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reviewed by Donald Melanson

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Studio: Criterion / Paradox

January 29, 2006 | Ran was Akira Kurosawa’s second and final Shakespeare adaptation, transposing King Lear to sixteenth-century Japan almost thirty years after the director reimagined Macbeth with his masterful Throne of Blood.

Both films are purely cinematic visions, which is something that can’t be said for many Shakespeare adaptations. They also provide an interesting counterpoint to one another; Throne of Blood existing in a world of fog and stark black-and-white imagery, and Ran filled with color and stunning, often sparse landscapes. Both films, however, feature some spectacular set pieces, which still rival and even surpass almost anything seen in the big budget epics of the past few years (just take a look at that still above for a case in point).

The Criterion Collection’s new two-disc set surely ranks among the best they have done. In addition to picture and sound that put the previous releases of Ran to shame, the set includes enough supplemental material to please even the most demanding cinephile.

To start with, the first disc features a video introduction by Sidney Lumet, an audio commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince, and some theatrical trailers. The second disc has the bulk of the extras, with a 30-minute documentary on the making of Ran (taken from the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful To Create), a 35-minute video piece from the series Image: Kurosawa’s Continuity, which reconstructs Ran through Kurosawa’s paintings and sketches, as well as a new video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai.

But the best supplement really isn’t really a "supplement" at all -- it is Chris Marker’s feature-length documentary A.K., which was filmed during the making of Ran. Criterion could have released it on its own and plenty of people likely would have paid full price for it.

Also worth noting is the wonderful 28-page booklet included with the DVD, which is something often treated as an afterthought by most studios, if they include one at all. This one features an essay by film critic Michael Wilmington and interviews with Kurosawa and composer Toru Takemitsu.

The hefty Criterion price tag may seem a bit high for some, but this is essential cinema, presented as it should be, and deserves a place in as many film enthusiasts' collections as possible.

Donald Melanson is the editor-in-chief of Mindjack and a freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Mindjack, his work has appeared in The Globe & Mail, Engadget, and MovieMaker Magazine, among other publications.

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