Akira Kurosawa's Ran
The King Lear to the Macbeth of his Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa's 1985 epic befits its source by being both a crowning achievement and one of the movies' more tightly controlled articulations of total chaos (or ran, in Japanese). Five years older than his Lear when he made the film, at age 75, the "sensei of cinema" truly went for the kingdom here, spending $10 million on an almost elemental depiction of man's innate preference for, as one character puts it, "sorrow over joy [and] suffering over peace." His brood made male rather than female, the film's 16th-century warlord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nadadai) divvies up the empire among his three sons (Lucas, Spielberg, and Coppola, you say?) and suffers the consequences. The film is defiantly simple in its psychology, the better to emphasize—through Kurosawa's uncharacteristic use of panoramic long shots and minimal editing—the sadness and scope of serenity gone to hell. And the two battle scenes are among the most horrifying ever filmed: The first, in which the armies of the two eldest sons lay waste the fortress occupied by Hidetora, is a brilliantly staged bloodbath made more primal for playing out silent-movie-style, accompanied only by Toru Takemitsu's brooding musical score. —Rob Nelson
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.