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February 17, 1986 - Image 7

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1986-02-17

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ARTS

Page 7

The Michiaan Doily

Monday, February 17, 1986

... ...., .a_... _.,

--

.Ran: epic of man's greed

By Byron Bull
R AN IS Akira Kurosawa's epic
retelling of the King Lear
tragedy set in mediaeval Japan. It is a
savage film about the collapse of an
empire through betrayal and greed,
full of violence and blood, the title it-
self, Ran, translates simply into
"chaos." But Ran also means control,
the kind of absolute precision that a
consumate artist weilds over his
medium when creating a master-
piece.
Ran is King Lear, in plot and
characters, interwoven with a bit of
Japanese folklore about a 16th cen-
tury warlord named Mori who, upon
old age, decided to retire from the
throne and leave the kingdom to be
shared among his three sons. The
legend goes that Mori took his sons,
and to demonstrate his philosophy of
collective ruling, held an arrow up
before them and easily broke it in
half, then demonstrated how three
arrows, held together, were un-
breakable.
Kurosawa, combines Lear and Mori
into a character named Hidetora
(Tatsuya Nakadai), a once great and
m terrible warlord, grown weak and
frail, who decides to step down from
the throne and pass control onto his
three sons, who possess the same per-
sonalities as Lear's three daughters.
Hidetora decides to leave his title to
his eldest son, Taro (Satoshi Terao)
who will rule with the assistance of
sons Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) and Saburo
(Daisuke Ryu).
The film opens with Hidetora and
sons on a hilly bluff overlooking the
. kingdom, enacting the lesson of the
three arrows for them. Taro and Jiro
accept their father's decision with a
great show of humility and respect,
while Saburo, who is Ran's equivalent
of Cordelia, grabs the arrows and
angrily snaps them over his knees,
calling his father a senile fool, and
warning him that sons raised on
brutality and selfishness can only be
expected to spread such throughout
the empire. Hidetora, insulted and in-
furiated, disowns Sabura and
banishes him on the spot.
True to Saburo's warnings though,
Taro and Jiro are barely out of their
father's leash and in control when
they turn on him. Taro first
humiliates his father, insisting he sign
a public document of subserviance,
and then, when Hidetora refuses,
allying himself with Jiro - who is
already scheming to steal away his

brother's position - to launch a joint
attack on their father's castle. Their
armies seize Hidetora's fortress,
slaughtering his remaining loyal
troops, and setting it afire. Hidetora,
severely traumatized, lapses into in-
sensibility, and is left to wander
aimlessly through the wastelands, ac-
companied only by The Fool (played
by Japan's own Boy George, Peter) a
sort of combination court jester/min-
stral who tags along behind his
master, alternately taunting him and
affording him his pity. Saburo mean-
while has allied himself with a neigh-
boring warlord, who is eager for an
opportunity to break the back of the
Hidetora family empire, and plans to
return to rescue his father.
Hidetora is hardly Lear, he isn't
even a tragically faulted hero in the
classic definition, but rather a bar-
barous monster whose fall is little if
not an act of awesome divine
retribution. Stripped of his rule,
Hidetora becomes a mad vagabond,
crossing the wasteland of his terrible
kingdom, glimpsing the wretched
evidence of his reign in the
magnificent ruins of a vast fortress
he's leveled, or in finding that the
blind man he seeks shelter from ,as
one whose eyes he'd gouged out on a
capricious whim years before.
Kurosawa referred to Ran as his
"view of human deeds as seen from
above," and he makes the Lear
tragedy one of cosmic ramifications.
The tempest that raged behind Lear,
a manifestation of his great rage, is
here, above Hidetora, the distressed
fury of the gods. It starts when
Hidetora first announces his plans to
step down, as heavy clouds begin to
seethe above. As conspiracy spreads
among the empire, stormwinds whip
across the plains. While
Shakespeare's characters wondered
aloud how the gods could toy with
men's fates so cruelly, the characters
in Ran look up to the stormy skies and
lament at the gods weeping at their
insane carnage.
Ran is a sordid tale, with a cast of
ugly characters caught up in a vicious
feeding frenzy over the carcass of a
deserted empire. Hidetora, glimpsed
only briefly as the towering, imposing
lord he was, quickly disintegrates into
a pathetic, pale ghost of a man, wild
eyed and frail. Taro and Jiro, for all
their fierce scheming, are little more
than scavengers. They are pawns of
the spidery Lady Kaede (Mieko
Harada), the literally bloodthirsty
wife of Taro and mistress of Jiro
whose vengeance-obsessed drive to

