João Ruas on Ran, Kurosawa, and his new posters from Black Dragon Press


Flashback to November 2016:

If you ask a dozen cinephiles to name Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, you’ll probably end up with a handful of different answers. Seven Samurai is a popular choice. Ikiru and Rashomon will most likely get votes. High and Low, Throne of Blood, Dersu Uzala, Yojimbo, and Kagemusha might be mentioned. All of these films are masterful (if you haven’t seen them watch them), but forced to narrow them down to only one, my vote for masterpiece (and personal favorite) undoubtedly goes to Ran, his 1985 epic based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear.

Ran is the work of a 75 year-old director (one of the all-time greats) working at the top of his game with a bigger budget than he’d ever had. The result is a stunning 2 hours and 42 minutes of breathtaking imagery and savage humanity. It’s an experience like no other and it’s best viewed on the biggest screen possible.

The above text is taken from my article on Kevin Tong’s magnificent Ran posters released by Black Dragon Press. Kevin provided insightful answers to my questions and revealed an interesting source of inspiration for his design. See both versions (regular and variant) and read the interview here.

I’m thrilled to announce that Black Dragon Press (BDP!) is back with more amazing Ran artwork, this time by Brazilian virtuoso, João Ruas. The talented artist, a member of the elite illustration cult, The Vacvvm, put his own spin on the Kurosawa classic with a trio of posters — each named after, and bearing the banner of, one of the three brothers in the film. The results are fantastic. Check out Ruas’ posters along with the release info and an interview below.

Also, as if that’s not enough, we have the reveal and release info for some Ran-inspired paintings by London-based French minimalist super designer Thomas Danthony. And that’s not all; one lucky fan will receive an original samurai pencil sketch by João. It’s a great day for Kurosawa fans!

From BDP:

We’re delighted to release brand new work from João Ruas and Thomas Danthony celebrating Akira Kurosawa’s epic ‘RAN’.

The release consists of two very limited movie posters, a timed edition art print, and three stencil originals. These will all go on sale Friday August 11th at 3pm BST (9am CST) from our website. The timed edition will go off sale on Monday August 14th at the same time. The edition number will be equal to the number of prints sold in that period plus a handful we will take to Thought Bubble in Leeds next month.

TARO by João Ruas
27 x 36 inch hand-pulled screen print
300gsm Somerset Satin paper
Hand Numbered. Gallery stamp on the reverse
Printed by White Duck Editions
Limited Edition of 40
£150 inc. shipping (approximately $196)

JIRO by João Ruas
24 x 36 inch hand-pulled screen print
300gsm Somerset Satin paper
Hand Numbered. Gallery stamp on the reverse
Printed by White Duck Editions
Limited Edition of 60
£120 inc. shipping (approximately $157)

SABURO by João Ruas
24 x 36 inch hand-pulled screen print
300gsm Somerset Satin paper
Hand Numbered. Gallery stamp on the reverse
Printed by White Duck Editions
Timed Edition – (On Sale between Friday August 11 and Monday August 14th at 3pm BST)
One random order will receive an original samurai pencil sketch by João Ruas
£75 (approximately $98)

KATANA by Thomas Danthony
21 x 30 cm (approx)
Gouache on archival paper*
Signed and numbered by the artist
Edition of 3
£475 inc. shipping (approximately $620)
*(All three paintings are painted by hand with gouache, using various techniques from stencil to brush work using a unique technique developed by Thomas Danthony and are all slightly different.)

Epic release, huh?! All 3 Ruas posters are gorgeous and they each have their advantages. TARO (the yellow one) at 27 by 36 inches, is the biggest of the bunch. It’s also the most limited, with a super low run of 40 (hence the higher price tag). The bigger size might require custom framing, but its landscape orientation will make for a most impressive showpiece. JIRO (red) and SABURO (blue), at 24 by 36 inches, will fit in standard sized frames. JIRO is limited to only 60 posters and is the only one of the three that credits Akira Kurosawa in English. Also, that red… SABURO is more of an art print and the image looks great without titles or credits. It’s also the most affordable and the only option that comes with a chance to win an original samurai pencil sketch. You can’t go wrong with any version, so go with your gut.

