Akira Kurosawa takes on King Lear with samurais. The story about greed, power, betrayal and revenge between a father and his sons holds up great in feudal Japan.
The Great Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (played by Tatsuya Nakadai), who is getting on in years, decides to step aside and let his three sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo take over his kingdom. He decides that his oldest son, Taro, will become the new Great Lord, while the two younger sons will live in Castle 2 and Castle 3, and support Taro in his rule. When the youngest son, Saburo warns his father that his plan is flawed, an enraged Hidetora banishes him.
Sure enough, power and lust for power immediately corrupts the two oldest sons who conspire and turn against their father. It doesn't help matters that Ichimonji had originally captured two of the castles from the fathers of his two sons' wives, Lady Sue and Lady Kaede. Lady Kaede, in particular has been waiting for revenge. While Hidetora had been planning to live out his life, with his title and prestige intact, taking turns spending time at each of his sons' castles, he soon finds he is not welcome at any of them. A battle soon takes place and all of Hidetora's men are killed by his two older sons' men who have joined together. Hidetora's world falls apart as even his women retainers kill themselves.
Once the castle is taken, brother turns on brother. Now that the father is out of the way, the two older sons will break their truce and fight it out for supreme power. Taro is slain by one of Jiro's men as arrows and gunsmoke fill the air. But Hidetora doesn't commit seppuku as expected. When he walks out of the burning buildings, in a daze over what has just happened, the troops part and let the former Great Lord walk through and out the gate.
Hidetora's remaining two men take him to a house, that belongs to Lady Sue's brother Tsurumaru, who was just a boy when his father's castle was burned down by Hidetora. As the price of letting him live, Hidetora gouged out his eyes. At this point in the movie you begin to feel that Hidetora has got what was coming to him.
Meanwhile Jiro, wearing the slain Taro's armor appears before Lady Kaede, who he knows can be a big help to him. Later, when alone, Lady Kaede pulls a knife and holds it to Jiro's throat saying she is going to avenge her husband. But her real plan, to get her father's castle back and move out Lady Sue, comes to fruition as the two join together. Lady Kaede convinces Jiro to kill his wife, Lady Sue but Jiro's advisor Kurogane refuses to carry out the plan. Kurogane warns Lady Sue and she escapes.
Saburo, the only loyal son, comes looking for Hidetora and finds him. Jiro forms his troops to fight Saburo, who also has two other former vassals supporting him. Saburo's men form in the wood with their muskets and slaughter Jiro's superior forces. When Saburo is shot and killed, Hidetora is devastated. He has not had time to ask forgiveness.
Ran is an epic in every sense of the word. It is beautifully filmed with one beautiful scene after another. It might be the best version of any of Shakespeare's works committed to film. It doesn't use the language of the source material, and that is probably a plus for non-Shakepeareans who won't have to fight their way through the language. A great, great movie.