destroy the family empire results in a
whirlwind of murder and destruction.
that eventually consumes even her.
The characters are all somewhat
one dimensionally defined;
prefabricated, without any real
motivation underneath. And
Kurosawa never gets intimate with
them, they seem always distant, their
actions almost oblique, a problem not
helped any by the highly stylized,
theatrical performances. For all the
bloodshedding, Ran never really
shocks one, even the great battles
with all their ferocity aren't as violent
as the sole death of Toshiro Mifune at
the end of 'Throne of Blood, Kurosawa's
much more passionate, nervy
adapatation of Macbeth.
What is inspiring about Ran is the
sheer brilliant authority Kurosawa
weilds over the film, permeating
every grain of every frame of the
film. Kurosawa's eye for lucid
imagery - as in the haunting final
shot of a blind man, seemingly the
sole survivor of the mayhem, stan-
ding precariously at the edge of a cliff
against a furious bloodcrimson sunset
- is unmatched anywhere in this
generation's legion of would be epic
filmmakers. Likewise, Kurosawa's
almost painterly manipulation of
film, his ability to capture a blur of
rushing infantry men like a flowing
brushstroke, or to vividly freeze a
detail, on so immense a canvas, is
nothing if not genuinely inspired.
What is bothersome though about
Ran is the fact it's so self conscious a
masterpiece. It's such an exacting,
measured film, fashioned with such a
detatched, objective scrutiny, that
something seems lacking. It's as if
Kurosawa with this, his publicly
professed swan song, wants to leave a
final masterwork as pure and un-
soiled by his own personality as
possible. Ran is a stately, finetuned
work. Kurosawa's film language is
flawless, and concise. It is probably
better than in any film he's ever
made, including the Seven Samurai,
but the movie feels impersonal. It's
like a glorious epic handed down from
some ancient anonymous poet. You
want to hear the author's voice in the
reading, yet it's not there.
Ran is a tremendous experience; a
great piece of filmmaking yet not a
great film because it doesn't move
you subconsciously. It never involves
artist or observer beyond the
academic level, and for an artist
whose work at its best was as deeply
impassioned as Kurosawa, it doesn't
seem quite so fitting a final legacy.

Dancers Denise Damon and Paulette Brockington perform in "Postcards Home" as part of a Master's Thesis.
Dan ces showfamily ties

By Jose-A rturo Martinez
THIS past weekend, Denise Damon1
and Paulette Brockington presen-l
ted Postcards Home, a singing, dan-1
cing Valentine card that looked at
relationships between families,
especially sisters.I
Postcards was the second in a series.
of Master's Thesis concerts at theI
School of Dance this year. Damon andI
Brockington portrayed these themes
through music, dance, slide shows and
the voice of soprano Frances
Brockington, Paulette's sister.
The two sisters performed together
in "Songs My Sister Taught Me." Ms.

Brockington currently sings with the
Michigan Opera Theatre and made
her European debut with the Rome
Festival Opera only last year. The
piece was a funny look at relation-
ships with all the requisite songs of
sisterly love and their fights over
men that highlight most sister's lives.
Jamey Clark accompanied them on
the piano which gave a nice touch to
the piece.
Denise Damon contributed her own
look at family relations with her lively
piece, "Album," a Twentieth century
American-style set with a slide show
of early photographs that looked at

Middle America through the Second
World War.
Mark Doerr gave a great perfor
mance as the protagonist throughout
the piece and was one of several non-
dance majors who lent their presence
to the concert.
Duane Mills danced the role of the
circus strong-man in Brockington 's
"Tsirksus" which combined a circus
theme with Modern Dance movemen-
ts. Ann Arbor Dance Works soloist
Linda Spriggs guest starred as the
Ringmaster in this piece. This mar
velous dancer lent a wonderfully
comic touch to this light-hearted dan-

