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"King Lear" gets the samurai-epic treatment in Akira Kurosawa's stunning 1985 masterpiece.


This reworking of Shakespeare's tragedy, set in 16th-century Japan, follows elderly warlord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) after he unwisely divvies up his lands between his three warrior sons. When the two elder heirs trigger a family feud trying to succeed him as absolute ruler, a heartbroken Hidetora wanders the strife-torn country, slowly descending into madness himself.


Kurosawa veteran Nakadai ("Kagemusha") towers over the film in an unforgettable portrayal of a mighty ruler reduced to childlike idiocy by the merciless turns of fate. His features distorted by increasingly frightening makeup, Nakadai embodies visually what Shakespeare must have imagined when he dreamed up one of the most powerful - and difficult -- roles in drama. The rest of the cast is terrific across the board, though Mieko Harada comes close to stealing the show as the vengeful in-law who whips both of Hidetora's elder sons into action.


As he did with "Throne of Blood," his similarly devastating 1957 adaptation of "Macbeth," Kurosawa uses the precise formality of the feudal Japanese setting to recast the Bard's language-driven work in an intensely visual way that few, if any, English-language Shakespeare films have matched. The mammoth battle scenes, shot before the era of digital extras, rival the greatest in the genre. The re-release restores the film's original glory with fresh prints and new laser subtitles.

Bottom line

Celebrate a master filmmaker's magnum opus by seeing "Ran" as it was meant to be seen - on the big screen.


Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada and Peter.

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide. Produced by Serge Silberman and Masato Hara.