Samurai Lear? : the cross-cultural intertexuality of Akira Kurosawa's Ran
Much of the critical literature on Akira Kurosawa's film Ran has focused, whether in part or in whole, on its intertextuality. In particular, critical analysis of the film has largely focused on the intertextual relationship between Ran and its dominant Western intertext, Shakespeare's monumental play King Lear. However, the critical concentration on this intertext has had a number of effects. In particular, it has meant that the role of other intertextual sources, specifically those of Japanese origin, has not been explored independently without reference to the Shakespearean intertext. It has also meant that the influence of Shakespeare's play has been overstated or presented in a misleading manner that distorts the actual impact the play has had on the film. With this in mind, this thesis takes a particular approach, initially not discussing the Shakespearean intertext at all. Instead the thesis locates Ran in the wider context of Japanese samurai cinema and that genre's thematic concern with bushidō, the warrior code of conduct. In particular it is argued that the Kurosawa samurai films preceding Ran adopt a deeply critical attitude to bushidō, pointing towards its obsolescence and lack of usefulness as a valid method of engaging with the wider world. Then Ran itself is discussed, and it is argued that the film uses a combination of intertextual sources, specifically Japanese history and the Kurosawa films, in order to demonstrate the devastating impact of bushidō. It is argued that the film exposes the brutal violence that underpins bushidō, in particular in a brutal battle scene that uses material from Kurosawa's other samurai cinema to make Kurosawa's most profound cinematic anti-war statement. It is also argued that a discussion of gender roles, and the way that the code makes victims of both men and women, even the innocent, completes the critique by showing how a single act of revenge can destroy an entire society. Having concentrated on the Japanese context, the thesis then returns to the dominant intertext studied in Western circles, Shakespeare's King Lear, in order to reassess the intertextual influence that the play has had on the film. It is suggested that despite Kurosawa's denials of influence, that the play has had a definite impact, but one that has been overstated or presented in misleading fashion by critics who have adopted a largely comparative approach when assessing the intertextual relationship between film and play. This thesis suggests that the use of King Lear as an intertext is most helpfully understood in terms of its use as a framework for Kurosawa to build upon, adding his own material and adapting Lear's thematic concerns to his own ends. In particular, it is argued that the King Lear intertext, as well as Noh theatre, gives the film a structural and thematic unity that adds weight to Kurosawa's critique of the devastating consequences of bushidō.
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: English
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis
186 leaves ; 30 cm. Includes bibliographical references. University of Otago department: English. "Date: August 20, 2007."