Michala Petri too good for kin

By John Abdenour
WHILE it was clear Thursday
evening why the Michala Petri
Trio is named after its young recorder
virttoso, it was less clear why the
group bills itself as a trio. It appeared
that the players' minds were not on
the same wavelength; when they
communicated anything at all to the
audience, it was never a unified
message.
The best moments came when
Michala Petri played alone. She put
the audience at ease with her
engaging stage presence and grace.
Freed from the concerns over the rest
of the ensemble, she rocked back and
forth with each phrase, moving to the
ebb and flow of her delightful reading
of three sets of variations on Dutch
folk songs by Jacob van Eych.
Through these early Baroque pieces,
full of fast passage work and whim-
sical birdcalls, Michala gave convin-
cing evidence of her facility and
musicality.
Even her breathing was impressive
- she can play for hours, it seems, on
a single breath - although at times
this caused her to skip natural

breathing points and run phrases
together.I
Her second solo appearance, in a
piece by Ole Buck, was personable,;
engaging, and very enjoyable. Unfor-
tunately, the ensemble pieces
separating these two pleasures form a
sorry tale of woe.
Perhaps the supreme irony of the
performance centered upon a
definition appearing in the program
notes: "Basso continuo is a com-
positional technique of notating only
the solo and basslines, leaving a few
figures from which the keyboard
player has to invent the accom-
paniament." Hanne Petri, the trio's
harpsichordist, was neither inventing
nor really accompanying. In fact, she
wasn't playing 'basso continuo' at all.
The function of the harpsichord in
Baroque chamber music is threefold:
to set the mood of the piece, define the
harmony, and reinforce the rhythm.
Playing 'continuo' is an incredibly
creative opportunity, for the har-
psichordist is given carte blanche by
the composer to write his own part
and bring the piece to life. Hanne
made very little of this opportunity,
playing flaccid chords which were of-

ten behind the beat, adding absolutely
no spontaneity or imagination.
In a genre whose instrumental lines
are as interdependent as they are in
the Baroque sonata, it was impossible
for the recorder and cello to pick up
the slack left by the deficiencies of the
harpsichord. While cellist David Petri
was equal to his own task playing
bassline, his musical resources
seemed to be fully committed. Only
Michala could have distracted us
from the goings on at the keyboard.
Other small disasters took their toll.
A string broke on the harpsichord
early in the performance, and the new
string refused to stay in tune. While it
was inaudible from the seats, it must
have vexed Hanne. The harpsichord
lid, inexplicably, was closed
throughout the concert, even during.
David's performance of the Sonata for
Cello and Harpsichord by Vivaldi.
There was no excuse for the mismat-
ch: modern cello booming into the
hall, the harpsichord shuttered up,
providing no support whatsoever.

B o o k s -1111111111111111
General Wainwright's Story
- General Jonathon Wain-
wright (Bantam Books)
General Wainwright's Story is a
tale of two kinds of defense - the
Americans' defense of the Philippine
Islands and Wainwright's defense of
his choice to surrender. Beginning
Christmas 1942, the retreat from Nor-
th Lazon backed the general's forces
south to Corregidor where they were
finally forced to surrender. Through
his eyes we see the earnest, inex-
perienced, ill-equipped American
boys battling against insurmountable
odds. The ignobleness of surrender is
a thorn for Wainwright that causes
him to question his ability as a soldier.
He is partially writing this book to
clear his conscience.
Wainwright presents the reader
with the day-to-day details of his for-
ce's survival before and after the
surrender. His method tends to flat-
ten their experiences. In a strong
light of patriotism the events are
dramatized to the point of
melodrama, reducing one's ability to
sympathize with the men's situation.
At times it would serve the reader bet-
ter to peer at a historical dateline and
a list of the officers. The "Japs" are a
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race of people without respectability
or humanity. This is the lesson Wain-
wright learns. His opinion clearly $4 fl
stems from his horrifying experiences
in the Japanese prisons, but it is R W A R D
distressing that he tags their race as
having less of a capacity for FOR INFORMATION LEADING
humanity. What he forgets is that vile
behavior in wars is not limited to any TO THE SAFE RETURN OF
one people (Wasn't it California THE CHIKUTO JAPANESE
where Japanese-Americans were
placed in "detention" camps?) SCROLL WHICH WAS
The final note is a frightening one. RECENTLY TAKEN FROM
Wainwright stresses that the essential FO H MMSU
problems for the Philippine Division M M
were the results of being unprepared. OF ART.
From this he concludes that we must informants may contact the
be prepared for World War III or the UM Dept. of Public Safety
earth will lose its greatest nation, and anonymously if desired
moreover, that the earth will lose all
its nations if our leadership does not CALL (313) 763-3434
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One test where only
you ]know the score.

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