I love that BDP got Thomas Danthony’s take on Ran. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you might glance at it and disregard it as slight, but it totally captures the movie in a totally Danthony way. He has a penchant for taking just a few select elements and combining them together in a meaningful way with clever use of lighting and shadows. Check out more of his work here.

Now, without further ado, let’s see what João had to say about Ran, Akira Kurosawa, and taking on the challenge of making a poster for one of the greatest movies of all-time.

Salty Winters: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is a complex film with lots of vivid imagery to draw from. Your image is striking and it does a nice job of capturing the feeling of the movie. Can you tell us about your approach, how you arrived at this image, and what you intend to convey?

João Ruas: First off, thank you for the nice words.

From the first sketches I tried to go for no more than two characters. Ran is loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear and I think that Kurosawa left on purpose a bit of a theatrical feeling to his movie, maybe to offset all the epic war scenes, so I tried focusing on the conflict within the characters. The image itself is maybe the aftermath or a quiet moment in the field between skirmishes. It is as if the battle may be over but the burning turmoil within the characters and the family is infinite. It is a (beautiful) tragedy.

SW: Black Dragon Press previously worked with Kevin Tong to release another exceptional Ran poster. Did his poster have any affect on the way you approached yours?

JR: In fact it did, I think Kevin did an astonishing work on his version, so I obviously tried to go for another route from the beginning. Luckily as you mentioned before, Ran is so rich that it enables any artist to come up with quite a lot of visual ideas. Kevin’s poster focused on the chaos  and movement of battle, in the very middle of it and it is absolutely great. I chose a completely different direction, perhaps searching for the root of the conflict. I think that wars are not about nations but about people, individuals that drag everyone and everything to destruction trying to deviate from their internal issues. The movie shows that in a lot of ways.

SW: What were some challenges you faced on this project?

JR: Well, doing something to honor one of the greatest movies of all time — from one of the best directors of all time — is more than enough to put a lot of weight on the shoulders of anybody… at least I think like that. It is tough to me to work on a project related to an icon not only for me but to a very large part of cinephiles. Kurosawa’s films also had a very strong visual presence, one can argue that many of his shots could become a poster by itself just by adding the title blocks… I mean, the look of the credit sequence at the beginning. That is just masterful.

SW: When and where did you first see Ran? Can you talk a little about the experience and what you took away from it?

JR: It was in 2005/06 at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. I would go pretty much every weekend to see whatever movie they were showing.  This time, however, I knew I was going to see Ran, they were having a Kurosawa week and I saw the listings when I saw Seven Samurai on the weekend before. I was really fortunate to go to that, Ran is one of those movies that has so many elements that are enhanced by seeing it in a movie theater. I clearly remember the bright colors at the beginning, they created such a contrast with the dark room, it was like they were pulsating off of the screen to grab your attention… and it managed to do just that for the remainder of the film.

SW: Which film do you consider to be Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece?

JR: It would be easier to ask which of his films I don’t think is a masterpiece!

SW: Which Akira Kurosawa film is your personal favorite? Why?

Throne of Blood. I love the story and the characters. The scene with the spirit in the forest is very haunting and beautiful. Also, like Ran, it is loosely based on Shakespeare, this time Macbeth… and Macbeth rocks. I have a soft spot for Dersu Uzala as well.

SW: Dream pairing; any artist, any Kurosawa flick. What combo would lead to great results?

JR: I was going to say Kent Williams because I love how he does samurai but he already did the cover for the Criterion Edition of Rashomon… so I’d say probably Edward Kinsella doing High and Low.

High and Low (1963)


Edward Kinsella’s Andrei Rublev poster from BDP. Available here.


Kent Williams’ Rashomon poster for the 2009 re-release.

There you have it. Big thanks to João for the thoughtful responses and cheers to BDP for another killer Kurosawa release. Make sure to sign up for the Black Dragon Press newsletter to stay up to date with the newest releases. Best of luck on the drop Friday!

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Salty Winters

Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.