Kurosawa’s beautiful, horrifying, and hyper-theatrical interpretation of King Lear is a sprawling triumph on a massive scale. The colorful, gigantic horror of the world that Kurosawa created in this final epic is a dimension of confusion, betrayal, and jockeying for a hold of an empire of dirt. Perhaps what is most interesting is that Kurosawa envisioned this as a story about a real historical figure, and it wasn’t until much later that he recognized that all of the changes he made led it to mirror the story of Lear. This is a beautifully spectacular film that is a triumph of filmmaking as much as it is a triumph of an interpretation of a literary work.
Kurosawa painstakingly worked on his vision for this film for what is understood to be somewhere in the vicinity of a decade, hand-painting all of the storyboards of the production and making sure every last detail was perfect for its $12 million budget. In Schneider’s book, the editor suggests that “Kurosawa is unsurpassed in his mastery of film technique…the performances range from brilliant to something resembling utter perfection… (and the film) displays the wisdom of a lifetime in a “mere” two hours and forty minutes, during which time itself is simply suspended.”
I couldn’t agree more.
I watched this when I took a Shakespeare course as an undergraduate, maybe when I was twenty. I remember it being awesome but weird. The perspective that I have as a more mature adult, more mature reader, performer, teacher, and father has made this experience a great deal more engaging and revolutionary. At the time, I was consuming an absurd amount of media as part of my studies, not to mention working a full-time job and completing my work as a student. It is staggering to look back on, but ultimately it makes me realize that I really glossed over a lot of it and could use returning to it now as a slower, more focused adult.
This film was magnificent. The performances were stunning and convincing, even though they presented a hyper-theatrical version of humanity. One realizes through the performances, makeup, gorgeous costumes and locations, and shots that this is indeed a fictional film – but the reality in which the story is told is unmistakable and utterly engrossing. With its super-wide-angle shots of beauty and destruction, the auditory torture of harsh sounds (the crickets screaming) contrasted with the absolute silence that occurs, and its true confusing atmosphere, this film is unparalleled in its scope and execution.
It is absolutely unbelievable that in the end of his career Kurosawa was having difficulty securing funding, but this film is truly something spectacular and would have been a shame. He considered this film to be his greatest work – and as a fan of Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai, I might agree… Even though everything he has made holds such striking and eye-opening beauty and horror. Imagine if it hadn’t been made, though? His masterpiece is a masterpiece, and leaves the world and Shakepseare’s vision so much more vibrant.