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“Now is the Time”: Shakespeare’s Medieval Temporalities in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran

  • Jocelyn Keller
  • Wolfram R. Keller
Chapter
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The decision that sets the tragedy of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (Japan: Toho, 1985) in motion is prefaced by the main protagonist’s announcement: “Now is the time!” In its immediate context, the “now” marks the moment when the old Lord Hidetora Ichimonji transfers his power to his oldest son, Taro, making the latter the “head of the House of Ichimonji, the lord of the land.” Hidetora himself plans to keep only a few retainers and “the title and forms of lordship,” leaving to his other sons the (smaller) castles he once obtained from his neighbors by brutal conquest (p. 13).1 Hidetora’s decision results in the eponymous chaos of Kurosawa’s film. Hidetora’s “now,” however, has much wider implications, highlighting how time, how temporalities are constructed. More precisely, the film reflects on the politics of constructing temporalities and attendant representational, aesthetic concerns. Adapting William Shakespeare’s King Lear, a play crucially concerned with the transition from the medieval to the modern, Kurosawa’s medieval Japanese setting transfers Shakespeare’s engagement with temporalities into a different cultural framework, multiplying and transforming further Shakespeare’s already multiple temporalities.

Keywords

Japanese History Literary Authorship Boar Hunt Comic Relief Medieval World 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    All parenthetical references to the screenplay are to Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, and Ide Masato, Ran, trans. Tadashi Shishido (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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  5. 4.
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  35. 20.
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  36. 23.
    The lines closely approximate verse by Thomas of Erceldoune, but were included in William Thynne’s edition of Chaucer (1532) and labelled as Chaucerian by George Puttenham in The Arte of English Poesie (1589; repr. Menston: Scolar Press, 1968), pp. 187–88. See also Cooper, Shakespeare, p. 167; foakes, King Lear, 268–69nn.Google Scholar
  37. See Siegfried Wenzel, “The Wisdom of the fool,” in The Wisdom of Poetry, ed. Larry D. Benson and Siegfried Wenzel (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1982), pp. 225–40.Google Scholar
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  45. 36.
    In “Buddhist Symbolism,” Nordin claims that Hidetora follows a path toward enlightenment that continues after his death, which we believe to be unlikely in view of the centrality of the Amida in Ran. In shinshū (The -True Sect of the Pure Land) and in its predecessor, jodo (the Pure Land Sect), the sects dedicated to Amida, enlightenment could be achieved in only one way: by reciting Amida’s name with complete faith and love, that is, experiencing enlightenment in one moment, the pure way (jodomone), rather than progressing gradually by following the “way of the wise” on earth (shodomone); for the latter, see E. Steinilber-Oberlin and Kuni Matsuo, trans. Marc Logé, The Buddhist Sects of Japan: Their History, Philosophical Doctrines and Sanctuaries (London: Allen & Unwin, 1983), pp. 208–9. In our view, Hidetora’s bouts of enlightenment thus do not lead to his eventual ascension to the Pure Land.Google Scholar
  46. 43.
    Hutchinson A, “Orientalism or Occidentalism,” p. 177; for the influence of the American Western film on Kurosawa’s samurai films, see Stephen Prince, The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991). for the noh elements in the film.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Andrew James Johnston, Margitta Rouse, and Philipp Hinz 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jocelyn Keller
  • Wolfram R. Keller

There are no affiliations available

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