Beginning today at 4:30 pm, the Northwest Film Center begins its special screenings of Samurai Cinema, screening 11 films over the next few months. It opens with "Ran" (Japan/France 1985), the highly acclaimed work of Akira Kurosawa, a film with classic themes of pride and disgrace, love and jealousy, selflessness and greed, revenge and forgiveness. This masterpiece of Kurosawa, his last samurai film, was written and storyboarded over about a ten year period. He was in his 70s during its production.
The story is centered around the warrior lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) and his three sons. The aging Hidetora wants to abdicate so that his three sons can share power. One son, Saburo (Daisuke Ryû), cautions against this plan. Saburo believes it is unlikely that the three sons will successfully unite against common enemies. But, Hidetora is flattered by the other two sons, Taro (Akira Terao) and Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu). Enraged at Saburo, Hidetora banishes him. This proud but foolish decision unleashes a torrent of suffering and despair and, of course, a series of battles. This film was inspired by both Shakespeare's "King Lear," and the legend of warlord Mori Motonari.
But, the plot has another layer of complexity. Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), Taro's wife at the beginning of the film, has her own battles to fight. In fact, her quest for revenge drives much of the action of Taro, then Jiro, as each tries to secure his own power and wealth from all that was accrued by their warlord father.
From the film's first moments, the cinematography is brilliant, almost to the point of distracting from the story. Colors are saturated, lush, and significant. At the meeting where an aging Lord Hidetora announces his plans to abdicate, he is dressed in formal white and gold, Saburo is in pale blue, Jiro in red, Taro in yellow. Their subordinates are in muted tones. These men are in a country setting of lush green grass surrounded by distant fields and mountains.
The scenery throughout the film is breath-taking. In fact, it was shot in part near an active volcano, in part in actual castles, and in part in a constructed castle that was actually set on fire and destroyed, rendering authenticity during the first battle scene in the film.
The costumes are striking (and won Emi Wada an Oscar for Best Costume Design), especially in the spectacularly choreographed battle scenes. The kimonos, suits of armor, and uniforms of the soldiers are intricately designed.
The film score of Toru Takemitsu, influenced by the music of Gustav Mahler, subtly enhances the heartfelt drama as well as the wonderful spectacle of the action scenes. Dialogue, often forcefully delivered, at times is very pointed and, shall we say, unsubtle. Thus, a poignant declaration near the end of the film captures the essence of this story. "Men live not for joy but for sorrow, not for peace but for suffering."
This film is screening twice at the Northwest Film Center. Today, Sun, Oct 6 at 4:30 pm and next Sunday, Oct. 13 at 2:00 pm. In addition, at the Oct. 13 screening, Maribeth Graybill, the Portland Art Museum's Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art, will introduce the film.
The Samurai Cinema series is co-sponsored by the Portland Art Museum and presented in conjunction with the exhibition Samurai! Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection. Admission is free for exhibition ticket holders during museum gallery hours. For others, tickets range from $6 to $9 and can be purchased on the website of the Northwest Film Center or at the Whitsell Auditorium 30 minutes before screening times.
Don't miss these opportunities to catch this classic visual and auditory masterpiece on the big screen.