of Kurosawa’s Ran to Shakespeare’s King Lear», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], Adaptations cinématographiques, N°1 - 2007, Shakespeare en devenir, mis à jour le : 30/04/2010, URL : https://shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr:443/shakespeare/index.php?id=116.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Anthony Davies

Anthony Davies was born in Johannesburg. After attending schools in South Africa he read for a BA degree at Rhodes University, studying English Literature and History as major subjects. He later read for an Honours degree in English Literature and completed a MA in the Teaching of English Literature at the University of Exeter. It was there that he first developed his interest in Shakespeare and Film. He later read for a doctorate in this field at the Shakespeare Institute (University of Birming ...