Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an ageing Japanese warlord who intends to divide his kingdom among his three sons.
The oldest son, Taro (Akira Terao), is bequeathed the sought-after First Castle and is named commander of the Ichimonji clan. Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) are given the Second and Third Castles, respectively. Hidetora retains his title of Great Lord, and the two younger sons are expected to rally behind Taro.
The elder two are satisfied while Saburo – the youngest – believes his father has gone mad and predicts conflict between his older brothers, stating that he can’t expect loyalty from sons who grew up watching their father use the cruellest, most heartless methods for power and domination.
Hidetora is threatened by his son, but his servant, Tango (Masayuki Yui), defends Saburo and Hidetora responds by exiling both men. Visiting warlord Nobuhiro Fujimaki (Hitoshi Ueki) sees Saburo’s fervour and forthrightness and asks him to wed his daughter.
After Hidetora has divided his remaining lands between Jiro and Saburo, Taro’s wife, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), encourages Taro to gain control of the entire clan. Emboldened, Taro tells Hidetora to give up his title of Great Lord. Hidetora, now betrayed by two sons, runs to Jiro’s castle only to discover that Jiro plans to use him in his own scheme for power and inﬂuence.
Meanwhile, Taro issues a decree that anyone who assists Hidetora will be sentenced to death and Hidetora ﬂees to Saburo’s castle, which was left empty when Saburo went into exile.
Hidetora and his samurais are attacked by Taro’s and Jiro’s combined forces, and in the ensuing battle, almost all of Hidetora’s men are killed and the Third Castle is set on ﬁre.
During the siege, Taro is killed by a bullet from Jiro’s general, Shuri Kurogane’s (Hisashi Igawa) gun.
Alone and losing his mind, Hidetora leaves the castle as it is consumed by ﬂames. He wanders the wilderness and is eventually found by Tango, who tries to assist him.
The pair take shelter in a peasant’s home but realise that the peasant is Tsurumaru (Mansai Nomura) – the brother of Lady Sué (Yoshiko Miyazaki), Jiro’s wife – and was a victim of Hidetora’s regime: having been blinded and left for dead after Hidetora murdered his father and conquered their land.
After Taro’s death, Jiro takes on the title of Great Lord, moving into the First Castle. Jiro returns to the castle to ﬁnd Lady Kaede, unbothered by Taro’s death, waiting to blackmail Jiro into an affair. Lady Kaede uses her inﬂuence with Jiro to call for Lady Sué’s death.
Jiro orders Kurogane to carry out the task, but he declines, stating that Kaede will be the ruin of both Jiro and the clan. Kurogane runs to tell Sué and Tsurumaru to leave.
Meanwhile, two ronin are captured by Tango, who coerces them to reveal plans for assassinating Hidetora and then leaves to share the news with Saburo.
Hidetora is overtaken by madness and runs off into a volcanic plain while Kyoami (Pîtâ) runs after him. Saburo and Jiro meet on the battleﬁeld and agree on a truce, and Saburo becomes concerned by the report of his father’s onset of madness.
While Saburo meets with Kyoami and takes 10 warriors along to rescue Hidetora, Jiro takes advantage of the situation and sends gunners to ambush his brother and father. Jiro also attacks Saburo’s army, which falls back into the woods as the soldiers go on the defensive.
As the family is warring, a messenger shares news that Ayabe, a rival lord, is headed towards the First Castle. At the same time, Saburo locates Hidetora, and the father experiences a reprieve from his insanity and begins to heal his relationship with his son.
However, in the midst of the reconciliation, one of Jiro’s snipers kills Saburo and Hidetora dies of sadness. Fujimaki arrives with his troops to see Tango and Kyoami grieving.
In the meantime, Tsurumaru and Sué get to the ruined castle but realise that they forgot a ﬂute at Tsurumaru’s home, one that Sué had gifted to Tsurumaruat the time of his banishment. She goes back for the ﬂute but is discovered and murdered by one of Jiro’s assassins.
Simultaneously, Ayabe’s army attacks the FirstCastle. When Kurogane hears that Lady Sué has been killed by Jiro’s assassin, he corners Kaede and pushes her for information. She reveals her plot to obliterate Hidetora and his clan to avenge the deaths of her family members. Kurogane decapitates Kaede for her treachery.
As Ayabe’s army overtakes the First Castle, Jiro, Kurogane and all of Jiro’s men are killed. Tsurumaru is left amidst the rubble, alone
Made when director Akira Kurosawa was 75, Ran (meaning ‘chaos’) was the venerable director’s version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, a project that took ten years to reach the screen, and, at $12 million, was the most expensive film ever made in Japan.
The film is less a straightforward stage-to-screen adaptation (Lear’s daughters are gender-swapped to sons) than an examination of greed, betrayal and disloyalty to the codes of personal honour placed within a dynastic power struggle that finds bloody expression on the battlefield.
Kurosawa had amply demonstrated his mastery of staging epic action scenes in films such as The Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961) and Kagemusha (1980) and Ran was proof that his ability to orchestrate epic slices of movement and colour remained that of a cinematic virtuoso.
French director Chris Marker produced an informative ‘making-of’ documentary in 1985.
Lord Hidetora Ichimonji
Taro Takatora Ichimonji
Jiro Masatora Ichimonji
Saburo Naotora Ichimonji