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Kurosawa's last undisputed masterpiece, "Ran" adapts "King Lear" (Shakespeare was one of Kurosawa's favorite writer) placing it during the 16th century in Japan. Like "Throne of Blood" (another Kurosawa classic that also adapts "Macbeth") "Ran" melds action with drama in a unique way that only Kurosawa was able to do. Sure there have been other directors that have made films about Japanese culture, Feudalism and the Samurai but none with the keen insight and profound glimpse into what makes a culture tick as well as Kurosawa.

Kurosawa had lost most of his collaborators prior to the shooting of "Ran". All of that informs the darkness and his identification for the main character. While Kurosawa freely borrowed from "King Lear", he also informed the film with many issues facing himself; he felt isolated from the Japanese filmmaking community and he was unappreciated in this late phase of his career having to scramble to get financing (frequently going overseas to get it). Kurosawa felt isolated and alone without his collaborators. The loss of his wife just prior to shooting meant that Kurosawa threw his raging emotions into "Ran" using the story of "Lear" as a means to examine his own personal situation.

A beautiful, rich transfer from Criterion. There's few digital artifacts and there's virtually none of the issues that dogged the "Masterworks" edition of this film. The image isn't cropped (the "Masterworks" edition had the edge of the frame cut off) and the high definition transfer looks marvelous with rich colors, remarkable clarity and depth to the image. There is noticeable grain but that's part of the original theatrical presentation of the film and not a surprise given that the film is 20 years old. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack has no noticeable distortion with nice depth and clarity for both the dialogue and the music.

Chris Marker's marvelous documentary "AK" is included as part of the package on the second disc. That by itself would also make this worth repurchasing if you're in doubt about it. However, coupled with the terrific restoration and transfer done by Criterion here it makes this an essential purchase for fans of Kurosawa's films. We also get an appreciation by director Sidney Lumet, an episode of Toho Masterworks on Kurosawa that's also quite good (although I prefer Marker's 74 minute documentary). "It is Wonderful to Create" focuses exclusively on "Ran" while Marker's documentary is a better overview of the director. Criterion has also used Kurosawa's original sketches and paintings to create sections of "Ran" as Kurosawa original saw it prior to actual production. Finally there's a new interview with lead actor Tasuya Kakadai. As usual Criterion has included an excellent booklet that includes a very good essay by film critic Michael Wilmington, a 1985 interview with Kurosawa about the making of the movie and a new interview with "Ran" composer Toru Takemitsu. This deluxe 2 disc edition makes the nonanamorphic previous edition look almost like a videotape by comparison in terms of the overall quality.

Stephen Prince provides interesting background about Japanese culture and Kurosawa's film style. Prince's commentary is a bit dry coming across as a lecture that one might sit through at UCLA or USC and isn't all that entertaining but it is quite informative. Personally, I would have preferred an interactive commentary with Prince discussing the film with, say, Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola or another well known film director.

