How Akira Kurosawa's Ran Creates a Powerful Battle Scene With No Dialogue

2022-07-30 08:48:12 By : Ms. Zoe Zhong

Akira Kurosawa doesn't need dialogue to captivate the viewer in the standout sequence of his masterpiece 'Ran.'

Throughout his final foray into epic cinema, Ran, writer/director Akira Kurosawa makes it apparent that viewers are bearing witness to something on a scale as grand as you could imagine. The color scheme is vibrant and highly varied (few other period pieces work in bright purple hues and armor covered in shades of red like this one) while the scope of the narrative hopscotches across a slew of different perspectives. But both the grandness of Ran and the masterfulness of its filmmaker are more apparent than ever in its greatest sequence, a mid-movie battle scene that eschews dialogue altogether. Without ever using a single word, Kurosawa can convey the sheer magnitude of the losses of all this violence and hauntingly portray a world that’s gone mad.

At the heart of this battle is warlord Ichimonji Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai), who recently divided up his kingdom among his three children. Eventually, Hidetora is betrayed by his kids and exiled, with nowhere left to reside than the deserted Third Castle. It is here that Hidetora hopes for peace, but it eventually becomes the backdrop for an expansive battle. Taro (Akira Terao) and Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), two of Hidetora’s three kids, have collected their armed forces to strike down Hidetora once and for all. The meager might of the assembled defenders of Hidetora are no match for this massive army.

Once the battle has reached its apex and all hope has officially been lost, dialogue and sound from the characters drop out entirely. This is when Kurosawa lets Toru Takemitsu's score take center stage and guide viewers through one of the most important scenes in all of Ran. Forgoing all other sound reaps many benefits for the sequence, including the lack of definition it lends to the individual soldiers caught up in the horrors of combat. Throughout this scene, we do see many of the fighters on both sides of the conflict. However, we largely only see them after they’ve been wiped out and are knocking on death’s doorstep.

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Men with multiple arrows protruding from their bodies make their final steps on this planet while another dying man clutches the bloody stump where his hand used to be. Their screams of anguish, their groans of despair, even their names, they’re all drowned out from the score. The lack of unique personalities or even basic humanity for each of these soldiers is the point. Ran is many things, but it’s especially a movie about how “Men seem to enjoy suffering more than peace.” War is a constant fixture on this planet, but it exacts a heavy toll on those expected to fight it.

Kurosawa is using a lack of dialogue to emphasize that war strips away the individuality of human beings, turning them into corpses rather than complicated organisms. We don’t get to hear these characters exchange conversations that might reveal something about their personal lives or even speak in voices that would make them distinct from one another. All their idiosyncratic qualities are intentionally stripped away except for the specific ways they died on the front lines. By tossing aside traditional dialogue or sound work, Ran emphasizes the eternally dehumanizing nature of war.

Restraining things on-screen to be entirely silent also allows the physical performance of Nakadi a chance to excel. For most of this sequence, this actor is only shown sitting down as a room around him collapses. Fiery arrows plunge into the walls behind him, yet he just sits there, contemplating how far he’s fallen and how his children have betrayed him. Watching him be so clearly haunted to the point of being oblivious to the horrors happening around him sends home how psychologically broken this character has become.

Such a harrowing state is conveyed beautifully just through the hollow tormented facial expression of Nakadi. With this frozen look, the actor makes it apparent how Hidetora is barely processing all the devastating that has upended his life. Such a minimalist but no less powerful performance could’ve been upended if the screenplay had attempted to communicate these internal experiences through traditional dialogue. But letting a lack of physical behavior, a solitary facial expression, and the accompanying score convey this psychological misery perfectly. It’s impossible to watch Nakadi’s restrained performance here and not feel a chill at watching a man becoming a shell of his former self.

Plus, even on just a basic level, going in the direction of eschewing dialogue allows the battle to function extra apparently as a turning point for Nakadi. From this moment onward, he will not be the same man who once promised to divide up his land for his three children on a sunny luscious hillside. He will now be a man whose connection to reality is tenuous at best, who scampers away from those trying to help him. There is a clear divide between who Nakadi is before and after this invasion of the Third Castle. Making this the lone major dialogue-free set-piece of the entire movie just underscores this sequence’s importance to the overall character arc of Nakadi.

The way the lack of dialogue accentuates Nakadi’s acting is emblematic of how this whole sequence enhances the powerfully bleak atmosphere of Ran. The constant betrayals in the story up to this point, not to mention the earlier depictions of the Third Castle being hauntingly empty, already communicated so much about this movie’s grim world. But stripping away dialogue makes this ambiance all the more apparent. The viewer is forced to focus on imagery that hammers home the brutality of a landscape defined only by greed and vengeance. There is no dialogue to provide a potential escape from this detail of the story. The harrowing core of Ran has been laid bare and moviegoers are now compelled to gaze upon it.

The significance of this bold portion of Ran is even made clear once sound returns to this movie by way of Taro getting shot. The sound of a gun ringing out hits an extra level of profound impact being the first in-universe noise audiences have heard in a few minutes. Lending this demise this momentousness underscores how tragic and critical this death is. Not only does it increase the power of Jiro, but it also exemplifies the expansive reach of war’s horrors. Through finally bursting the dialogue-free aesthetic of this war sequence, Ran hauntingly portrays how nobody, not even the people who enact war in the first place, is safe from its grisly consequences.

Ran is a tremendous accomplishment of filmmaking. As his final epic, it’s a swan song for Akira Kurosawa that firmly cements that, even after decades in this business, he hasn’t lost his touch for delivering powerful cinema. There are countless details one could highlight to underscore the masterful craftsmanship of Ran. However, this dialogue-free battle sequence especially stands out as a fantastic crystallization of the movie’s thoughtful creative tendencies. Even without having its characters utter a word, Ran can use the talents of the many artists at its disposal (actors, composers, costume designers, etc.) to communicate an examination of man’s obsession with violence that’s so haunting that it’s impossible to shake off.

Douglas Laman is a life-long movie fan, writer and Rotten Tomatoes approved critic whose writing has been published in outlets like The Mary Sue, Fangoria, The Spool, and ScarleTeen. Residing both on the Autism spectrum and in Texas, Doug adores pugs, showtunes, the Wes Anderson movie Fantastic Mr. Fox, and any music by Carly Rae Jepsen.

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