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.