Lost and Found in Translation: Hybridity in Kurosawa's Ran

Jessica Chiba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many Shakespeare critics have found it difficult to accept Akira Kurosawa’s Ran as an adaptation of King Lear. The plot changes—far more significant than the differences between Macbeth and Kumonosu-jo (Throne of Blood) —have proved difficult to surmount, and those who believe the essence of Shakespeare’s work resides in his poetry have been alienated by Kurosawa’s choice not to retain Shakespeare’s language in direct translation. However, Ran is a more poetically and thematically complex adaptation of King Lear than many accounts suggest. This article contends that Kurosawa has adapted King Lear in such a way as to turn it into an indigenous cinematic work of art for a Japanese audience, but that the complexity of this process is lost on a non-Japanese audience without a literal re-translation of the Japanese dialogue. The film recontextualizes and thus indigenizes King Lear, allowing Kurosawa to comment on both Shakespeare’s play and the Japanese society he inhabits. Kurosawa’s visual and verbal poetic reculturation of King Lear enlists key concerns of the tragedy to comment on Japan’s place in the world, its recent wartime history, and its newly developing relations with the west after the occupation. By exploring the intersection of adaptation and translation, this essay demonstrates Kurosawa’s hybrid approach to Shakespeare’s King Lear, reevaluating Ran’s status as an adaptation, and the way Ran both informs and is informed by King Lear.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-633
Number of pages35
JournalShakespeare Bulletin
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2019


  • Shakespeare
  • Global Shakespeare
  • Translation
  • Adaptation
  • Kurosawa
  • Ran

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