This is an essential purchase for fans of Kurosawa. Kurosawa's last epic is, perhaps, his darkest and one of his most accomplished. The extras would make this worth purchasing by themselves but the beautiful, rich high definition transfer makes this the best version of "Ran" that has ever appeared on home video. I highly recommend this film.
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on October 23, 2003
The "Ran: Masterworks Edition" DVD could have been much better, but was badly botched by the producer (Wellspring Media).
By far the biggest problem is the so-called "digital restoration," which consists of two things: running the whole movie through a miscalibrated digital denoising filter, and increasing the contrast and color saturation to cartoonish levels. The latter change can at least be undone at the playback end, but the former does irreparable damage to the image. Most of the image problems mentioned here by other reviewers are due to this "restoration," not to defects in the new transfer.
The damage from the digital denoising is severe and present throughout the film. It's easily recognized with experience, or when the denoised image is shown next to the pristine original. But since I don't have that luxury here, I'll just mention some of the more easily seen symptoms. Clouds seem slightly unnatural, as if hand-painted, because their delicate wispiness is interpreted as noise and removed (see for example 0:11:45 and 2:18:00). Thin bright lines against dark backgrounds "sparkle" or "twinkle" like stars; this is caused by cross-frame denoising, which misinterprets movement of sharp edges due to frame jitter or camera movement as transient noise (see for example the sunray pattern in the Ichimonji crest beginning at around 0:04:30). Fast-moving objects shrink or disappear completely for brief intervals, again due to cross-frame denoising (see for example Kyoami's legs as he runs, at around 0:09:15).
The new _Metropolis (1927)_ DVD includes a restoration featurette which explains why computerized denoising was not used in the restoration of that film, and shows examples of some of the problems described above. And denoising was only considered for that film because the available prints were badly in need of restoration. _Ran_ does not need restoration, which makes this unnecessary damage all the more tragic.
Many DVDs released by Central Park Media have also been defaced in this way, notably the new two-disc edition of Takahata's _Grave of the Fireflies_. I think the same company is responsible for all of these botched "restorations," since the modus operandi is always the same: moderate to severe denoising artifacts, grossly oversaturated colors, and a "restoration demo" comparing the restored version to a previous video release in a distinctive splitscreen format.
There are many other problems with this DVD, though they are minor in comparison to the above:
The new transfer was apparently made from a theatrical print rather than a higher-fidelity interpositive, since it contains reel change marks (flashing black circles at the upper right corner of the frame). Surely such a beautiful film deserves better than this.
There are several embarrassing mistakes in the subtitles which would have been caught by a human being, but not by a software spelling checker. Apparently the producers of this DVD labor under the delusion that proofreading, like restoration, can be done by computer.
The MPEG-2 encoding was done improperly, with the result that the image switches randomly between progressive (film) and interlaced (video) encodings, instead of remaining film throughout. This causes annoying random blurring and sharpening during playback on many DVD players, noticeable mainly in still scenes. (See for example the long shots of Hidetora starting around 0:50:00; please note that this problem is not visible on all players.) Some players can be reconfigured to mask this problem (on software players choose "bob" rather than "weave" or "automatic"), but this will reduce the playback quality of properly-encoded DVDs.
Technical incompetence aside, this is not a bad disc. The subtitle translation is problematic, but I've seen much worse; I can't complain too much here. What's lost in the translation is probably insignificant compared to cultural details which no translation could hope to explain. A short "production notes" extra fills in a few of those details but neglects others. Two uninteresting trailers for the film are included. The "restoration demo" is good for seething at in impotent anger, and also for seeing how Kurosawa probably intended the film to appear, colorwise, before it was "enhanced" for this DVD.
There are two commentary tracks. One, by Stephen Prince, focuses on narrative technique and is clearly intended for students. It's quite good. The other is by Peter Grilli, who was present on the set during part of the shooting of _Ran_; he talks about his experiences there and his opinions of Kurosawa and his work. Though sometimes interesting, Grilli's comments make no sense as a commentary track since they're wholly unconnected to the action on screen. They should have been printed in a companion booklet.
The film itself is a masterpiece, of course; even the shoddiest technical treatment can't mask its emotional impact. I would have given it five stars but for the problems with the DVD.
This is the first non-Central Park Media DVD that I've seen to use this "digital restoration" process. I'm frightened that it will spread further. I urge anyone concerned by this to write to Wellspring Media and tell them that they could have produced a much better DVD, with less effort, by simply omitting the "restoration" step. If you decide not to buy the disc for this reason, tell them that too.
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on April 9, 2005
That Ran is a masterpiece is not really up for debate. It's arguably the greatest film by arguably the greatest Japanese filmmaker of all-time (and thus one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time from any nation, period).

However, this gem's transition to DVD has been cringe-worthy on Region 1. The Fox Lorber edition is noted as being one of the worst transfers in existence, and while many were satisfied with the Masterworks edition, most who were familiar with the film (and many who weren't) recognized that there was an obscene amount of digital manipulation. The result is the film's colors looked utterly artificial and the film has nowhere near the serene look it normally does. The transfer is just deplorable.

But, true to their reputation, Criterion is coming to save the day. They've announced they're working on a release for late this year. Expect a deluxe edition that you WILL want to wait for, guaranteed. Let the current editions rot.
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VINE VOICEon May 25, 2003
My star rating has nothing to do with the mertis of the film. It has only to do with the total hatchet job Fox Lorber did in their infamous DVD transfer. By no means buy this version of the film, even though you think you're saving a couple bucks. I agree entirely with the reviewer who said the only thing to do with the DVD and it's case is to use it for a coaster.

The images are muddy and dark. The sound is old 78s quality. It really is a shameful, shoddy piece of work. By all means, order the movie. It's Kurosawa's magnum opus, great in every detail. Just make sure you shell out a few bucks more for the Masterworks edition, or splurge and go for the Kurosawa multi DVD collection.
This review is meant solely for the Fox Lorber 1985 DVD release.
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To put all to rest:

I am viewing Ran from the Criterion collection on my laptop while watching the Blu-Ray on my Toshiba LCD 1080p through a PS3. I have seen the Criterion version at least 3 times on my TV prior to this viewing.

There is not much difference really. (Though my nod goes to the Criterion for the slightly ~ and I stress slightly ~ better subtitles and translations)

The picture is great on the Criterion version; but the movie is a little crisper and cleaner on the Blu-Ray (though not truly HD ~ it still retains the original look). For those purists, I don't think that the clarity of either version really changes the vision Kurosawa had when he created this masterpiece.

