Reel Life #4: Ran, Saving Private Ryan, and It Follows

Despite having a long weekend, I didn’t get to see many films. This is mostly because I had to go into overtime with my latest game review. It was totally worth it, though. Anyway, once again, despite only seeing only three films in the past few days, I can say there was quite a lot of variety to them.

Ran by Akira Kurosawa (1985)

Hidetora Ichimonji, a powerful, elderly warlord, has made the decision to divide his kingdom among his three sons: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Being the oldest son, Taro shall become the Ichimonji Clan’s leader and rule over the first castle while Jiro and Saburo are to preside over the second and third. Saburo, pointing out the ruthless tactics Hidetora resorted to in order to obtain his land, calls him a fool for thinking his sons would remain loyal to him. Interpreting this outburst as subversive, Hidetora exiles him and his servant when he rushes to his defense. |Things only get worse from there.|

Similar to what spurred me into watching Shadow of a Doubt, what led me to discover the existence of Ran was when I learned of what Mr. Kurosawa thought of his own work. Whenever asked what his favorite film of his was, his response was always simply “The next one”. This changed when he completed Ran; for the rest of his days, he considered this film his masterpiece. When it comes to its reputation, Ran doesn’t quite have the same following as some of his more famous films such as Seven Samurai, Rashomon, or Yojimbo. For that matter, thanks to Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress could claim to be better-known. I myself was thoroughly impressed with High and Low, and it quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. When it came to Shadow of a Doubt, I ended up enjoying that film much more than Vertigo, which is the more famous film by far. In the case with Akira Kurosawa and Ran, however, I’m going to have to side with the fans.

That being said, despite not grabbing me as much as the previous three Akira Kurosawa films I’ve seen, Ran made for an excellent watch. Thanks to the title being spelled with a single kanji, it can be interpreted in various ways such as “turmoil”, “rebellion”, or “disturbed” – all of which describe what kind of plot you’re in for perfectly. The story was heavily inspired by William Shakespeare’s King Lear |(so you know it’s not going to have a happy ending)|. Because of this, my ruling is similar to that of Chimes at Midnight; if you’re a Shakespeare fan, you owe it to yourself to try this film out. Then again, even if you’re not, it’s still worth looking into; in fact, it could serve as a good proxy introduction to the Bard of Avon’s works.

Rating: 7/10

Saving Private Ryan by Steven Spielberg (1998)

The sun rises on June 6, 1944 and the invasion of Normandy begins. A grueling battle ensues, and the allied forces take heavy losses. The invasion is ultimately a success, but at a great cost. General George Marshall learns that three of the four brothers of the Ryan family have been killed in action. However, the fate of the fourth son is unknown. He was last seen parachuting somewhere over Normandy, but he disappeared shortly thereafter. Three days after D-Day, Captain John H. Miller receives orders to find Private Ryan and bring him back home. Assembling six men from his company, Miller and his squadron travel the war-torn country in search of the fourth brother.

In honor of Memorial Day, I saw fit to watch Steven Spielberg’s epic war film for the first time. From the opening scene, it’s clear the film comes out swinging with its horrifically violent depiction of warfare. Film audiences were quick to dismiss the scene’s violence as overly gratuitous, yet World War II veterans praised its realism. It’s an excellent sequence that serves to punctuate just how difficult Miller’s mission is going to be; any one of his subordinates could gruesomely drop dead in an instant. It plays all of the typical warfare tropes very realistically; the medic’s arrival doesn’t guarantee the wounded soldier’s survival, soldiers fail to notice serious injuries due to adrenaline, and the seasoned fighters scoff at the newcomer seeing them as a band of brothers. As a war film, it didn’t quite reach the same level as Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket for me, but there’s no denying that this is an essential watch.

Rating: 7/10

It Follows by David Robert Mitchell (2014)

Detroit college student Jaime “Jay” Height is dating a new boyfriend named Hugh. Things get strange on one date when Hugh points to a girl Jay says she can’t see. Unnerved, he asks that they leave immediately. On another date, the two have sex in his car, but he incapacitates her with chloroform afterwards. Waking up tied to a wheelchair, Hugh explains that she will be pursued by an entity only she can see. This entity can take the appearance of any person. Though “It” moves at a walking pace, “It” will always know where she is and will not stop until she is dead. If she is killed, he’s next. Now, Jay must find out how to survive in the face of this relentless pursuer.

Part of what got me interested in watching It Follows was when I observed the overwhelmingly positive coverage it received by critics. The positive reviews were then emblazoned onto the video cover, featuring lines such as “Nothing short of amazing”, “An instant classic”, and “The best horror movie in over a decade”. I have to admit I was a little wary going into this film because I feel critics have been hit-or-miss when tasked with parsing independent films. Innovation is important to any medium, but I’ve always felt that film critics are a little too quick to praise an out-there film without questioning if using such an approach resulted in a good story.

What also grabbed my attention was observing the rift between critics and fans. While critics were singing praises of this film, fans were more divided. The overall consensus was positive, yet quite a large portion of the audience was unimpressed.

