Picks and Pans Review: Ran

updated 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

Prepare to be astonished. The famed Japanese director Akira (Rashomon, Seven Samurai) Kurosawa has realized his 10-year dream to fuse King Lear with his own tantalizing meditation on Japan's 16th-century feudal past. The result is the year's best foreign film, an action epic to dwarf anything from Lucas or Spielberg. Like John Huston's Prizzi's Honor, the only other 1985 film that can touch it for sheer nerve and over-the-top energy, Ran is the work of an old man (Kurosawa is 75, Huston 79). But try to find a young director to match this vigor and assurance. Kurosawa—whose beloved wife of 35 years died during filming—has the reputation of an autocrat, barking orders at extras or sitting out the weather until nature comes around to color the sky the way the sensei (Japanese for master) wants it. But look at the visual splendor he gets: emerald pastures, crystalline air, red and yellow armies cutting through a cold, gray dawn. He can make 1,000 soldiers seem three times as strong and do the same for his $11.5 million budget (highest ever for a Japanese film). He can break your heart as a son's treachery drives a once distinguished lord (Tatsuya Nakadai in a powerfully underplayed performance) to madness. He can risk casting a transvestite rock performer named Peter (the Japanese Boy George) as the lord's fool and come off with a character so after the villains alive he nearly jumps off the screen. He can mix violence and eroticism to shame Brian (Dressed to Kill) De Palma: When one of the lord's scheming sons is killed by his brother, the dead man's wife jumps the assassin. She cuts his throat with a dagger and then lasciviously licks the blood as a prelude to passion. Forget that this subtitled film is nearly three hours long. It moves. Ran (Japanese for chaos) also demonstrates that adventure and art can come in the same package. It ranks as a towering achievement in any language. (Not Rated)

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