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SEPT. 8-24

While Western directors strained for new approaches to the Bard, Akira Kurosawa transformed Shakespeare simply by transporting his Elizabethan tragedies to a place where they seemed right at home: feudal Japan. The last and perhaps greatest epic of the director’s illustrious career, Ran does King Lear as a mix of naturalism and Noh drama, adding elements from Buddhism and Japanese folk mythology and using such landmarks as Himeji’s gull-winged castle as backdrops. When aging warlord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) decides to divide his lands among his three sons, the result is chaos—in Japanese, ran—thanks in large part to the plotting of a vengeful daughter-in-law (Mieko Harada, pictured) whose family Hidetora destroyed. Soon Hidetora is left with only his mocking but faithful jester, although the son the warlord banished tries to save his father in a panoramic battlefield showdown. More formal, distanced, and pageant-like than Kurosawa’s earlier work —including Throne of Blood, the director’s Macbeth— the film nonetheless has many visceral moments. The shot of the physically and spiritually defeated Hidetora alone in a castle’s tower, oblivious to the flaming arrows whizzing around him, is unforgettable. In honor of the film’s 15th anniversary —and its DVD release—a crisp, vivid new print has been struck, so Ran will never look better than during this run. At the American Film Institute’s National Film Theater, in the Kennedy Center’s Hall of States. $7, see showtimes for details. (Mark Jenkins)