Kurosawa fans rejoice! After suffering through two flawed releases of Ran
on DVD, the Criterion Collection's glorious two-disc set does full justice to Kurosawa's final epic masterpiece. The film itself is absolutely stunning, presented in a new high-definition digital transfer that renders the previous DVDs obsolete. The full-length audio commentary consists of highly informative cultural, historical, literary, and critical analysis by Stephen Prince (author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa
), combining material from Prince's 2003 commentary (on the Wellspring Masterworks DVD
) with all-new commentary recorded exclusively for this Criterion release. Along with theatrical trailers, disc 1 also includes a splendid July 2005 interview with American director Sidney Lumet, who articulately praises Kurosawa as "the Beethoven of movie directors," and appreciatively likens the father-and-sons relationships in Ran
to a Beethoven string quartet.
The centerpiece of disc 2 is A.K. (1985), a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary by Chris Marker, the acclaimed French poet/essayist/filmmaker best known for his 1962 short La Jetée, which inspired Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. Marker's unconventional approach results in a uniquely intimate, beautifully photographed, and sparsely narrated portrait of Kurosawa as he films some of Ran's most spectacular scenes on the otherworldly landscape of Mount Fuji. It's a rare opportunity to witness Kurosawa in his element as a formal perfectionist; in one scene, the sensei's loyal crew paints a field of tall grass with gold-flake paint, perfectly matching Kurosawa's heightened artistic vision for a night scene (complete with an artificial moon!) that was ultimately cut from the film. In keeping with other Criterion releases of Kurosawa classics, a 30-minute segment of the Japanese Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create! is also included, offering a more conventional survey of Kurosawa's 10-year struggle to bring Ran to the screen, featuring Kurosawa's production notes, storyboard art, costume and makeup tests, and rehearsal footage. Revealing interview clips include primary cast members Tatsuya Nakadai, Daisuke Ryu, and Mieko Harada, and several longtime Kurosawa collaborators. To create Image: Kurosawa's Continuity, actor Masayuki Yui (who appeared in several Kurosawa films, including Ran) uses Kurosawa's impressive storyboard art to reconstruct the director's original vision of Ran, accompanied by excerpts from Toru Takemitsu's exquisite musical score. Finally, a May 2005 interview with Nakadai focuses on the extraordinary experience of filming Ran's now legendary castle-burning climax. Taken as a whole, these supplements will stand the test of time as the definitive DVD archive of Ran-related material. --Jeff Shannon