This may require a small previous understanding of the plot of King Lear to understand.

Ran, by Akira Kurosawa, is based on the plot of Shakespeare’s 16th Century play King Lear. The aim of this report is to compare and contrast the two films, and show how the differences changed the film. It will also comment on how a previous knowledge of King Lear aided in understanding Ran and on the effectiveness of Ran, notably in comparison to King Lear.

The main plotline behind Ran and King Lear are identical. Besides the adapted, parallel characters in Ran – such as Hidetora, adapted from Lear – there are also very many plot and them similarities. In each film a leader of a nation decides to split his kingdom between his three children. In both stories the youngest child points out their father’s fault; in each they are banished for doing so.

In King Lear their act of Regan and Goneril going against the own father shows the potential of woman to be evil. This is also shown in Ran with Kaede manipulating Giro, after Taro’s death, to her own ends. “The hen pecks the cock and makes him grow.” Kaede’s malevolence in Ran is born from her mistreatment by Hidetora, in the same manner Regan and Goneril are bitter due to their treatment by Lear – due to his fault of loving one daughter more. This is not a characteristic Hidetora shows, but all of his other flaws are borrowed from Lear’s. Most importantly, he cannot accept criticism. Just as Lear banishes Kent and Cordelia in King Lear, so does Hidetora to Tango and Saburu. Giving away his power, but attempting to retain the title of Great Lord, is absurd. As Lear says, “Nothing will come of nothing,” No power will come without land. No respect will come without power. Without this power we see both King Lear and Hidetora eventually driven to madness; storms gather and continue to intensify as the natural order of things are thrown into disarray. This disarray is what is predicted at the beginning of King Lear and Ran each by each the father’s children: In King Lear England is lost to France; in Ran the house of Ichimonji lies in ruins.

The difference between the two stories, though not as apparent as the multiple plot and character similarities, are perhaps more important to Ran’s development. In King Lear Regan and Goneril inherit the Kingdom. Being women, their husbands would actually control the lands, with Regan and Goneril having no real say, other than influence. In Ran, however, Hidetora having sons rather than daughters overcomes this. Everything that happens in the main plot of Ran is Taro and Giro’s will alone. This will of the children is the same in Ran as it is in King Lear: to dispose of their now redundant father. In Ran, however, along with the decree by Taro and Giro that anyone helping Hidetora will be killed, the difference is that they take it a step further and physically attack him with the full force of their armies.

This colourfully spectacular battle scene predominately – along with other scenes with such power – aid in Ran’s plot development and help create a much more powerful film. This film is also a lot more direct. Rather than the verbose speeches and poetry of King Lear, we see subtlety discarded for battle scenes and unambiguous dialogue. In this directness, though, it would be very easy to miss the underlying themes and characters flaws. A previous understanding of King Lear makes is possible to be able to watch Ran and appreciate the cinematography and themes without having to puzzle out the plot at the same time. It is also this directness that creates a much more effective film with Ran than King Lear. It’s ironic that a Japanese film based on an English plot is more captivating, and at times very funny – even with subtitles, than King Lear, although, if Lear was written today rather than during the 16th Century, it may be as fascinating.

In conclusion, there are many similarities and differences between Kurosawa’s Ran and William Shakespeare’s King Lear, in the plot, characters and themes. The differences that Kurosawa introduces aid in the development of the film to a greater degree than in King Lear. Ran is a much more effective for this reason, and due to its innovative, impressive cinematography.

*Spoiler Alert*

The following reveals a few aspects of both King Lear and Ran that mey spoil both stories for anyone yet to read/see them.

King Lear and Ran Comparison

King Lear is one of the greatest tragedies ever written by William Shakespeare. It is a story that deals with many aspects of the human condition. All of the issues in this complex play are difficult to digest at first, but by viewing a different interpretation of King Lear, such as Kurosawa’s Ran, one can obtain a better understanding of the significance of events and emotions in King Lear. Kurosawa takes all of the important elements out of King Lear and uses them in the same way in Ran, making their importance more obvious. Also, Compared to King Lear, Ran has a lot longer scenes and contains a greater amount of dialogue. This gives greater insight into what is taking place in each scene and provides more detail.

The issues dealt with in the King Lear are universal and when transferred in to Ran stands out against the background of the Japanese culture. After Seeing King Lear performed and then watching the movie Ran the main themes and issues become more apparent as they are the primary link between the two films. Both King Lear and Ran deal with foolishness, revenge, selfishness and the consequences incurred by the mistakes people make. Foolishness is brought up in Both King Lear and Ran by Lear and Hidetora passing on their dynasty to their children before due time they also, in their stubbornness, fail to recognise the protest of their assistants as sound advice. Revenge is dealt with slightly differently in King Lear then it is in Ran. In King Lear Edmund seeks revenge on his father and brother for being a mistreated, bastard son with no inheritance. He tries to eliminate his father and brother in order to become the earl of Gloucester. But in the end, revenge is had on Edmund when his brother Edgar kills him for his evil doing. In Ran, Lady Sue (Jiro’s wife) sets out to avenge her father’s death at the hands of Hidetora. She suffers the same fate as Edmund at around the same stage of the story, making the similarities more apparent. Selfishness and greed are another major and obvious theme in both King Lear and Ran. Greed is the key motivation behind the actions of Regan and Goneril in King Lear and Jiro and Taro in Ran. Regan and Goneril turn against their father and then on each other in order to get power and wealth. Jiro and Taro also turn against their father to gain total control of their father’s dynasty.

Each of the main characters faces the consequences of their actions. None of them manage to escape judgment, as though some higher power is at work. None of the evil characters are left alive at the end of either King Lear or Ran. Also, Lear and Hidetora pay the highest price for their actions when their only good child is killed as a result of events set in motion by their foolish decisions. Moments later they also die. Both stories start with Lear and Hidetora making their mistakes and both stories end once they have suffered the full consequences for them.

With these factors being prominent in King Lear as well as in Ran, it becomes apparent that these are the most important aspects of King Lear. With some of the other lesser aspects and events being either changed in or completely left out of Ran, the key elements stand out even more.

Also the extra length in the scenes of Kurosawa’s Ran nables one to understand what is happening more easily than the scenes in King Lear and gives greater detail to what is happening. In the opening scene of King Lear, the events are quite brief and take place rather quickly. The scene is a relatively short one. The opening scene in Ran, however, is much longer and begins earlier giving greater insight to the situation before on has to start processing events.

The way Ran dealt with the same issues as King Lear in a different setting made the main themes and ideas stand out more. The longer scenes and greater amount of dialogue in Ran made each scene easier to comprehend. Both of these factors in Ran make King Lear easier to understand.

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