To introduce this movie, here is an excerpt from an interview by Peter Grilli from a wonderful book on Kurosawa: Perspectives on Kurosawa edited by James Goodwin.
“Kurosawa Directs a Cinematic Lear”
KUROSAWA: What has always troubled me about King Lear is that Shakespeare gives his characters no past. We are plunged directly into the agonies of their present dilemmas without knowing how they came to this point. How did Lear acquire the power that, as an old man, he abuses with such disastrous effects? Without knowing his past, I have never really understood the ferocity of his daughters’ response to Lear’s feeble attempts to shed his royal power. In Ran I have tried to give Lear a history. I try to make clear that his power must rest upon a lifetime of bloodthirsty savagery. Forced to confront the consequences of his misdeeds, he is driven mad. But only by confronting his evil head-on can he transcend it and begin to struggle toward virtue.
I started out to make a film about Motonari Mori, the 16th century warlord whose three sons are admired in Japan as paragons of filial virtue. What might their story be like, I wondered, if the sons had not been so good? It was only after I was well into writing the script about these imaginary unfilial sons of the Mori clan that the similarities to Lear occured to me. Since my story is set in medieval Japan, the protagonist’s children had to be men, to divide a realm among daughters would have been unthinkable…
We rehearse a scene or bit of action over and over again, and with each rehearsal something new jumps forward and they get better and better. Rehearsing is like making a sculpture of papier-mâché; each repetition lays on a new sheet of paper, so that in the end the performance has a shape completely different from when we started. I make actors rehearse in full costume and makeup whenever possible, and we rehearse on the set… In costume, the work has an onstage tension that vanishes whenever we try rehearsing out of costume.