Chris Marker's 1985 meditation on Akira Kurosawa and the location shoot for his film 'Ran' ('Chaos', 1985) is about young men preparing for war in a way that Kurosawa's movie is not. No, I don't mean to draw any comparisons between the logistics of "shooting a film" and those of "waging a military campaign" (although similarities between the two undertakings will always be present). I'm thinking of the plenitude of telephoto close-ups on the faces of the countless extras, all male, twentysomething, which betray the same expression of boredom, confusion, and even "resigned anxiety" that we can imagine the real-life feudal soldiers felt just before charging across a field to experience agonizing death. (Notions of Zen control, which Kurosawa himself cites on the soundtrack of Marker's film, be damned. As Kurosawa understood, they're no good in the end; as Kobayashi understood, useless at the beginning too.) If we believed in time-warps — and Chris Marker does — these moments might make us mistake what we're seeing for actual 16mm footage shot in 1560, so complex are the countenances beneath authentic headgear. The souls of the soldiers are not Kurosawa's concern, however; he's making a different film.
He is in fact recreating a holocaust — on the heels of 'Kagemusha' ('The Shadow Warrior', 1980), for the second time in a row. At one point Marker introduces footage from the 1923 earthquake which essentially leveled all Tokyo and the rest of the isle of Honshu. His narrator relates the story of Kurosawa's older brother guiding Akira among the carnage, and suggesting he keep his eyes open to confront the horror, stare it down, assuage fear of what would otherwise be the unknown. Within the montage of broken, bloated bodies yielded up by the quake, Marker cuts to an image of a human being who has been rendered by flames a charred human "form". It is a moment that grimly, but eloquently, recalls (from a vantage in the future looking backward, working future-ward again from 1929) the genocides of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and reminds us that what the Kurosawa brothers saw that day, what Japan saw, what we see in this footage, is not the final statement of death, of chaos, nor the material of a final assimilation. Marker cuts out of the black-and-white film of the quake to a color close-up shot on the set of 'Ran' of two slaughtered soldiers — in mannequin form. On a recording on the soundtrack, Kurosawa notes his own profound fear of violence.
Why then did he make the films he made? Because history is a nightmare from which Kurosawa too was trying to awake.