When it comes to the question of which side I’m going to take, I’m going to have to say neither. On one hand, I wouldn’t consider it one of the best films ever made. On the other, I do have to admit it was a great thriller. The nature of “It” always keeps you guessing, and you will feel a sense of paranoia throughout |all while having a surprisingly low body count|. There have also been quite a few essays dissecting the themes. “It” could very easily be read as an allegory for HIV/AIDS or any other STD, though quite a few other scenes have been analyzed as well. That said, there are quite a few things that don’t make much sense from a narrative standpoint. |Nobody seems particularly incensed at Hugh for passing “It” onto Jay or knocking her out with chloroform – that latter act would’ve all but guaranteed him jail time in the real world. Furthermore, no one is particularly moved by Greg’s death and “It” even makes a gigantic error in judgement at one point despite appearing to be rather intelligent.| Nonetheless, It Follows manages to avoid the pitfall of contemporary works lauded by critics in that the symbolism doesn’t subsume the plot or the characters, and for that alone, it deserves most of the praise it receives.

Rating: 7/10

13 thoughts on “Reel Life #4: Ran, Saving Private Ryan, and It Follows

  1. Some good titles in this article (Private Ryan and It Follows). I’ve not watched Ran, but might give it a watch when I can.

    Saving Private Ryan was an incredible film, though I felt like it got a bit too hung on the dramatics – it lacked the authenticity that other films in the genre have done really well. Still, Dunkirk is my favourite war film, simply because of its technical mastery and unconventional ways of telling a narrative. It felt more like an experience than a film, which was so refreshing and captivating. Band of Brothers is the best war piece I’ve seen, but it’s a television drama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was indeed impressed with all of these films. I had been meaning to watch Saving Private Ryan for the longest time, and I’m glad I did. I’d say the incredibly violent opening really served to underscore just how perilous the journey was going to be. I can agree that maybe it went a little too far when it came to dramatics, but it’s nowhere near the most gratuitous example I’ve ever seen. And Dunkirk was amazing; you gotta love Nolan’s unconventional approaches to storytelling. I haven’t seen Band of Brothers, but I probably should.

      Check out Ran if you can; I think you’ll be impressed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Saving Private Ryan is defintely worth the investment and I totally agree about the opening. It was sheer brilliance! As a character driven war narrative, it succeeded in many ways and pushed the genre further towards more personal, contained stories rather than about the scope of warfare. Dunkirk was Nolan at his finest. A class act that did its own unique thing and to the best effect. If you ever get the chance to watch Band of Brothers, defintely watch it!

        Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll add it to my list.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember watching Ran the first half hour but never got to finishing it. Once it was on Netflix. Maybe I can find the film at my local library.

    It Follows seems like a fun film to watch with friends. Quite frankly I have not seen a lot of movies for the past few years and I live so close to a movie theater.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As a Shakespeare fan, I think you’ll be impressed with Ran when you finally get around to seeing it all the way through.

      Yeah, I can see It Follows being wildly entertaining for a horror movie night party. I’m kind of the opposite; I see a lot of films despite not living particularly close to a theater.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Funny today, I was browsing my local library website, it looks like Ran is so popular that it might take me awhile to watch it for free. There are 40 people requesting to check the film out and there are only 4 copies available. I think I will just stream it online.

        Going to a movie theater is nice. It offers a different experience than viewing films from home. Sometimes a perfect night out to me is just cooking something delicious and finding a good movie to watch.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely love Saving Private Ryan. So much, in fact, that I like it better than the other two excellent war movies you mentioned as being superior to it: Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket. You can’t go wrong with any of them, though.

    I have never watched It Follows, even if I have heard and read quite a bit about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would say all three films are great – just in different ways. Ultimately, I lean a little bit more toward Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket (the former especially), but there’s no denying that Saving Private Ryan is good too.

      If you’re into horror movies (or even if you’re not), I’d say It Follows is worth checking out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When I watched Apocalypse Now I made the mistake of going for the extended edition, which features the French plantation segment, which I felt was quite pointless. I wonder if I would like it better than Saving Private Ryan if I had watched the original cut.

        I will get to seeing it someday.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh, yeah. I heard about that scene. You’re right – it doesn’t really contribute much to the story. It wasn’t in the cut I saw, and it ended up being a rare instance where the abruptness of the original ending was really effective.

          Liked by 1 person

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  5. Ran, I’ve been interested in for the same reasons as you are. Being the favorite of the creator, I’d like to check it out to see what he’s seeing. Haven’t jumped into it yet, but I feel it may not be too long. I’m a hit and miss fan of Shakespear, but I’ve always at least enjoyed Kurosawa’s films, even when they don’t blow me away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It wasn’t until this year that I finally started watching Kurosawa’s films, but he is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. The man had a lot of talent.

      I have to admit I’m not particularly versed in the works of Shakespeare, though I do think one of his greatest strengths is that he knew how to write downer endings without making the story feel like a waste of time. That is an exceptionally rare talent – even good writers can’t make it work 75% of the time. It was cool watching Ran because now I finally have the basic plot of King Lear jotted down in my head.

      Liked by 1 person

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