The way to approach Ran is not to think of it as a fusty "reworking" of King Lear as a samurai epic, but as a discovery of how much of a sense of epic samurai fatalism there already was in Shakespeare's work. The movie is, indeed, based on King Lear, but it has not been turned into a lockstep product; far too much personal passion and bitterness has been brought to it for it to be a mere reading of the play. It is easily Kurosawa's best film next to The Seven Samurai or Ikiru, far grimmer and more pessimistic than those two movies but no less masterful or compelling.
This was Akira Kurosawa's fourth movie since 1965, made almost twenty years after that, and produced at a time in his life when any spiritual similarities between himself and Lear were probably unignorable. After his long-winded but essentially earnest Red Beard, he was dismissed in his own country as being too genteel and old-fashioned to be worth banking on. The cinematic tastes of his country were leaning heavily towards the newly-discovered genres of the ultraviolent gangster movie and "pink film" (soft-core erotica). Unable to find financing, he turned to fellow directors of his and created a production company collective with them. The first film produced from this organization was Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den, which failed commercially and destroyed any other chances for the company to get off the ground. He worked for 20th Century Fox for a brief time on their Pearl Harbor movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, but either quit or was fired depending on what version of the story is told (and none of his work was included in the final print regardless). In disgrace, he then attempted suicide, slicing open his arms in the same manner that his brother had, but did not succeed.Read more
That Akira Kurosawa is one of the greatest directors who ever lived is hardly questionable. That didn't prevent him from making a number of weak films, however — Record of a Living Being comes to mind — and Dreams is arguably on the same level. That doesn't make it bad, because even at his worst Kurosawa is still far more interesting and enlightening than many other directors at their best. The term "experimental," when applied to art, usually never takes into account the possibility that the experiment can fail. We are compelled to applaud the effort rather than the results — it's not that the bear dances well, but that it dances at all.
Dreams was inspired, or so goes the story, by a series of dreams that the director himself has had at one time or another in his life. Some are drawn from his own upbringing in rural Japan; some are ruminations on his own mortality or failings; some are flat-out nightmares; some are gentle introspection. Read more
The frenzied Bullet Ballet, Shinya Tsukamoto's film after Tokyo Fist but before Gemini, may throw a lot of people off, but I think that's the idea. Like Tokyo Fist and Tetsuo, it's about people transforming themselves through violence, but not in ways they or the audience are likely to foresee. Tsukamoto is fascinated by people being transformed by violence and pain, and Bullet Ballet is about all of those things: the violence, the pain, and the transformation. But it largely works by misdirection: we think it's really about one thing, but it's really about another, and then the real theme of the movie sneaks up behind us and whacks us over the head.
The basic story is simple. Goda, a creator of TV commercials (played by Tsukamoto himself), has a humdrum existence with his longtime girlfriend. The movie delineates his normalcy in many little ways: one of his co-workers comments "Didn't miss a day of work even when his girlfriend died. That's Goda for you." Then he comes home one day to find she somehow got her hands on a gun — extremely difficult in Japan — and blew her brains out. Read more