Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1985: Tatsuya Nakadai in Ran

Tatsuya Nakadai did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hidetora Ichimonji in Ran.

Ran is a masterful loose adaptation of King Lear by Akira Kurosawa about the fallout from a warlord dividing his lands among his family.

Ran marks Tatsuya Nakadai's sixth collaboration with Akira Kurosawa, and his second in a leading role after Kagemusha. As with Kagemusha it is a role where it is easy to envision Kurosawa's former collaborator Toshiro Mifune in the part, Mifune supposedly was even the basis for the description of the character in the original script. Although it is easy to imagine Mifune in the film, which would have been a perfect sendoff for he and Kurosawa's samurai epics, the two apparently were not even on speaking terms at the time leaving us with Tatsuya Nakadai to take up the reigns once more. Luckily Tatsuya Nakadai is a rather talented chap himself. Nakadai was far younger than the character of the elderly Hidetora Ichimonji, leaving him to be heavily made up in the role, though judging by recent images of Nakadai that would still be necessary even if the film had been made to today in order to visualize a man worn away by time. The make up is there for more than to reflect the age of the character to begin with though, as it is reminiscent of the emotive masks of Japanese Noh theater, which makes the very image of Nakadai rather notable throughout the film.

Nakadai's own performance embraces the style of his appearance in the very exact movements of his character, that not only reflect the proper age of Hidetora, but also the Noh influence of his appearance.  There is a certain style within Nakadai's physical manner that carries the certain elegant movement as though it is a dance of sorts. Nakadai though utilizes this well as it feels natural within his performance yet it makes Ichimonji stand out at all times in the film. Nakadai through it creates just the right kind of detachment from his surroundings that he still seems fitting to them, yet is never engulfed by them, fitting for the man Hidetora who at the beginning of the film shaped the land around him. The early scenes are of course in "good times" as he hunts with his sons and two other warlords. Nakadai is effective in that he projects an innate warmth that seems to reflect a proper leader, but even in these early moments he reflects something just a bit off within this. This is not something overt but rather very subtle that Nakadai brings to his performance. This is pivotal to the development of the story and Hidetora as a character, as he leaves an early indication of where his mental state will go later in the film, but also that the man is not exactly the wise old loving father he projects to be.

Hidetora decides to break up his kingdom among his three sons, each granting them a castle, while he believes they will hold his realm together, and work as one. Nakadai delivers the speech with an affirm sentimental touch that shows Hidetora's narrow minded vision of the future, that could only be perfection given that he has envisioned it. His first two sons are more than accepting of the plan and their father's logic, but his third son, Saburo, defies his father by questioning this logic. Saburo reminds Hidetora that his own accomplishments have only come from personal brutality and mercilessness.  Hidetora's reaction is to exile Saburo and disown him, and Nakadai portrays the scene as an instinctual reaction from Hidetora. A moment Nakadai delivers as blunt anger as emotions rather than any sort of rational thought persuade him in his actions since his son not only questioned his wisdom, but also shattered his fantasy of what he's created with his life. Saburo though is sent off and Hidetora believes he will be fine in his retirement by dividing his time with his remaining two sons. Of course complications quickly develop from this as he stays with his elder son Taro.

The first complication stemming from Hidetora still believing him to be living in different world than he actually is. Nakadai is excellent by playing just a hint of insanity in Hidetora as he still behaves as the Lord supreme without a care in the world in what is now his son's castle, and does nothing to discourage his own men from mocking his son. The second complication comes from Taro's wife Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada) who seeks vengeance against Hidetora, since he destroyed and massacred her family. This leads to Taro attempting to inflict his own power over Hidetora and essentially set his father straight who now is in charge. Nakadai is once again brilliant in bringing out the intensity in Hidetora as his own view is once again broken, and all he is forced to do is lash out against it once more. Nakadai does not portray this as the same as against Saburo though, as Nakadai brings just a bit more vulnerability in this rage as he realizes that Taro never loved him. Hidetora is forced to leave and decides to go to his next son Jiro's castle. While Jiro's wife Lady Sue is forgiving for Hidetora's massacre of her family, which leaves a moving moment in Nakadai's performance as he eases out more weakness in the sadness he reveals as he sees her happiness despite what he has done, but Jiro is as ungrateful as Taro sending his father away once more.
This leaves Hidetora to go to his third and final castle, which had been intended for Saburo, but his stay is short lived as Taro and Jiro's forces attack to evict him. The attack which involves the deaths of almost all of Hidetora's men, and the suicides as well as murders of the castle's concubines, is one of the greatest scenes ever crafted by Kurosawa. Nakadai is essential to the power of the sequence remaining finding the human loss at the center of it all, as Hidetora can only witness the death and destruction that he has inadvertently caused by his poor decisions. Nakadai is devastating in the sequence as his face seems to absorb all of violence and the strength the man once possessed fades. Nakadai is haunting as he realizes the pain that overwhelms Hidetora to the point that he has now found a new detachment in madness due to reality being too hard to bare. For much of the rest of the film Nakadai's performance is set though it carries no less of an impact in his portrayal of the shell Hidetora has become as a man lost in his own mind. This is opposed by other portrayals of King Lear's madness, however Nakadai's approach is incredibly affecting as his depiction of Hidetora is that of man barely holding on to the bit of life he has left. Hidetora stays in this state until he is finally reunited with Saburo, and Nakadai bring such a somber beauty as the old man finally can appreciate what he had. This too is dashed in a matter of seconds and Nakadai's final reaction is heartbreaking as he shows a man's soul vanish in an instance. This is a masterful portrait by Nakadai as a man as his own domain. The strength in the beginning, with faults hidden by bluster, to being torn from within to a husk of its former self, to finally being quietly snuffed out like a candle rather than a great blaze. 


