FF43 - Ran (乱)

Intro by John Roderick

If you've already seen Ran it was probably in one of two contexts. Either you saw it as part of a film studies class or you rented it because: Samurai! Either way: You are a nightmare! You film studies dorks are sitting way forward in your papasans right now, preloaded to drop science about what Apocalypse Now was to Heart of Darkness, so Ran is to King Lear… you feel like this is your chance to reference Noir Theater, which you don't actually know anything about and talk about it in the context of Kurosawa's oeuvre, which even at the most interminable Phi Beta Kappa mixer is going to make genuinely interesting people do the electric slide away from you in the direction of almost anyone else, including those people in the corner talking about Engels' contribution to theories of surplus value.

No reasonable person including your spouse and/or the people you have imprisoned in your basement, who have every reason to appear to be listening to you, are going to care about your theory of how the Sengoku era is an apt setting to explore the nihilism of post-war Japan. Listen to yourself! Can you tell how exasperating you are? You sound like you belong on this podcast, which is not a compliment. Meanwhile, if you rented this movie because: Samurai! I don't think it needs to be explained to you why you are a problem. I can only imagine you sitting there in front of your parents' Sylvania, jaw-slackening as buckets of blood splatter across the screen, your hand-me-down micronauts slipping through your fingers as you gawk at the spectacle and wonder if you should laugh or cry. You went on to see this movie seven times, didn't you?

This and Akira are the two movies you can mention to Normals without sounding like a Weeaboo and you use it to weed out all the people who will never understand your rich fantasy life. But you don't know any Normals, do you? You are talking to your waifu-pillow, aren't you? Pretending you're on a date? Well, for the rest of you who haven't seen Ran: Welcome to the big show! For you it is perfectly acceptable to start referencing Ran at work and at cocktail parties because you watched it to keep up with your favorite podcast, which marks you as a socially engaged and definitely cool person who has interesting things to say about Sengoku Japan, which was roughly the era between 1467 and 1600. Let's go over your talking points!

A feudal lord and patriarch, Ichimonji, has grown so old that his kabuki makeup has started to gum up his wrinkles. He is ready to step down. Two of his sons, Taro and Jiro are obsequious grasping and dumb, but his third son Saburo exhibits the more honorable traits of petulance and ingratitude. Ichimonji himself is grandiose, violent and full of self-regard, so right away we think: Man, this seems like a fun picnic! Why doesn't my family ever get together like this? Ichimonji wants to retire in peace, but is concerned about his legacy the way wealthy men don't have the class to endow a Center for Digital Arts often are.

He believes he can through sheer force of will both transfer power to his sons and obligate them to adhere to his vision. Fortunately he has three castles to bequeath, but no one is happy with this plan and the fun family outing ends in a hail of busted picnic baskets and the banishment of Saburo. Taro is the oldest, the main benefactor of his father's wealth and power and the film follows his exploits at first. His brothers are jealous that he got the best castle in the will, as you do. But Ichimonji immediately moves in, he whimsically shoots arrows at Tauros guards and just generally behaves like Dudley Moore and Arthur, if Dudley Moore wore a joker mask and kept murdering people.

The gift of the castle was kind of like when my dad would hand me an envelope on Christmas morning with a certificate inside: "Good for more quality time with dad", like: Dad's excel at that kind of epic level trolling. Well, the visit is even more awkward because Ichimonji long ago killed Lady Kaede's entire family right over there by that dark spot in the wood floor, so Lady Kaede has an axe to grind, but she professes her allegiance to Taro, so how dangerous can she be? Well the answer is: The maximum amount of dangerous! Kaede is basically the most dangerous character we've ever seen in a war film. Do you like movies with a strong female lead? How about movies where the strong female lead kills everyone else in the movie? Oh, sorry! Spoiler alert! That doesn't happen until later. Was I supposed to say spoiler alert at the beginning? Sorry, I was too busy making fun of weeaboos…

Anyway! Lady Kaede drives it Ichimonji bananas, literally, and he goes Goldie-Locks-ing up to Jiro's castle before Taro under Lady Kaede's manipulation makes it a crime to give him aid. Taro and Jiro combine forces to attack Ichimonji in Saburo's castle and it is an utter bloodbath. Taro is killed, field-promoting Jiro into family leadership and somehow Ichimonji walks away from the burning castle like an action movie star with an exploding airplane hangar behind him. What do you mean? Expendable, Ichimunji? It turns out back when Ichimunji was in his prime, he didn't lead through charisma and sound fiscal policy. If you didn't die on his army's blades you were blinded and left in a cabin to rot, so he has a few blinded, rotten and resentful enemies left around. But Lady Kaede is not dissuaded by her husband's death and seduces Jiro into having his own wife killed. This seems unlikely, but I dated a woman like this in the 1990s.

In the end with the family destroyed and her revenge exacted in a horrifying bloodbath, Lady Kaede gives a bad guy monologue where she confesses her noble justification to the shell-shocked survivors before making her own blood-stained splotch on the castle wall. Everyone is like: "Whoa, okay! I kind of see that!", but she's dead. Basically, the only people who survive this story are the minions who eulogize their masters but get none of the inheritance for their loyalty. Once you wring out the bloody mop into the bucket at this story's conclusion, you realize that this is a family movie, but from a time when rich people in power kill each other in orgies of vengeance. Take a note, rich people of now! On today's Friendly Fire, words don't win wars as we discuss the 1985 Akira Kurosawa masterpiece Ran.

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