Akira Kurosawa is one of the greatest filmmakers ever to live. This is not a controversial opinion submitted for discussion, but rather a statement of fact: Kurosawa has been fully enshrined as a legend, an icon, a pillar of world cinema and one of the first foreign auteurs to achieve success with American audiences. His seminal films — Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo and too many others to name — are essential viewing for anybody with an interest in the craft of cinema. Now a new project from Rialto Pictures has granted his late-career masterpiece Ran a second life. It’s a major work that became an arthouse hit in the ’80s, and the touring restoration from Rialto is a rare privilege. (They even threw together a snazzy new trailer for this revival, which we’ve embedded above.)
Modeled after King Lear, Ran concerns an aging warlord who decides to divide his massive kingdom up amongst his three sons, none of whom accept their allotted power peacefully. This power vacuum results in an all-out war between the sons and their individual armies. Meanwhile, one of the warlord’s daughters-in-law plots his murder. The story’s as old as time, but it’s the sheer enormity of Kurosawa’s vision that’s kept this film so prized. Kurosawa pulled out all the stops for his panoramic battle scenes, employing more than 1,000 extras, shooting around bona fide Japanese castles, and eating up a $12 million budget, the highest ever seen in the Japanese film industry at the time.
Back at school, a professor screened Ran for us as an example of Kurosawa’s ingenious use of color and motion, but the experience of taking in the film’s exhilarating visual splendor should be available to audiences beyond film students. It’s a noble move from Rialto to release this film, though the only markets currently scheduled to see the restoration in theaters will be New York, Santa Fe, Coral Gables, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. (It begins today, February 26, and then wraps up March 3 before a UK run at the beginning of April.) Though Ran practically demands the big-screen experience, hopefully Rialto’s restoration will find its way onto home video for those of us without the good fortune to live in Coral Gables, Florida.