The subtitles work just fine on both, though there are a few slight differences in actual wording. For example Criterion: "Lady Kaede, forgive me for disrobing in front of you" ; Blu-Ray: "Lady Kaede, I'm going to be naked". (which is the more accurate translation!) The slight changes in dialogue don't really change the movie, the meanings are still the same. I have studied Japanese for a long time and it is one of those languages which doesn't translate exactly into English, so any translation will have to adjust accordingly. This doesn't happen very often, and is really only noticeable if you are playing the Criterion version right next to the Blu-Ray (as I did).

There were a few instances where the wording had to be changed (on both versions) to make sense in English but again, if it were translated exactly it would make little sense to English speakers. "This event which you refer to was not by me done" would be the literal translation for "I didn't do it". Or "there sit" is what Kaede says in Japanese but sounds better as "Please sit there". So I am a little forgiving with the Japanese translations (unlike French which translates very well into English yet is often butchered).

There were three instances where the subtitles did not appear when someone spoke, but these were all at times where the speaker was either upset or talking over someone so the actual meaning of the dialogue is not very important. They also tend to not post subtitles when someone is shouting a person's name: "Kurogane! Kurogane!" means the same either way. =)

Basically either version works. Since the Blu-ray is currently cheaper, that would be the route I recommend. Though you might find it useful to rent both from Netflix and watch them next to each other or at least one after the other. If you don't have a blu-ray player go Criterion; the Criterion is actually slightly better in my opinion, just shell out the extra money.

Just AVOID the Masterworks DVD edition. It is full of defects and mis-translations and the subtitles hit off screen quite often.
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on December 10, 2003
RAN is a masterpiece of a film and this review is not about the quality of the movie but about the quality of this DVD. If you play this DVD on a 32" non-widescreen TV the picture will look passable as a "letterboxed" film, but be sure to rent and try this edition out on your 50" or 55" or 65" wide-screen TV before buying! The first problem is that the anamorphic picture cuts off the edges of the credits (a clue that you're not getting all of the frame). Even more disturbing is that the image has an electronic "video" cast to it. Unlike good DVD transfers, there is twitching to still objects on-screen like lattice or anything with parallel lines. The colors are bright but lacking definition (they give off an aura) and again have an electronic cast that looks more like video than film. Overall this transfer is deplorable, and the fact that Wellspring is proud of this "hi-def" transfer is shocking.
As someone who owns over 300 movies on DVD and has seen the full range of quality from early full-screen knock-offs like National Lampoon's VACATION to fantastic DVD's like the LOTR editions and X-MEN, I know what the standard is for a special version of a DVD in November 2003, and this disc does not cut it. Wellspring . . . get your act together.
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on February 20, 2010
I love this movie/film/whatever. It floors me every time I experience it. The blu-ray sound & image was a revelation of possibilities for me! The extra features are pretty good. I even loved their package design. I think they took some queues from Criterion Collection. The issue here is with the English subtitles:

There are some grammatical/translation errors sprinkled throughout the movie that are distracting. One example is in the first scene, where Lord Fujimaki declares that he also wanted to offer his daughter as Saburo's wife; the "Studiocanal Collection" subtitle has him saying it was also his INVENTION instead of INTENTION. Yikes! The subtitles were downhill from there. Not sure if they rushed to get this released or they cut corners, and had the English subtitles imported from China. I've sent several polite e-mails to Lionsgate regarding the various English subtitle errors, but they never responded back. Customer service would mean corrected subtitles and disc exchange.

