Ran: The face of Sue
5 September 2009
8 September 2009
I don’t Noh. So, I wouldn’t jump in.
What I do know is this odd little bit: a woman described as beautiful is often quite hard to visualize. Beauty is often closely aligned with abstraction-because beauty is related to proportion and abstract ratios (according to Plato and everyone to follow).
However, “ugly” is quite memorable, in that it often breaks with symmetry, and the exceptions to symmetry stand out. A big nose, a weak chin, buck teeth, crossed eyes, big moles oddly placed…these things can mar the symmetry of a face, and be called “ugly”.
Then, there is the other beauty: that of the beloved, and that of a soul that is life-affirming, kind, interested in the well-being of others. And, again, ugliness mars that by being life-destroying, hateful, destructive to other’s well-being. And, that beauty and ugliness pairing is the one that matters most to me.
I guess that by removing Sue from the closeup, Kurosawa removes her from judgement which might contradict what we are to understand about Sue. She is beautiful in the deeper way. Whether or not we find her beautiful in the simple way is irrelevant, we are to understand her as beautiful, and that’s that.
By the way, Kaede is quite beautiful in the simple way. But an ugly character.
Isn’t that odd?
12 September 2009
I agree with Coco. When you think about it, there is quite little to be gained by showing Sue, while there is plenty of that saintliness to be lost. We are better off worshipping from afar, also in this case.
I would also say that Sue is not a very important character in the end, and as Ugetsu mentioned she is also one of the few pure characters in the story, so concentrating on her could take away from the chaos and destruction that the film conveys. By leaving the good characters on the sidelines and killing them in a footnote, the film emphasises the hopelessness of good in a world dominated by evil.
I’m not so sure if I would subscribe to Ugetsu’s hierarchical theory. We get a fair amount of close-ups of both the fool and Kurogane, who I think are both fairly positive characters (whatever Kurogane’s motivations are, he seems to follows some sort of a value system).
As for Kaede, she is pretty much the centre of the film, taking her revenge on Hidetora and all that, so it is understandable that we see her a lot.
The scariest thing about her though is how much she reminds me of Tilda Swinton who, by the way, was touring Scotland a month ago with her mobile film festival that screened, among other things, Throne of Blood.
Throughout the film, the only truly ‘good’ character seems to be Sue. Yet despite being described as very beautiful and sweet, we are never shown her face. Yoshimoto comments (p.357) that:
This seems to be the most common assessment of this – Ritchie and Prince seem to more or less agree on this point. This view seems to arise from Kurosawas comment about the film giving a ‘gods eye view of humanity’. But what is striking to me is that we get lots of great close ups of Sue’s polar opposite, Lady Kaede. In fact, thinking of it, there seems to be something of an inverse relationship in the film between the number of face shots of a character we are given and the likability of that character (with the exception of the Lord and his jester).
This to me indicates that Kurosawa was being more subtle that merely pulling the camera away to prevent the audience from empathising with characters, he seems to be setting up something of a hierarchy – with Kaede being the exemplar of ‘pure evil’ (remarkably like the Mantis of Red Beard), while the hidden Sue represents the more pure aspects of the human soul. To pursue the Red Beard analogy, Kurosawa seems to be drawing a distinction between those who have resisted a bad upbringing and refused to turn to evil (such as the little girl in that film) and those who are just ‘born bad’ (Mantis/Kaede). This is in contrast to the male characters of Ran, who all seem to be (to varying degrees) weak and helpless victims of their environment.
In our discussion on Stray Dog, I speculated that Kurosawa deliberately avoided showing the two female victims of the gunman as a technique to heighten our empathy for them by forcing us to work harder to visualize them. He gave us oral descriptions of the two women (supplied by the policemen and the doctor) and personally I found it a very powerful and vivid way of giving the two minor characters a strong characterization.
So, if I am right to think that Kurosawa deliberately set up a dialectic between the faceless Sue and the all too visible Kaede, what was the purpose? Was it intended to heighten our emotional response to the treatment of Sue? Or the exact opposite, to give the vengeful Kaede a visceral appeal that the saintly Sue could never match? Is there perhaps something I’m missing from Noh conventions that could explain this?