Kevin Tong on Ran, Kurosawa, and his new posters from Black Dragon Press


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.

Poster collectors and fans of the film have been itching for a limited edition screen printed Ran poster for years (I’ve probably been the most vocal) and Black Dragon Press has delivered! Kevin Tong accepted the challenge and the results are exceptional. Check them out:

RAN by Kevin Tong

24″ x 36″ screen print
100lb cream cover paper
Signed and numbered by the artist
Limited Edition of 140
Printed by D&L

RAN (Japanese Variant) by Kevin Tong

24″ x 36″ screen print
100lb cream cover paper
Signed and numbered by the artist
Limited Edition of 60
Printed by D&L

Yours truly, getting my Ran on at MondoCon

Kevin Tong’s regular edition and Japanese variant were originally sold in late October at MondoCon in Austin, TX, where grown men and women literally ran to get in line for Ran prints. The Japanese variant was one of the first things to sell out at a convention packed with dozens of talented artists selling hundreds of sought-after posters and collectables. A portion of the prints were held back for an online sale through Black Dragon Press and they sold out instantly.

Tomorrow, Wednesday November 9th, at a random time, in his online shop, Kevin will sell the remaining AP copies of RAN (both the regular and Japanese variant) as well as the remaining copies of his poster for The Last of Us. Quantities are super limited (much smaller than the run sizes listed above) and will go fast, so if you want it, be on it! More drop details:

RAN regular edition $120
RAN Japanese variant $250

-Shipping is available to anywhere in the world, and will be calculated at checkout.
-There’s a limit of one of each poster per person.

Elated that Black Dragon Press had enlisted one of my favorite artists to tackle one of my all-time favorite movies, I reached out to BDP, and Kevin Tong generously provided thoughtful responses to my questions via email. They certainly didn’t disappoint. (Thanks, Kevin!)

Salty Winters: Kevin, your Ran poster is a contemporary take (both the colors and the concept) on a movie that is very traditional and old-fashioned in the way it’s filmed and presented. Your design captures the haunting chaos on-screen (and screams Kurosawa/Ran) while remaining true and emblematic to your style (it also screams Tong). Can you talk a little about putting your own spin on a classic? Was it difficult to blend the worlds so harmoniously?

Kevin Tong: From the start, Ran was definitely a challenge because of the authority it holds in film history and because of its profound story. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to focus on the parts of Ran that I felt were most compelling… chaos, madness, sickness, cruelty, divine retribution, and emptiness. Trying to get all those concepts into one image was definitely a challenge. I hope I pulled it off!

SW: Ran vividly burns its iconic images into the viewer. You could’ve played it safe by recreating one of the many memorable scenes and nobody would’ve scoffed, but instead you flipped this poster on its head with a fresh approach. At what point did you decide on the upside-down castle? How did you arrive at that idea? Was there any hesitation or pushback from anybody between conception and realization as a print?

KT: There were so many directions I could go, but anything I sketched wasn’t encompassing all the ideas I wanted to convey. For days I tried to think of an innovative way to depict the film that wasn’t just a scene from the film. When something is as good as Ran, it’s difficult to deviate from it because any deviation feels like it has lesser quality. Finally the idea came when I was watching Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie I hold in as high a regard as Ran. The scene that always got me was when they go into the massive sandstorm. The vehicles begin flipping and scattering into pieces. Debris is flying everywhere and some of that debris is people tossed about, doomed to die. Once I saw that, I knew I had my image. I wanted to show the castle upside down and crumbling to represent Lord Ichimonji’s empire destroying itself from within. I promptly drew a sketch and it got approved really quickly, so I guess the studio also liked it!

Mad Max: Fury Road

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

KT: Once I had the main idea, everything went pretty smoothly. I had a difficult time creating the Japanese characters for the variant. There is a particular stroke order and movement of which I had no idea. I did the best I could to make passable what some people spend lifetimes mastering.

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

KT: I think I saw Ran in college first. It was part of my Criterion film watching phase. What I really took away from it was how much other films took inspiration from it, both directly and indirectly.

SW: Which film do you consider to be Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece? (Please limit yourself to just one film.)

KT: A masterpiece can be defined in many ways and Kurosawa’s films all master various aspects of filming such as framing, editing, story, etc. In terms of visuals, Ran is his masterpiece.

SW: Which Akira Kurosawa film is your personal favorite?

KT: I find it difficult to compares Kurosawa films to other Kurosawa films. I normally don’t rank things, but I definitely watch Ran the most of all of them.

SW: Dream pairing; any artist, any Kurosawa flick. What combo would yield magnificent results?

KT: I’d love to see Nico Delort do Seven Samurai. It would be really interesting to see his take on the intense shadows and rolling landscapes of that movie.

Seven Samurai (1954)
Seven Samurai (1954)
The War of the Worlds by Nico Delort available from Black Dragon Press at 1pm CST on Wed. 11/9
The War of the Worlds by Nicolas Delort available from Black Dragon Press at 1pm CST on Wed 11/9

There you have it. Great pairing of artist and property by BDP. I hope to see Kevin and other talented artists tackling more Kurosawa flicks (and other underutilized properties) down the road.

Good luck on the drops! Supplies are limited so be quick or be sick.

Check out more work from Kevin Tong.

Hop on over to Black Dragon Press and grab Victo Ngai’s Three Colours: Blue poster while it’s still available. It’s the first of 3 posters, one for each movie in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s consummate trilogy.

Follow me on twitter: @saltywinters

Check out the Critics Circle on Radio Brave, the Houston Film Critics Society’s weekly program.

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Salty Winters

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