It's an amazing movie. Everybody knows it's a re-imagining of King Lear, right? Kurosawa puts every single character except the fool into the medieval Japanese ultra-controlled affect, and the result is extremely stylized and beautiful, and -- in the end -- devastating, as the emotional wall crumbles but the camera retains its distance. No zooming in on tears to make you feel weepy, or any Hitchcockian zooming out to highlight aloneness in moments of emotional desolation: Kurosawa lets the desolate landscapes and the tightly-controlled body language of the actors (and, occasionally, their facial expressions) tell the whole story.
Visually, the battle scenes -- which might otherwise be incomprehensible -- are told to clarify the complexities of the battles: with no less than six factions, this is no small feat. And yet, a viewer who can't read Japanese heraldry (like me) can still tell what's going on: Hidetora's bodyguards go helmetless (like Hidetora), the elder brothers' armies and personal apparel are yellow (Taro) and red (Jiro), while the youngest brother (Saburo) uses sky blue. The two neighboring kingdoms use black (the greedy one) and white (the slightly goofy, less aggressive one). Plenty of violence, but without forcing us to watch every millimeter of blades entering flesh.
The roles for women in this movie are extremely subdued, and include the usual Madonna/Whore split; the Whore archetype (Lady Kaede) is almost a Lady Macbeth/Fatal Attraction type, so strong is the "she has sex and therefore is
This restrained camerawork, the visual double-coding of the armies, the aversion to gore (despite the implied presence of quite a bit) and the extreme sexism makes the whole movie feel much older than its 1985 release date -- the editing never upstages the acting, so it feels much more like a 1960s epic than a 1980s.
A visually beautiful movie, if the violence doesn't put you off. Emotionally stunning if you can live inside the heads of the men, who are being pushed past the point of breaking by tragedy. I occasionally threw myself out of the movie by thinking about the women -- and a final monologue does give a tiny piece of insight into Kaede's motivation -- but whenever I saw it from their point of view I found the men's dialogue grating and out-of-touch.