Michael McCarthy said...

I think I've been waiting for this review for three years....


Calvin Law said...

Brilliant performance, and great review, particularly liked how you noted his little scene with Lady Sue.

Thoughts/ratings for the rest of the cast, and more importantly, what do you think of the way they handled the whole Gloucester/Poor Tom subplot? It might be my favourite aspect of the film. Also that ending shot man. Heartbreaking.

Calvin Law said...

In terms of the final ranking I will take a wild guess:

1. William Hurt and Raul Julia in Kiss of the Spider Woman
3. Tatsuya Nakadai in Ran
4. Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future
5. Eric Stoltz in Mask
6. Griffin Dunne in After Hours
7. Aleksey Kravchenko in Come and See
8. Tim Curry in Clue
9. James Mason in The Shooting Party
10. Jonathan Pryce in Brazil

Unfortunately means Daniels probably won't make the top 10 which is a shame, but oh well.

Anonymous said...

Great performance and great review.

Deiner said...

I'm dying to watch this film.

Calvin Law said...

Also is Nakadai close to making your top 10 actors now?

Alex Marqués said...

Great review, Louis. Nakadai is a legend.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

Rating/thoughts on Mieko Harada?

Calvin Law said...

Also Louis, is there any chance of Cary Elwes being bumped up for The Princess Bride? I watched it again today, and I think he's close than I'd think to being the MVP of the cast (behind Pantkin, of course). I'm even considering giving him a 5.

Calvin Law said...


Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Since I haven't seen a Mifune-Kurosawa film yet, which collaboration of theirs would you recommend me to watch first?

Louis Morgan said...


Terao & Nezu - 3(Both of their performances were very similair, but I feel that they both work in the same way to show the rather vapid nature of the men. They are both in good in portraying the way they both end up being henpecked by Kaede in a believable fashion.)

Ryu - 3(Has least amount of screen time but makes the appropriate impact by realizing Saburo as the genuine man he should be. There's nothing hidden or false about his work, which is essential to the role.)

Yui - 3(Matches Ryu in the right fashion and is effective conscience for Hidetora throughout the film)

Ikehata - 3(I know some view him as a somewhat divisive element in the film, but I think he works well. I like the way he eases towards the fool being a more thoughtful presence within the story, and I find his later scenes to be rather affecting.)

Igawa - 3(He does a good job of balancing just the more traditional fierce loyalty, that even involves treachery, well still given a certain sense to his character's honor as refuses to become a servant of Lady Kaede as well.)

Miyazaki $ Nomura - 3(They both give appropriately simple and moving performances as two people who seem separate in nature from the rest of the world yet are victims all the same.)

Harada - 4.5(I found she just went just slightly too big in a few brief moments. However most of the time I found her performance incredibly compelling. She brilliantly just exudes the bitterness and vengeful spirit which defines the character. She brings a needed incisiveness for the character that's worthy of the description as a she-fox. I particularly love the moment where she naturally goes from threatening to kill Jiro to seducing him in a matter of seconds.)

That subplot I felt managed to be one of the strongest elements of the film as well, and managed to leave the film on such a somber yet striking note.

I would say so in regards to Nakadai.

There's a chance I suppose.


I'd recommend starting with Yojimbo.

Calvin Law said...

I'd suggest Yojimbo too, easily his most accessible and entertaining film. There's certain films I recommend to people whenever they start on a director. Jaws/E.T. for Speilberg, Badlands for Malick, Hot Fuzz for Edgar Wright, Django Unchained for Tarantino.

Calvin Law said...

I'd go as far as a 5 for Harada. Strong cast overall though and as per usual for Kurosawa not a single obvious weak link.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Since you felt that the supporting actors of The Searchers were underwhelming, with the exception of Bond and Brandon, who would have you chosen over those underwhelming actors?

Louis Morgan said...


Get the better regulars in there instead like Arthur Shields, Victor McLaglen, and of course Walter Brennan.

Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: I'd have just cut a lot of them out, really. That film just has so much unnecessary material that keeps it from being anything more than a good Western, when it has aspects which are worthy of a masterpiece.