By Mark Pinkert
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Why do tragedy and human suffering inspire the best works of art? In literature, words of pain always seem to carry more weight than words of the same measure of joy: it is as though the absolute values of the sentiments are not equal. “Torment” surpasses “comfort,” “malady” surpasses “good health”–at least aesthetically. (Or maybe in the human condition, as well?) Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories transcend his comedies, and the best music is blue.
The proof of this concept in movies is Akira Kurosawa‘s Ran (1985), which is one of the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. It takes place on Japan’s lush, rolling hills, which Kurosawa shoots to majesty and grandeur. The film has no miniature sets nor optical illusions: the first two castles of the film are real and famous landmarks in Japan–the Kumamoto and Himeji castles–and the third was built on the side of Mt. Fuji specifically for the film. Kurosawa uses wide lens from far distances to capture–with epic scope–these real sets. From these distant vantages, the audience feels godlike, watching from above the characters and events. When the camera does move closer to the scene, it magnifies the vibrant colors and fabrics of the Academy Award-winning Best Costumes (it took over two years to make the 1,400+ uniforms) and the bold make-up and hair-styling that intensify characters’ emotions. At the most important moments, the camera and the characters hold still, and transform into radiant painting and portraiture. Fans of Japanese painting–specifically the grandiose landscapes and exotic colors of the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods–will love this film. Really, anyone who appreciates visual beauty will enjoy it.
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