The devil's in the details, my friends. I'm sure someone at Lionsgate had a great idea that ended with a big "$" digitally projected onto the wall at a quarterly R&D meeting. But it takes real commitment and a sincere love of film to do what the Criterion Collection does. Will I ever hear back from Lionsgate or a "Studiocanal Collection" representative? Probably not. They already have my money so the relationship between company and consumer ends there. Not reassuring. In the end, I wish "Ran - Criterion Collection" could have STAYED with the Criterion Collection. I get the impression a few others out there feel the same way.
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This is a magnificent movie. It is visually beautiful - the colors and the way the shots are framed are stunning. The visuals are controlled in ways that add to the poetic power of the story. I do not speak Japanese, but the sound of the language combined with the musical score also adds to the intensity of this movie. The subtitles are good, but I am sure that those who understand Japanese get even more from this story.
This is not a film of Shakespeare's "King Lear". Rather, it is an adaptation and is based on the underlying themes of the play. It is not important for me to list the differences between the play and the movie, it is just important that a first time viewer not expect the Shakespearian story. If you know the play you will recognize aspects of the movie and enjoy the ways in which Kurosawa adapted the story to his own and Japanese sensibilities. It may nod to Shakespeare, but Kurosawa makes this his story.
The costumes, music, and acting are superlative. For me, the trademark Kurosawa battle scenes are more wonderful here than usual. This is a masterpiece by a filmmaking virtuoso who is also a sensitive enough artist to make a spectacular movie that is also poetic, humorous and heart breaking, tender and brutal as well images that are beautiful and others that are hideous.
This isn't light viewing or mind candy, but it has so much to offer that it is worth watching and learning from over and over again.
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on April 19, 2004
I'll repeat the title of the review. It's not the movie. I think Kurosawa is just amazing, and I feel this film is fantastic. I already owned the other DVD release of this film and I ordered this one because honestly, the picture quality of the other is harsh to watch. And it's true this version is much cleaner, but they changed the aspect ratio. Ran was shot originally in a 1:85:1 ratio. For this new DVD they scanned it into the computer using an HD system, and chopped the frame from 1:85:1 to 16:9. It's hard to really compare the two ratios, but being a film geek when I started the film immediately I knew something was wrong when the image was bigger and the end of Kurosawa's name was chopped off. I pulled out my old version of Ran, and threw it on my computer and played the opening titles side by side. Sure enough, the edges of the film have been chopped off. Now, this won't bother most people. But for a film student like myself, it bothers me to see people mess with someone else's art in this manner. It's worse than Lucas butchering Star Wars or Spielberg and ET (albeit not by much) because it isn't even their film! Other films have been cleaned up and placed on to DVD without distorting the image, many Kurosawa films in fact. It bothered me to see it, and I was pretty let down, this is just a fair warning to anyone else like me.
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on June 22, 2002
"Ran" (Chaos) is the greatest cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare and a masterpiece in its own right. In adapting the broad scenario of "King Lear" to a setting in Sixteenth Century Japan, Akira Kurosawa felt free to manipulate it to his own purposes, leading to a film that is perhaps even more bleak than the play.
First and foremost "Ran" is a visually stunning film, unencumbered by the received tradition of Shakespearean language, which never translates well onto the cinema screen, he has allowed the scenario to develop into images that are beautiful and horrific. Filmed on the slopes of Mount Fuji there is a sense of unreality, or nightmare about the whole epic, as though it is taking place in a mythic space, at once recognisable and alien. For a director best known for his black and white movies ("Seven Samurai", "Rashomon"), Kurosawa surprisingly uses color to breathtaking virtuoso effect. The scenes of soldiers flooding in waves across the volcanic wasteland of Mount Fuji carrying vivid blue, red or yellow flags are amongst the most extraordinary ever filmed. The battle scenes shock and astonish, not least because Kurosawa's use of sound is so exquisite and original; many of the most horrendous images of battle are shown without sound effects with only an elegiac musical accompaniment. Far from sanitising them, the effect is to shock you out of the viewing habits formed watching so many other "war" movies.
Yet "Ran" is so much more than a broad epic, or war movie. The more intimate scenes are carried off with understated conviction, the sly hypocrisy hidden behind formality and convention is conveyed in highly poised and stylised interior shots. This film can be both visceral (prepare yourself for the beheading of Lady Kaede: as visually explosive as anything by Tarantino, and set within a film that is more than mere surface) and restrained, depending on the nature of the scene. There are moments of quiet and tenderness that resonate long after the film had ended.
It is odd that so few successful films have been made from Shakespeare. The pre-eminent playwright of the western canon has translated beautifully into opera and stage directors can continually find fresh things to say about the plays themselves, yet in general film had been hopelessly incapable of doing anything of note with Shakespeare. Think of the ghastly declamatory rhetoric of Laurence Olivier in "Henry V", or the inane pop video that Baz Lurmann made from "Romeo and Juliet", not to mention Kenneth Brannagh's tediously self-important "Hamlet". Somehow Kurosawa succeeds where all these others fail. His earlier "Throne of Blood" was a beautifully realised adaptation of "Macbeth" to the Samurai period in Japan: "Ran" builds on that achievement and surpasses it. Perhaps the fact that Kurosawa was Japanese allowed him more creative license to work with Shakespeare, able to approach it simply as valid material for film making, and not as the shibboleth that it is to western artists.
In Ran we have the late masterpiece of one of the greatest and most important film makers. It is a distilled and precise work, powerful, visceral, contemplative, epic and intimate. In short this is film making on a par with the greatest art. Ran shows us what mainstream film making can achieve, but so rarely does.
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