I have a love-hate relationship with the historical fiction genre. It might be because they are full of wisdom but can be quite too serious for entertainment purposes. Instead of being overjoyed and excited, I found myself more contemplative and even angry at times to learn that certain events could have been prevented if only we had the wisdom beforehand to prevent a character from walking into a tragic fate. Much of human history goes through a cycle of birth and death-all in the name of conquest, ideologies, and fighting for resources. So am I supposed to sympathize with the protagonist Hidetora Ichimonji, who ruled for 50 years, brutally cutting down families and conquering lands?
This film, Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa, is inspired by Shakespeare’s play called King Lear, which is also one of my favorite tragedies from Shakespeare. If you are familiar with the play, you can see the influence. There is a hard lesson to learn about flattery words. They can elevate one’s being, but it can also bring someone down to his or her knees. Sometimes, the honest truth is not the most pleasant thing to hear but it’s the sincerest. Avoiding it can be a tragedy just like in this film. Hidetora, who is like an old boar at age 70, realizes that his hunting days are becoming a distant glory. He begins to show affection towards his three sons after having a terrible nightmare about being alone in a foreign land. Hidetora thinks it’s wise to give over his dominion to the eldest son while his other two sons would act as the eldest son’s support. But we all know this is a recipe for disaster. What sort of world do we live in? We live in “a world barren of feelings and loyalty,” as the youngest son, Saburo stated. Even family members backstab one another to obtain power.
As an audience, I begin to sympathize with Hidetora’s old age, knowing the fact that is the fate of all mortality. But at the same time, we see karma at play: His eldest son’s wife, like a hen, “peck the cock and [turn her husband into] a crow.” What goes around comes around. She seeks revenge to reclaim her father’s castle by playing a big part in her husband’s political decisions to remove her father-in-law (Hidetora) from authority. Throughout the film, we see a spiral of unfortunate events reducing Hidetora into an eccentric madman. It made me wonder, if only he listened to his youngest son who happens to be the most loyal but the bluntest, would his fate be saved? No, the lessons are hard. The lessons are just. By his own weight and glory; and the many lives he has taken, he falls. He falls hard. He must fall because no mortal man can stand forever tall.